Today's Papers

Interim in Turn

The Los Angeles Times and Washington Post lead with the emerging plans for Iraq’s interim government. Iraq’s temporary administrator, Jay Garner, said that an Iraqi executive council, made up mostly of exiles, should in place by the end of May. Details on an interim entity are also the  New York Times’ top non-local story, though the paper gives a different sense of the process. While the other papers say that the selection process for the executive council is still murky but appears to be U.S.-dominated, the NYT says that Iraqi opposition groups have agreed to hold a loya-jirga-type assembly later this month that will in turn name the executive council. USA Today leads with the raft of tornados that ripped through the Midwest Sunday, leaving at least 38 people dead.

The LAT and WP both say that the interim leadership council will have nine members, five of whom have already been named. They are: Ahmed Chalabi from the Pentagon-supported INC, two Kurdish reps, one official from the State Dept.-supported Iraqi National Accord, and one rep from the largest Shiite opposition group, SCIRI. Though papers don’t flag it, SCIRI’s presence is significant. It had previously threatened to boycott any American-organized entities. According to the LAT, Garner suggested that Shiites won’t be getting any of the remaining four spots. Shiites told the paper that it’d only be fair that they get more spots since 60 percent of Iraq is Shiite. By the way, the papers, again, fail to put the planned interim administration in context, they don’t try to explain how much power it might or might not end up having. If the answer is that it’s still unclear, the papers should just say that.

The NYTimes also says that Ahmed Chalabi has been flexing his political muscle recently. His supporters have seized 60 tons of documents from Saddam’s intel and secret services, which, Chalabi says, detail Saddam’s cozy relationship with various Arab governments and entities.  

In a devastating front-page piece, the Post’s Peter Slevin traveled throughout southern Iraq and found that it’s defined by absence: “the absence of Saddam Hussein’s ruthless government, but also the absence of authority, the absence of improvements, the absence of answers about what is coming next.” Slevin says in Basra it’s “nearly impossible to find a concrete improvement” that been made since British troops took over April 7. The LAT echoes that, saying many parts of Iraq are on “the brink of anarchy.”

The NYT fronts word that just hours before the U.S. attacked Iraq, Saddam’s son Qusay, carrying an written order from Dad, visited the Iraqi central bank and filled three tractor-trailers with $100 bills, nearly $1 billion in total, about a quarter of Iraq’s hard currency reserves. The Times says that Saddam’s family had occasionally come by the bank to grab cash, but usually only “small” amounts, say $5 million or so. 

Following the LAT, the NYT has a piece on the torture Iraqi soccer players had to endure on orders from Saddam’s son Uday. The Times has some photos of the devices Uday’s henchmen used, including “a sarcophagus, with long nails pointing inward from every surface, including the lid, so victims could be punctured and suffocated.”

The Post goes high with, and others stuff, the pending release of about 15 prisoners from Guantanamo Bay. The release comes after the State Department sat down with the Pentagon and pushed for some movement. “It was decided that there would be a process, that we would resolve each case, one way or the other,” said a senior State Department official. Though the NYT goes inside with the story, it has a few points that the WP skips: Officials say the soon-to-be released men have no further intel value nor is there evidence that they’ve committed crimes. Also, the release will probably include three adolescent detainees, aged 13 to 16. 

A piece inside the Post says that intel officials are increasingly confident that they’ve nearly crippled al-Qaida. The lack of any attacks around the Iraq war was a solid sign. “It was the big game for them,” said a top counter-terrorism official, “you put up or shut up, and they have failed.” The U.S. has nabbed about half of AQ’s known operational planners, a fairly small group.

USAT fronts U.C. Berkeley’s decision to ban any incoming summer students entering from SARS-affected countries. It’s the first time that a university has made such a health-related move. And while it may sound like an overreaction, one top epidemiologist said Berkeley made “the right call.” He explained that if just one infected student arrived, “you’d seed the dorms with SARS.”

Everybody reports on the death of Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela’s closest collaborator during the long campaign against apartheid. He was 90.

The papers all go high with the release of transcripts from closed-door hearings that Sen. Joseph McCarthy held in the early 1950s on alleged Communists in the U.S. government. The documents essentially reiterate what’s already known about McCarthy. As one historian put it, “These transcripts show, above all, someone who is desperately trying to push a conspiracy theory, using all the badgering, bullying tactics in private that he was known for in public.” In an aside that just might resonate with the press today, one of the Senate’s historians told the NYT that he compared the transcript of the sessions to what was reported in the papers at the time, which mainly relied on McCarthy’s press-conference descriptions. “The pattern is that [McCarthy] tended to grossly exaggerate what was going on,” said the historian. “And that would be the story for the next day [in the papers], because the reporters wouldn’t get to hear the witnesses until days or weeks later.” (Read the transcripts here.)