Today's Papers

Tussle in Mosul

Everybody leads with increasing pandemonium in the streets of the occupied cities. The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Timeslead with the fall of Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, and the burst of looting that followed. The New York Times banners the ransacking and fire-setting in Baghdad.

Though Mosul fell fast and without much of a fight, the papers note that it could be one of the most unruly places for the Americans to keep the peace. All the papers point out that Mosul residents gave U.S. and British troops a particularly unenthusiastic welcome, and a front-page NYT headline emphasizes the resistance American Special Forces faced: “Sniper Fire Greets G.I.’s in Big City in North.”

The NYT’s Dexter Filkins writes that American troops in Baghdad “seemed powerlessas mobs pillaged homes, not just government offices. A pharmacist dragging off couches tells him, “I paid for these a thousand times.”

The Post fronts word that the International Committee of the Red Cross and other humanitarian groups are alarmed at the disorder. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld insists that the media is exaggerating and rerunning a single image: “It’s the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase.”

The papers all note the military’s shift, in part, from fighting battles to trying to maintain order. And though U.S.-British forces now control almost every major city in Iraq, officials have not yet declared victory—President Bush says he’s waiting for Gen. Tommy Franks to say the military has met all of its objectives.

Despite earlier U.S. assurances that the Kurds would leave the occupation of Kirkuk to the Americans, Kurdish forces were still in the city Friday. The Post reports that Turkey is trying not to make a fuss of the broken promises.

Though the LAT mentions in its lead story that “Iraqi forces were reported to be digging in for what could be the last major fight of the war” in Tikrit, the Post stuffsmilitary predictions that the city, which is Saddam’s home town, will also fall quickly. They base this on video taken by U.S. reconnaissance drones that shows no mass opposition organizing, indicating that Saddam supporters have fled. (Read a Slate story about drone capability here.)

Everybody goes below the fold with news of Congress passing a $2.2 trillion budget plan, which just barely made it through in the Senate because of a contentious compromise by Senate Republicans. The real story is this murky deal that has the GOP riled up, but all the papers tell it differently. The nuts and bolts: Bush wanted a $726 billion, 10-year tax cut, but two Republican senators refused to approve the budget—and give the GOP the majority—unless there was a guarantee that tax cuts exceeding $350 billion would be blocked. The senators got their promise from Senate GOP leadership, which the papers characterize as a setback to Bush and an offense to House Republican leadership, who knew nothing of the compromise (House members narrowly passed the package earlier in the day).

The papers have varying accounts of how the deal was struck: The NYT says the two crucial votes hinged on a “single speech” by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who pledged that he won’t let a tax cut more than $350 billion pass. The Post says that Senate Majority Leader Bill First, R-Tenn., and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles, R-Okla., were also involved in convincing the fence-sitters, but the LAT quotes a “senior GOP aide” who says the two were “not party to it.”

While all the papers note that this isn’t set in stone (Bush and Co. could expand the tax cut by wooing centrist senators), the NYT is more cautious, with the headline: “Senate Vote Could Sharply Reduce Bush Tax Cut.” The Post (“Senate GOP Slashes Tax Cut”) and the LAT (“Senate Limits Tax Cut, Triggers GOP Feud”) are more fervent and play up the internal quarrel.

Everybody gets colorful quotes from huffy House GOP leaders, cranky that they were left in the dark: “Even the French had the courtesy to inform the United States they were not voting with us in the U.N.,” House Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle, R-Iowa, tells the Post.

All three papers stuff stories on the escape of 10 prisoners in Yemen, but the reporters can’t agree on exactly who these guys are. The Post and LAT run wire stories from the same Associated Press writer stationed in Sanaa, Yemen. He says that the 10 are suspects in the Oct. 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, and “some are believed to be linked to al Qaeda.” Susan Sachs, writing for the NYT in Cairo, says that all 10 men are suspected members of al-Qaida and that “at least two” are suspects in the bombing. Details of the escape are also sketchy, but officials think they left through a window.

In other news, the Cuban government executed three convicted hijackers on Friday who were trying to come to the U.S. The killings by firing squad followed the government’s harsh sentences of democracy advocates earlier in the week; both cases are said to be indications of Fidel Castro’s renewed crackdown on menaces to Cuba’s socialist government.

In a briefing in Qatar Friday, a U.S. official unveiled what is sure to soon be a crown jewel on e-Bay: a deck of playing cards featuring the 55 most-wanted members of Saddam’s regime. Why three more than the average deck? The Defense Intelligence Agency included a few jokers.