Today's Papers

Dread, Baath, and Beyond

Everybody leads with the formal unveiling of Iraq’s “Governing Council,” made up of 25 Iraqis, mostly from exile groups. The council’s first official act was to abolish Saddam’s national holidays and to institute a new one: April 9, the day Baghdad fell.

The council was chosen mostly by American officials who, among other things, gave it an ethnic and religious make-up roughly proportional to Iraq’s, with Shiites getting a majority of the positions. Here’s the list of council members. It won’t be anything approaching a sovereign government, but after Iraqi groups pushed American officials, the council will have more power than Iraq boss Paul Bremer originally envisioned. Among other things, it will name ministers, oversee state-run businesses, and reportedly manage oil policy. Bremer will retain veto power. As the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal emphasize, the heavy presence of exiles on council could end up being a problem since many Iraqis don’t trust them. One of the more interesting takes on the council is in today’s Financial Times, which focuses on potential rifts among the members.

The papers all mention that the U.S. launched a series of raids to pre-empt what everybody fears are attacks planned this week to mark Baathist anniversaries. According to early-morning wire reports caught by the LAT, one GI was killed and another six wounded when their convoy was hit by rocket-propelled grenades in central Baghdad. Another GI was seriously wounded near the airport.  

According to a front-page New York Times piece, “RUMSFELD SAYS IRAQ MAY NEED A LARGER FORCE.” But it’s not exactly as if reinforcements are on the way. The headline is based on the following comment Rummy made on a Sunday talkie, “It seems to me that the numbers of U.S. forces are unlikely to go up. Now, could they? You bet. If they’re needed, they will be there.”

The papers all put their Africa-uranium scandal coverage inside. The NYT notices a new talking point that the White House unveiled yesterday: After the administration acknowledged last week that the State of the Union shouldn’t have included the sketchy sentence about Saddam’s uranium desires, officials said yesterday that the sentence is still correct. As you no-doubt know by now, Bush said during the SOTU, “The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Yesterday, National Security Adviser Condi Rice explained that the statement “was indeed accurate. The British government did say that.” SecDef Rumsfeld added that the assertion “didn’t rise to the standard of a presidential speech, but it’s not known, for example, that it was inaccurate.” British officials say they still stand by their assertion, though U.S. agencies haven’t seen the evidence and have long said they don’t buy it.

As the Washington Post emphasized Sunday, CIA chief George Tenet, who has been blamed and officially taken responsibility for the lame line, successfully intervened to get a similar line out of a speech Bush made in October. Neither the NYT nor LAT headlined that, and instead emphasized the administration-approved story-line. As the LAT put it: “PRESIDENT STANDS BY THE CIA.” 

That’s been something of a trend. Some of the papers have been all but handing their headlines over to the White House, regardless of whether or not the administration’s take jibes with reality. Take USA Today, which says on its front-page teaser, “CIA CHIEF, UNDER FIRE, HAS BUSH’S CONFIDENCE.” The article itself suggests the exact opposite: Citing current and former intel officials, it says, Bush has “decided to make Tenet a sacrificial lamb.” Also buried in the piece is word that the Vice Prez’s office is peeved at Tenet, not for the publicly asserted reason that Tenet didn’t warn the White House about the uranium, but because some of Tenet’s people went out on their own and told reporters the truth: that the CIA had early on told the White House that the intel was probably bogus.

In a comprehensive take on the story, Time magazine quotes one former intel official saying that the whole intel community knew the info was bad well over a year ago. “This wasn’t highly contested,” he says. “There weren’t strong advocates on the other side. It was done, shot down.”

The NYT fronts word that a Palestinian pollster was attacked by a mob yesterday as he was about to announce that, contrary to long-held belief, the vast majority of Palestinians probably wouldn’t exercise their disputed “right of return” so long as they get land or money as compensation. The crowd then marched over to Yasser Arafat’s office, where he welcomed them.

The Post reports that lobbyists have larded up Congress’$400 billion prescription drug bill with dozens of unrelated provisions, many of them dropped in just hours before the Senate passed the bill. The Post says “preliminary estimates” suggest that the provisions—not all of which are bad, really—will add “tens of billions of dollars” to the bill’s costs.

The WSJ reports that a Canadian photojournalist, who had been arrested and beaten by Iranian police for taking pictures of a jail, has died of her injuries.

Times and Again … There is another huge NYT correction, this one in the pretty-please-don’t-sue-us category. A 2,134-word corrective article explains that, contrary to a hatchet-job last week,music exec Steven Gottlieb never personally defaulted on a huge loan, isn’t overly litigious, and is still in control of his company. As a bonus editor’s note puts it, “The article’s main premises were based on fundamental misunderstandings of the subject, scope and status of the legal proceedings discussed.” So, who was the reporter behind this fiasco and how did they get it so wrong? Who knows? The Times never even names the writer of the original piece.

The Post’s Al Kamen notices one part of the State Department’s Web site due for an update. According to a page on the site about omissions from Iraq’s weapons declaration to the U.N.,” The Declaration ignores efforts to procure uranium from Niger. Why is the Iraqi regime hiding their uranium procurement?” [Emphasis in original.]