Everybody leads with the latest attempted decapitation attack against “leadership targets,” apparently Saddam and his sons: A U.S. B-1B bomber, acting on a hot tip, dropped four 2,000-pound bombs on a home in an upscale residential neighborhood of Baghdad. The strike caused massive damage, and a huge crater, but it’s not known whether it took out Saddam or his cohorts. Meanwhile, U.S. troops continued to occupy parts of central Baghdad and got cozy in a few of Saddam’s (now former) presidential palaces, including the Republican palace, which the New York Times describes as the “Iraqi equivalent of the White House.”
According to early-morning reports, a U.S. A-10 attack plane went down over Baghdad; the pilot has been rescued. Also, Iraqi snipers are apparently operating from the roof of the Palestine Hotel, where most foreign journalists are staying. U.S. tanks have fired some shots into the hotel. Reuters says four of its reporters have been injured in the fighting.
The only thing that really is known so far about last night’s big bombing is that we don’t know what the outcome was. But the papers show some flexibility within that somewhat constrictive context. The Washington Post plays it down, skipping any mention of it in the banner headline, and stuffing its detailed piece on the strike. The NYT gives the attack an outcome-agnostic banner headline, “U.S. BLASTS COMPOUND IN EFFORT TO KILL SADDAM.” The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, just about declares Saddam a goner, “AIRSTRIKES TARGET HUSSEIN, SONS; CIA Believes Iraqi Leader Was in Building Leveled by Bombs.” The piece itself doesn’t seem to quote anybody from the CIA. Instead, it says a “U.S. official,” suggested that “the CIA was confident” that Saddam was inside. Now, not the biggest faux pas, but shouldn’t the paper should have at leastalluded to the game of telephone that’s apparently being played here?
Finally, the Post’s inside pieceon the strike suggests, well … who the heck knows if Saddam is dead? “We don’t know if Saddam Hussein was there,” said one “senior government official.”
There is still plenty of stiff fighting going on. The Post’s William Branigin narrates the heavy fire that one unit of the 3rd Division took yesterday “five hours of killing and fiery chaos.” At least four U.S. soldiers were killed yesterday, including two when an Iraqi missile hit an Army field headquarters. Two European journalists were also killed in that attack, which according to the NYT wounded 15 and “shredded 18 vehicles.”
Everybody says that plenty of Iraqi soldiers are abandoning their positions at the sight of U.S. armor; but others are standing and fighting. Iraqi soldiers are putting up resistance “worthy of respect,” said a U.S. Army spokesman in Qatar. In an amazing stat if it’s true, the LAT forwards along the Pentagon’s contention that of Iraq’s 800 tanks, “all but about two dozen” have been destroyed. (No doubt a huge number of tanks have been taken out, but the paper would have been good to recall that the Pentagon has often overestimated the number of enemy armor vehicles destroyed. Kosovo was a good example of that.)
The LAT and WP both have front-page dispatches from Baghdad’s biggest civilian hospital, which they say is being overwhelmed by casualties and has only spotty access to electricity. Red Cross officials told the Post that hospitals across the city are now receiving “hundreds” of wounded each day.
British troops declared victory yesterday in Basra. A contingent of 300 of them patrolled the town to “cheering residents,” says the NYT. “The Baathist regime is finished in Basra,” said a British commander.
The Post’s Keith Richburg, who continues to give the best sense of what’s going on in Basra, says the city is still full of Winona Ryders, filching everything in sight. He also visited a hospital and mentions that doctors say about 200 civilians were killed by the coalition’s bombardments. Then Richburg recounts his visit to the local prison where people were scrounging around looking for evidence of what happened to their disappeared relatives. One man, who found a document with his long-missing cousin’s name on it, concluded, “Of course, he is dead.”
There is still fighting in some other parts of southern Iraq. One officer told the NYT that the town of Hilla, which the 3rd Infantry passed through last week, “is a black hole.”
Everybody mentions inside that U.S. soldiers may have come across barrels of chemical agents. Initial tests were positive, but they’re waiting for a more definitive analysis.
The Post has a small piece inside saying that the U.S. has decided against holding international tribunals for Iraqi war criminals. Instead, it will push for a future Iraqi government to prosecute past crimes, while a U.S. military tribunal might take care of those accused of crimes committed during this war.
In other news, about one thousand people have been killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo by unknown gunmen. So far, the papers have only run wire reports on the story.
The NYT mentions that Cuba continued its recent crackdown on dissidents and sentenced various democracy advocates to up to 30 years in jail.
Hot Dog! According to the NYT’s correction box: “An article in Business Day yesterday about the influence of Rupert Murdoch on the News Corporation’s properties misidentified the Fox News Channel commentator who accused competitors of dwelling on casualties in Iraq and misstated the term he used for them. He was Fred Barnes, not Bill O’Reilly; he called the competitors ‘weenies,’ not ‘liberal weenies.’ “