The Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and Washington Post all lead with France’s revised position calling for an immediate end to all non-military sanctions against Iraq, without waiting for inspectors to verify that the country is WMD-free. The New York Times leads with a wrap-up on Iraq that mentions that most U.S. advisors scheduled to oversee a new administration are still stuck in Kuwait awaiting word from Central Command that Baghdad is safe enough to work in. USA Today leads with NASA’s “conclusion” that, contrary to the agency’s earlier assertions, the crash of the space shuttle Columbia was indeed caused by foam that broke off a fuel tank during liftoff and hit the front of the craft’s left wing. As USAT mentions, and the NYT says higher up, the commission investigating the crash says it suspects that’s right but hasn’t settled on the theory yet.
France’s announcement, which everybody sees as an attempt to make nice with the United States and get a role in reconstruction, falls short of President Bush’s call for the United Nations to end all sanctions. The White House was less than effusive in its praise of the new position. “It may be a move, you know, sort of in the right direction,” said a State Department spokesman.
The NYT notices that the White House publicly suggested yesterday that Hans Blix and Co. aren’t welcome in Iraq anytime soon. “We are looking forward, not backward,” said spokesman Ari Fleischer. Blix countered that his crew has advantages, explaining, “We found as little, but with less cost.” France yesterday called for U.N. inspectors to work jointly with American teams, which Blix also endorsed.
In a front-page piece filed from Washington and citing “U.S. officials,” the NYT says that “Iranian-trained agents” have moved into Iraq to, generally speaking, “promote friendly Shiite clerics and advance Iranian interests.” (Much deeper in the story, the NYT says it’s not exactly clear what the folks are doing with their time in Iraq.) The Times says that the agents are likely members of Iranian-backed Iraqi Shiite groups (who, despite the article’s spin, don’t necessarily qualify as meddlers) and potentially “irregulars” from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. “They are not looking to promote a democratic agenda,” said one military official. The head of SCIRI, Iraq’s largest Shiite opposition group, punted on that point, “We will first opt for a national political system, but eventually the Iraqi people will seek an Islamic republic system.”
As hundreds of thousands of Shiites celebrated a religious festival in Karbala, a Page One piece in the Post says U.S. officials are now saying that they’ve been taken by surprise by the strength and organization of Shiite groups that are demanding an Islamic state. The Post says that a Pentagon meeting Monday turned into a “spontaneous teach-in” on Iraq’s Shiites and how the United States will try to contain fundamentalism in Iraq. One general concluded, “This is a 25-year project.”
The WP adds that before the war, administration officials had been comforted by the existence of the Pentagon’s favorite Iraqi exile, Ahmed Chalabi. “They thought, ‘We’re set, we’ve got a Shiite—check the box here,’ ” said one (State Dept?) official. A former defense intel official said, “We’re flying blind on this [because] the policy community has absolutely whipped the intel community.” (Administration officials aren’t the only ones cramming on Shiite history and dynamics. Check out the boo-boos acknowledged in today’s NYT correction box.)
The New YorkTimes has a nice overview piece on emerging divisions within the Iraqi Shiite community. It briefly mentions that many Iraqi clerics have “a long record of opposition” to Iranian-style theocracy.
The Post celebrates on Page One the return of electricity to some of Baghdad. “I’m going to heat some water for a shower!” shouted one woman. “Hurry, I’m going to make some tea!” said another. But the piece feels overplayed. After all, as the story gets around to mentioning in the seventh paragraph, about 85 percent of Baghdad doesn’t have power yet. The LAT also has a piece about the gradually returning electricity, but puts it inside.
Most of the papers go high with word that the White House backed Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan to remain for a fifth term. The papers mostly suggest that Greenspan, 77, will accept the endorsement and choose to stick around.
A Page One piece in the WSJ says that North Korea’s government has been exporting not only missiles, but also tons of heroin, speed, and other drugs. The Journal says Pyongyang is currently the world’s third largest exporter of opium. “North Korea is essentially now a state-run criminal syndicate,” said one researcher.
Back to Iraq … The most intriguing and informative piece in the papers today on Shiites in Iraq is a NYT op-ed by journalist Dilip Hiro, and U.N.-haters aren’t going to love his suggestion:
The only viable solution for the transient Iraqi authority is likely to be a collective of three leaders—one Sunni, one Shiite and one Kurd. But Washington would be ill-advised to establish that tripartite government. Iraqis would more readily agree to outside interference only of other Muslim states, either through the Arab League or the United Nations. It would be paradoxical, if not downright insulting, to see officials from Arab League countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia helping Iraqis on to a democratic path. So the United Nations, with strong representation from such secular democratic Muslim countries as Turkey, Malaysia and Bangladesh, would seem to have the best chance of success. This, of course, is the last thing the Bush administration wants. But if it truly hopes to see a “liberated” Iraq, stepping down as power broker might be the only option.