Today's Papers

Sidewinder Wind Up

The Washington Post leads with the latest on the ongoing sweep by U.S. forces in Iraq, dubbed Operation Sidewinder: GIs have now detained 180 people, including a former Iraqi colonel. The Los Angeles Times leads with a bit from yesterday’s Pentagon press briefing in which Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said the Q-word doesn’t apply to the situation Iraq. “If you want to call [it] a quagmire, do it. I don’t,” he said. USA Today’s lead notices that many states have dealt with their budget crises by borrowing rather than raising taxes. State borrowing has more than doubled in the past two years, to $224 billion this year. The New York Times leads online with word that the stock market just wrapped up its best quarter in five years.

According to early morning reports, there was a car explosion in central Baghdad, seriously wounding at least four soldiers. In other Iraq developments that everybody mentions: The country’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, widely considered a moderate, issued a fatwa yesterday demanding general elections and opposing the U.S.’s plans to unilaterally name a national council. U.S. forces arrested the American-appointed governor of Najaf, saying he’s been involved in kidnappings and shakedowns. About 25 Iraqis, probably looters, were killed when scavengers rooting through an ammo dump apparently set off some ordnance. And a GI was lightly injured in a grenade attack.

At the press briefing, Rumsfeld also said that the attackers aren’t guerrillas, “they are functioning much more like terrorists.” As this column has noted, nearly all of the attacks haven’t been terrorist ones. But the anti-U.S. forces do appear to be getting closer to the line: There was an explosion overnight at a mosque in Fallujah, killing perhaps five. The military said it was a bomb, while some Iraqis insisted, improbably, that there had been a U.S. missile attack.

As the Post notices, one smarty-pants reporter at the Pentagon briefing looked up the military’s own definition of guerrilla warfare, which is, “Military and paramilitary operations conducted in enemy-held or hostile territory by irregular, predominantly indigenous forces.” The reporter added, “That seems to fit a lot of what’s going on in Iraq.” Rumsfeld responded, “It really doesn’t”—which according to the transcript was followed by “laughter.”

According to the NYT, the U.S. has released five Syrian border guards who were wounded two weeks ago in a still-murky American attack by special ops troops on an Iraqi convoy. Pentagon officials said they were releasing the men despite “circumstantial” evidence that they were aiding the targeted Iraqis. Meanwhile, a Pentagon official said it’s “too early to tell” whether the strike actually hit any fleeing Iraqi officials. A few days ago, the Times had this tidbit: “Pentagon officials, who alluded to the secret culture of the Special Operations unit, said they were having a hard time getting detailed reports from field commanders about exactly what had happened.”

The Post’s Anthony Shadid visits a police station in Baghdad and finds that there’s no buddy-buddy film about to be made there between U.S. troops and Iraqi cops. “This is a crooked cop sitting here,” said the U.S.’s commanding officer as he gave Shadid a tour. “This is a couple more lazy cops, sitting down when they should be outside.” The Iraqis responded in kind. The Americans “are arrogant,” said one. “They treat all the people as if they’re criminals.” (The Christian Science Monitor has a different take, reporting that Iraqis are warming up to Americans.)

Everybody goes high with Israel’s continuing pullout from Gaza. The LAT notes Palestinian complaints that Israeli troops haven’t withdrawn as much as promised. In one spot, Israeli troops moved their observation tower from one side of the road to the other. And the cease-fire is already shaky: A renegade faction of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade murdered a Bulgarian worker in the West Bank yesterday. “I can promise you there will be more operations against the Zionist enemy,” the leader of the group told the Post. According to early-morning wire reports, somebody also attacked an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank. The gunman was killed and no soldiers were wounded.

The NYT notes inside that the U.S. is considering giving $300 million to the Palestinian Authority. It would be mostly for the PA’s security services and would be handed out by the CIA.

The NYT fronts word that the CIA believes that North Korea is working on miniaturizing its coming nukes to fit onto ballistic missiles. According to worst-case estimates, Pyongyang could have missile-capable nukes within a year. The paper also says it’s no longer clear whether North Korea is successfully reprocessing plutonium, which it needs to do in order to start up its nukes factory. A note on sources: The Times doesn’t quote any intel officials. Instead it relies on “officials who have received the intelligence reports”—which sounds like the White House. 

The WP stuffs on page A3 word that the EPA has squelched one of its reports showing that a bipartisan Senate plan to combat air pollution would be far more effective than President Bush’s “Clear Skies” plan while costing only a smidgen more.

The Post and LAT front Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean’s Internet-fueled surge in campaign donations. In the fund-raising quarter that ended tonight, Dean hauled in $7 million, a few mil more than any of his Democratic competitors. He took in about $800k in just the past 24 hours.

The LAT fronts late-breaking word that California’s legislators failed to agree on a budget. That happens nearly annually but because of the state’s $38 billion deficit, some state agencies could run out of money within a month or so.

Post media reporter Howard Kurtz may have another journalist’s foul-up to look into: his own. Two letter-writers to the Post say that Kurtz got key facts wrong and changed or mangled at least one quote in his recent story questioning a NYT reporter’s cozy relationship with a weapons-hunting team in Iraq. “Although Mr. Kurtz says he e-mailed me for comment for his story,” said one of the writers, “I never received such an e-mail.”

Not that funny… A WP correction notes, “A satirical essay in the June 29 Outlook section, in referring to the Golden Fleece awards that former senator William Proxmire bestowed in campaigning against government waste, incorrectly called him ‘the late’ senator. Proxmire is alive. He turned 87 in November.”