Today's Papers

Qatar Ball

The Washington Post and New York Times lead with the U.S.’s arrest of Baghdad’s self-proclaimed mayor, Muhammad Mohsen Zobeidi, after he had ignored repeated warnings to stop acting like he was really mayor. USA Today leads with the recently detained Tariq Aziz’s contention, forwarded via unnamed officials, that he saw Saddam alive after the two U.S. attacks to take him out. The Los Angeles Times leads with the World Health Organization’s announcement that Vietnam has contained its SARS outbreak: No new cases have been reported there since April 12.

The NYT’s and WP’s leads both mention that four GIs were wounded yesterday in Baghdad, one seriously, after somebody fired at their Humvee. The papers say residents are worried that something bigger might happen today since it’s Saddam’s birthday, for the past 20 years Iraq’s biggest holiday. The Post’s Rajiv Chandrasekaran adds a nice detail to yesterday’s arrest of the “mayor,” saying Zobeidi was cuffed after being invited to the Republican Palace, “under the pretense he was being granted a meeting” with Iraq’s administrator, Jay Garner.

In another interesting bit, Chandrasekaran wonders if Zobeidi was actually on the U.S.’s payroll but then overplayed his hand. The evidence: Zobeidi met with U.S. soldiers early on and had a mysterious “deep-pocketed sponsor” that enabled him to go around Baghdad buying various big-ticket items.

Despite the prominent play that USAT gives Aziz’s purported allegations—headlined, “OFFICIAL: AZIZ SAYS SADDAM IS ALIVE”—it’s a heck-of-an-iffy lead. The paper mentions that U.S. officials “don’t know whether they can trust” Aziz. Among the skeptics is Gen. Tommy Franks; regarding Saddam, he told the NYT, “I’ve seen nothing recently that’s convinced me that he’s alive.”

The LAT’s lead says that countries across Asia are invoking increasingly “draconian” measures to stop the spread of SARS. Beijing closed all movie theaters, karaoke bars, and Internet cafes yesterday. Also yesterday, Taiwan announced that it will quarantine for 10 days any travelers from WHO-designated SARS hotspots. An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal(subscription required) cautions against overreacting to the disease. The panic created by the SARS “media virus,” says David Baltimore, a Nobel Laureate in medicine, threatens to “outpace the risk to public health from the actual virus.” About 5,000 worldwide are known to be infected.

The NYT says that there remains a huge power vacuum in Baghdad and describes Jay Garner as “all-but invisible.” The Times also mentions that the U.S. is trying to make friends with and co-opt armed Shiite clerics who have so far expressed opposition to the U.S.’s occupation. The Times says the Army has given them “a wide berth,” and offered the men I.D. tags. “This is to prove to us that you are volunteers working with the coalition forces,” one major told a cleric. 

Alone among the papers, the Journal says up high that U.S. forces in northern Iraq have begun, at least on a small scale, to disarm Kurdish forces, who aren’t happy about it. U.S. officials say they’re worried that Kurdish factions could either fight among themselves or terrorize Arabs in the area.

The LAT interviews Iraqi athletes who had to endure torture instigated by Saddam’s son Uday, overseer of Iraq’s sports teams. “We would joke that we had three homes,” said the captain of the national soccer team, “our own houses, the stadium, and jail.”  

The NYT off-leads word from U.S.’s Central Command that it’s planning to move its main Mideast air operations center, at least temporarily, from Saudi Arabia to Qatar (rhymes with “butter”). The papers says official have pushed for that move since the U.S.’s presence in Saudi Arabia inflames many and because the Saudis have restricted operations out of their bases during both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Following yesterday’s lead in the LAT, the NYT’s Judith Miller details how disorganized and allegedly poorly run the so-far unsuccessful hunt for chemical and bioweapons has been. Testers say that many of the teams are ill-equipped, ill-trained, and have been forced to stick to rigid “check-box”-oriented search-lists. A front-page piece in yesterday’s NYT, filed from Washington, headlined some officials’ anonymous announcement that 1,000 testers are being added to the hunt. But according to sources in Miller’s piece, that’s not going to solve the problem. “This system for continued exploitation of sensitive sites is broke,” one weapons expert in Iraq said. “And that’s what being expanded.”

Curiously, missing from Miller’s pessimistic piece today is any mention of the mysterious Iraqi “scientist” who she trumpeted last week as the “silver-bullet” in the hunt, and who she claimed on Page One had led searchers to what they “described as the most important discovery to date in the hunt for illegal weapons.”

A piece stuffed inside the Post looks at the amount of restitution civilian victims of U.S. bombings are getting in Afghanistan: zero. “Our houses were destroyed. We want to rebuild, but we don’t have the money,” said one man in a town where locals say about 150 residents were killed by airstrikes. “People come and ask us questions, then go away.” The U.S. has allocated about a million dollars to help such victims but hasn’t given any of it out yet because of concerns that awarding “compensation” would set a precedent. “Claims have never been processed for combat losses,” said a military spokesman.

The WP’s ombudsman criticizes the paper’s correction policy, or more accurately, its lack of one. But he skips one of the more curious things about of the paper’s corrections: They often forget to mention what the original error was.