The Washington Post lead says that the bodies of two American soldiers, who have been missing for a few days, were found outside Baghdad. The soldiers went missing while guarding an ammunition depot near the town of Balad and were found by Iraqis, shot and left by a dirt road. The American military is interrogating some suspects, the paper says. The Los Angeles Times leads with a bit of a no-duh headline: “U.S. FINDS WAR IN IRAQ IS FAR FROM FINISHED.” The new news, the story says in the first paragraph, is that for the first time U.S. military officials suggest this is true. The New York Times lead reports that Palestinian leaders are trying to convince smaller Palestinian militant groups to sign on to the truce agreement that is tentatively scheduled to be announced on Sunday.
According to the NYT lead, some smaller Palestinian factions are said to be annoyed that they were not consulted beforehand about the truce agreement. Several met yesterday to consider the cease-fire. The LAT and an AP dispatch in the WP offer more detail on the truce negotiations with the smaller factions. They say it may be tricky to get all militants to go along with the truce plan. In particular, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is composed of several groups through the West Bank and is considered difficult to control. And the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the group responsible for killing Israeli minister Revaham Zeevi in 2001, doesn’t look like it wants to approve the cease-fire, a Palestinian negotiator told the LAT.
The NYT says that Israeli and Palestinian commanders will renew direct contact on Sunday to work out transferring security control of parts of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians. Yet, on the eve of the truce, the violence continued in the region. An American diplomatic vehicle was damaged by a bomb in the Gaza Strip, and five mortar bombs were fired at Israeli settlements there, according to Israelis officials. The paper says that Israeli officials believe that militant groups will use the truce as downtime to rearm.
National security adviser Condoleezza Rice met with Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas to discuss the peace plan, everyone notes. The Bush administration is pushing Abbas to break up Hamas, the NYT reminds. On Sunday Rice meets with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon.
According to the LAT lead’s interpretation, unnamed U.S. military officials are not as insistent these days that the attacks they are facing in Iraq are just the final haphazard hurrahs of soon-to-be vanquished remnants of Saddam’s regime. Instead, they are beginning to suggest American soldiers are facing several opposition forces, that “this war is not over,” in the words of a senior military official, and that the U.S. will stay until the resistance has been stopped.
The papers note that another American soldier was killed in Iraq yesterday. His convoy was ambushed in Baghdad, and four of his colleagues were wounded.
An LAT piece on U.S. soldier morale finds many feel strained by their efforts to combat lawlessness and defend themselves against sporadic attacks. Some combat divisions are especially tired of the peacekeeping role they’re now playing and are ready to go home: “It’s like we won the Super Bowl, but we have to keep on playing,” says one soldier.
The WP reports that a 12-year-old Iraqi boy was killed by American bullets. The boy was on the roof of his house at night, and his family says he was there to check out approaching U.S. troops. The American military says the soldier who killed the child saw an armed figure creeping along the roof.
The WP notes inside that the U.S. is moving to return the five Syrian guards it injured in a fight several days ago to Syria as soon as possible. The guards’ injuries have been treated, and they’ve been held for debriefing. Syria has demanded the guards be released to avoid an “escalation that both sides do not desire.”
The NYT and WP go inside with the UN Secretary General’s call for a peacekeeping force for Liberia to stop a civil war that has killed hundreds of civilians. The NYT interprets Annan’s suggestion that the force be led by a permanent member of the Security Council as a request for the U.S. to take charge, which is what the Liberians want.
Inside the NYT is this: “Experts say molestation and statutory rape are commonplace in schools across Japan.” Social mores keep rape and molestation victims from speaking up for fear of having their reputation hurt. One member of the Japanese parliament spoke publicly about reports of gang rapes at a Tokyo university recently, saying, “Boys who commit group rape are in good shape. I think they are rather normal. Whoops, I shouldn’t have said that.”
The LAT reports that some Western states are experiencing an unusually severe cricket plague this year. Crickets in large numbers—swarms a mile wide and three miles deep in this case—cause problems ranging from millions of dollars in crop damage to roads so slippery due to squished bugs that signs warning drivers to slow down have to be erected.