Today's Papers

Northern Lite

The papers all lead with the Kurds’ capture of the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, as the rest of the country falls into deeper civil unrest, and American attention turns toward keeping the peace and the rapidly progressing battle for the north. Everyone’s lead also reports massive looting across Iraq and fierce fighting in Baghdad, including a suicide bombing that wounded four Marines. According to the New York Timeslead, by yesterday “the euphoria of Wednesday had evaporated.”

Kirkuk fell much more quickly than the Kurds or U.S. forces expected, as Iraqi troops fled and Kurdish guerrillas poured jubilantly into the city. Everyone’s stories note up high that the quick Kurdish advance is sure to anger Turkey, which claims historical rights to the city, and the Bush administration has bent over backward to assure Turkish leaders that U.S. forces will soon replace Kurdish ones. Although Kurdish leaders reiterated publicly yesterday that they would leave the city soon, the Washington Post’s lead remains skeptical, reporting that “there was no sign here of that.” Instead, Kurdish guerrillas were antagonizing Arabs and Turkmen in the city, toppling statues of Saddam, and stealing as much booty as they could fit in their pickup trucks and other apparently, um, borrowed vehicles.

All the papers’ leads catch late word that U.S. and Kurdish troops were also entering Mosul, the largest northern Iraqi city, but they were too late to run early morning wire reports that Mosul had indeed fallen. Things are certainly moving fast up north. So fast, according to a strategy piece inside the WP, that defense officials now say they are more-or-less “winging it.”

The Los Angeles Times’, the NYT’s and USA Today’s leads all emphasize the continued fighting and looting in Baghdad, and everyone fronts dispatches on the chaos there for good measure. In the leads and Baghdad pieces, the papers report that Marines were caught in an hourslong firefight with Iraqi and non-Iraqi combatants holed up in a mosque, after they responded to a tip that Saddam and one of his sons were hiding out in a nearby house; one Marine died and at least 20 were wounded (26, according to the WP).

Elsewhere in the capital, “the power vacuum seemed almost complete,” according to the NYT’s front-page Baghdad piece, which reports that U.S. forces apparently have no orders to intervene in the widespread looting. “We just don’t have enough troops,” one officer said.

As further evidence of Iraq’s anarchy, everyone’s lead mentions, and the WP, NYT and LAT cover more deeply inside, the sectarian killing of a U.S.-backed Shiite cleric by other Shiites inside a shrine in Najaf.

All may not be quiet on the western or eastern fronts, either, according the Wall Street Journal and the NYT. The WSJ alone reports that Iran has moved a lot of materiel to the Iran-Iraqi border and has actually been firing some artillery over it, raising fears of a conflict there. Both papers also describe intense fighting near the border with Syria. According to the front-page NYT piece, “American officials say the sheer tenacity of the Iraqi fighters has led them to suspect that they may be defending Scud missiles or other illicit weapons.”

And where are all those illicit weapons, anyway? The LAT, alone among papers, fronts word (from “officials” at the Pentagon and in Qatar, although we don’t find that out until the sixth graph) that that Marines hung around unaware for several days before securing Iraq’s only acknowledged uranium depot. It’s still not known if anyone got inside to steal any of it before the Marines showed up.

Not all the troops are so busy, though. An NYT  front-page embed piece  from the middle of nowhere finds enough time, for example, to quote from INXS’s “Need You Tonight,” as heard on a local all-eighties radio station that Marines were listening to.

The NYT and WP both run off-leads, and the WSJ fronts, a couple stories on the upcoming rebuilding effort, as painted by administration officials and in Senate testimony by neocon posterboy Paul Wolfowitz. The Post’s piece highlights the U.S.’s uphill efforts to build a “larger coalition of the willing” for Iraq’s reconstruction without relinquishing control of the country to the U.N.—a tricky proposition, since the Security Council pretty much holds the key to Iraq’s oil. The Timesrebuilding story, however, focuses more on Wolfy’s plans to encourage a “rolling dialogue” among Iraqi civilians who might take posts in a U.S.-led interim government. (Given this war’s “rolling start” and the administration’s plans to declare “rolling victory,” TP would like to nominate “rolling X” as another of Gulf War II’s contributions to the popular lexicon.)

Speaking of Wolfowitz, the WP reports he took Rummy’s lead yesterday and bashed Syria, warning that the country should not “meddle” in Iraq. Over at State, Colin Powell was unnerved enough to tell Pakistani TV that the U.S. “does not have … some list with nations on the list that we’re going to attack one after another.” Whew!

USAT and the WP front and the NYT goes inside with news that  condescending messages from Bush and Blair are now airing on Baghdad’s channel 3—a channel that was only days ago playing lots of old Saddam re-runs set to excessively martial music. Only the NYT points out that the messages, broadcast from planes, probably reached few Iraqis “because power failures have left many of the country’s cities dark.”

According to a piece in the LAT and another in the WSJ (subscription required), the widely broadcast jubilation on the streets of Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Basra isn’t having much affect on the U.S.’s sullied image abroad. The papers base their contentions entirely on anecdotal evidence, but it’s still clear that the Arab world’s editorial pages are quite embarrassed about how quickly the U.S. toppled Baghdad, and at least a half-dozen people across Europe think Bush is still a warmonger.

As usual, everyone stuffs all international non-war news: Tensions between India and Pakistan are rising. The WP reports the Indian government yesterday declared it had the right to pre-emptive self-defense, too, and might be forced to invade its nuclear-armed neighbor. … Unable to hear frantic cries from rescuers, 28 deaf boys died, and more than 100 were injured, when a fire consumed their Russian boarding school, according to the WP and NYT. … And according to the LAT, scientists think the SARS outbreak has started to wane, at least in China and Hong Kong, where it originated.

Adding insole to injury … Inspired by footage of Iraqis beating Saddam iconography with their shoes, the WP Style section takes readers on a world tour of gestural insults. For example, in Mongolia, never, ever “lean on the supporting pole of someone’s yurt.” It’s just not done.