All three national papers lead with what the Los Angeles Times calls a “peaceful but strong” protest by Muslims on the streets of Baghdad. The march’s demographics remain somewhat unclear: The Washington Post sees it as a Sunni-dominated affair, while the New York Times records “a rare demonstration of solidarity” between Shiites and Sunnis. The message, if not the messenger, is clear: Out with U.S. troops—or, as one protester has it in the NYT, “Muslims unite against the infidels!”—and in with a united Muslim government to replace Saddam’s secular regime.
The papers observe that the protest would have been unthinkable under Saddam’s reign and the LAT calls it the first public demonstration in Iraq in decades. Thousands filled the streets after prayers on Friday, with imams urging them to resist U.S. occupation. The LAT delves compellingly into the Iraqi mindset, noting that many “Iraqis hated Hussein, but they knew what to expect.” Now, with looting and chaos widespread, and no emerging government, it’s “easier for Muslim religious leaders to appeal to [the people’s] yearning for certainty and rules.”
The Pentagon’s favorite Iraqi, Ahmad Chalabi, who returned to Baghdad for the first time in 45 years this week, gave a news conference from the posh Iraqi Hunting Club on Friday. Sounding “almost too prepared,” in the LAT’s opinion, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress admonished the U.N. for failing to recognize the “seriousness of the repression in Iraq.” He also made vague references to an interim government, insisting “in the well-worn tradition of political power brokers, that he was not a candidate for president.” (NYT) The LAT says Chalabi is distrusted by many Iraqis, who believe the U.S. has already selected him to run the country.
There were two other developments that made the papers’ catch-all leads on Iraq. First, another tape has emerged, maybe of Saddam Hussein being cheered on a Baghdad street on April 9, the day the Marines toppled his statue. Though the tape’s authenticity remains in question, according to the NYT, its broadcast (on Abu Dhabi TV) “underscores the confusion that now envelops Iraq.”
And second, Samir Abdulaziz Najim, the “four of clubs” in the most-wanted deck and a leader in the ruling Baath Party, was handed over to the U.S. by Iraqi Kurds.
The WP reports that foreign ministers from the six countries that border Iraq held a postwar summit in Saudi Arabia. They denounced U.S. occupation of Iraq and warned that U.S. threats against Syria would, in the words of the Saudi minister, “lead to a vicious cycle of wars and turmoil.”
The WP also reports in its lead that the FBI will dispatch experts to Iraq to help find those antiquities looted from the Iraqi museum. And France is helping on this one, sending Interpol agents to look around, too.
The NYT fronts President Bush’s new strategy for mollifying the U.N. Rather than have sanctions against Iraq lifted in one fell Security-Council swoop, the penalties would be rolled back gradually, by virtue of three or four resolutions passed over several months. The U.S. would also like to see Hans Blix put out to pasture, even as it noses around for weapons it not too long ago “blamed Mr. Blix for not finding.” The Times notes that the Arab press is now cultivating the idea that “if chemical, biological or nuclear weapons are found in Iraq, it will be because the American military planted them there.”
The NYT fronts a study in Central Harlem that found that 25 percent of the kids in that neighborhood have asthma—roughly double the anticipated result. “When I first met this group, I thought that they were nuts to think that they could test every child in an entire community, and then provide services to all of the ones who have asthma,” says the editor of the American Journal of Public Health. “It’s an enormous undertaking.” It’s the first documented level above 20 percent in the U.S.
The NBA playoffs start today, and speculation about the Lakers’ chances dominates both the LAT and NYT sports sections. “The theme for this year’s playoffs is who can beat the Lakers and how do you do it,” Bill Walton says in the NYT. The LAT says if the Lakers are to be beaten, it better happen this year because come summer they “have the money and roster space to add a front-line power forward and guard that would refresh the lineup around O’Neal and Bryant.”
Finally, Today’s Papers, along with the LAT, delights in the latest war-related items up for grabs on the Internet. They include, but are not limited to, Bomb Saddam Hot Sauce, Iraqi Road Ice Cream, and “Shock and Awe” Underwear. The LAT brings in a psychiatrist to (over)analyze the allure of these items. “It’s an attempt, as civilians, to join in the war,” he says. “The thing all these items have in common is that they ridicule Saddam Hussein. … People intuitively understand that the one thing that psychopaths and narcissists like Hussein can’t stand is to be humiliated.”