The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times lead with, and the New York Times fronts below-the-fold, the latest ambushes in Iraq and the emergence of an audiotape with a message from someone who sounds like Saddam Hussein. The NYT leads with news that the American military is planning to boost its presence in Africa by gaining access to new bases.
The two assaults in central Iraq, a mortar attack on an airfield that wounded at least 17 soldiers, and a failed attempt by a band of 50 guerrilla fighters to destroy a convoy from the 3rd Infantry Division left no troops dead but aroused fears of more sophisticated coordination among Iraqi insurgent groups. The LAT and the WP both point out that the injury count at the airfield was the highest since President Bush declared the end of most major combat on May 5. All three papers note that no Americans were injured in the other attack, which involved Iraqis firing machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at Bradley fighting vehicles and Humvees. The LAT and NYT note up high that the ambush led to firefights that resulted in 11 Iraqi dead, while the WP waits until the eighth graf to mention this fact. The WP emphasizes the surprising size of the Iraqi force, citing an anonymous U.S. official who worried that “a group of 50 suggests a degree of organization we haven’t seen before.”
Yesterday—a day after the Bush administration put a $25 million bounty on Saddam Hussein’s head—Al Jazeera broadcast 10 minutes of what it said was a 20-minute message from someone who claimed to be Saddam Hussein. The tape, purportedly made on June 14, exhorted Iraqis to resist the “infidel invaders” and mocked the American and British rationale for war, asking, “where are these weapons of mass destruction?” Ari Fleischer said the tape would be placed “under review” by analysts and has not been authenticated. The WP pointed out that the mere appearance of the tape would help encourage the commonly held theory among Iraqis that Saddam is alive and further instigate the burgeoning resistance movement. The NYT seemed to indicate that the message would only seriously affect stability if it were proved to really be Saddam. The NYT is also the only paper to hypothesize that the new recording is part of a systematic disinformation campaign intended to weaken the Americans’ image.
The NYT off-leads, the WP reefers, and the LAT stuffs news of yesterday’s massive suicide bombing at a Shiite Muslim mosque in the Pakistani city of Quetta. The attack, which killed at least 30 and as many as 50 people, was attributed by most sources to militant Sunni Muslim sectarians. The NYT also points out that Pakistan had a recent history of inter-Islam strife, but the tension had ebbed in recent years. Witnesses said there were three attackers, but the WP reports that some accounts claimed a fourth attacker had been arrested by Pakistani authorities. The WP is the only paper to mention that police later found two unexploded bombs hidden in canisters near the mosque, and that the attack incited Quetta Shiites to riot. Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf promised to further crack down on extremists.
The WP and LAT front reports that Liberian President Charles Taylor again offered to leave once peacekeepers enter his war-torn country, and President Bush sent a team to the U.S. embassy in Monrovia to give an on-the-ground assessment of the situation. The NYT oddly stuffs the developments in favor of a lead story on new U.S. military plans to increase counterterror forces in countries such as Morocco and Tunisia. The deployment will not take place until fall, is relatively small in scale, and will serve mainly to train African soldiers. Despite the WP’s somewhat misleading headline (“Bush Sends U.S. Team to Liberia”) President Bush has not yet made a decision whether to send between 500 and 2,000 as part of an multinational peacekeeping force, with the LAT mentioning that the Pentagon opposes any deployment and the State Department is pushing for one. Taylor insists that he stay in power until a peacekeeping force arrives, while President Bush is pushing for an immediate resignation. The WP and NYT note that Nigeria might offer Taylor asylum if he steps down in the near future.
In California, everyone reports that the there is still no budget, and the state legislature and Gov. Gray Davis spent the holiday trying to hash out a compromise. The NYT fronts with news that the state’s credit level will soon be downgraded, and the WP quickly notes a poll where 51 percent of prospective voters indicated support for a recall of Davis.
The WP goes inside with news that Karl Rove has found his favorite 2004 presidential candidate: Howard Dean. Bush’s famously devious political adviser apparently believes that it would serve the president best to have the former Vermont governor as his main opponent in next year’s election. So, to drum up support, Rove spent most of Independence Day facetiously hanging around a tiny Dean rally, shouting exhortations such as ” ‘Come on, everybody! Go, Howard Dean!’ “