Today's Papers

The Hunt Front

The Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox and Washington Post lead with the latest from Iraq. The Journal focuses on U.S. military officials’ estimate that are 4,000 to 5,000 Iraqis fighting. The Post’s piece emphasizes military officials’ contentions that aggressive raids are beginning to pay off and weaken the insurgency. Meanwhile, another U.S. soldier was killed yesterday, this time just south of Baghdad. Fourteen soldiers have been killed since July 20, the deadliest period since May 1. The Los Angeles Times leads with word that California’s Senate has finally passed a budget, technically closing the state’s $38 billion deficit. The New York Times’ lead says that cuts in the states’ budget crises are “now beginning to drag down the national economy.” USA Today leads with the results of an investigation by the paper concluding that ambulance and emergency medical services systems in most of the nation’s 50 largest cities are “fragmented, inconsistent and slow.” In Washington, D.C., officials estimate that 4 percent of those who go into cardiac arrest outside a hospital survive. In Seattle, which does a better job tracking its services and seems to have done a better job of controlling the infighting between ambulance crews and firefighters that is common most cities, 45 percent survive.

According to the WP’s lead, the number of guerrilla attacks has dropped in the north and south of Iraq while the cash offered to kill U.S. troops has gone up from $500 to $5,000, leading top commanders to suggest that the war may be “nearly over.” That may well be right. But it’s worth noting that while the piece includes quotes about specific operations from named officers on the ground, the overall rosy assessment is left to unidentified officials. The piece also includes this suspect contention: “The continuing casualties—such as the four soldiers killed Saturday—are the direct result of the intensified U.S. offensive, the military officials added.” Most of the casualties haven’t come during raids. They’ve resulted from ambushes on exposed GIs. How exactly are those “the direct result” of intensified U.S. raids?

The Post’s piece also details some of the tougher tactics U.S. forces have adopted. In one case, troops picked up the wife and daughter of a wanted Iraqi general and left a note at his house: “If you want your family released, turn yourself in.” Two days later, the general did just that.

Everybody notes that the hunt for Saddam is picking up speed. According to an Associated Press piece cited by the papers, troops raided a series of farmhouses in Tikrit and said they think they missed him by 24 hours. “We’re getting great information from the Iraqi people,” one Army spokesman told USAT. “We have the regime on the ropes.” The LAT plays that angle up, while the NYT emphasizes that U.S. special ops teams looking for Saddam in Baghdad shoot up two cars of civilians yesterday, killing five Iraqis. USAT says that the cars “drove through a roadblock.” The LAT says the soldiers fired after they “apparently [became] unnerved” after spotting cars speeding by in a nearby street. The conflicting accounts might stem from the fact that the military has refused to comment, saying that the operation is on-going. The NYT also mentions that troops in Karbala trying to keep an unruly crowd under control, fired into the gathering and killed a cafeteria worker

The NYT mentions that the unit involved in yesterday’s attack on the cars was Task Force 20, which was also the team that carried that still-mysterious—and potentially botched—raid along the Syrian border. The Post’s Barton Gellman surveyed the unit’s work in early June, and focused on their search chemical and bio weapons. Seems like time for another look. 

Most of the papers mention Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz’s appearance on the Sunday talkies in which he said that Iraq has become a magnet for jihadists and “the central battle in the war on terrorism.” (He designated Afghanistan as “another battlefield” albeit a “very important” one.) The Post seems to notice something further, saying Wolfowitz “then linked Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks and said the report from the joint Congressional Committee on Intelligence that was released Thursday implies that ‘we should have connected the dots.’ ” But that’s a misleading characterization of Wolfowitz’s comments. He only connected Sept. 11 and Iraq in the most indirect of ways. And his “connecting the dots” statement seems to only be a reference to predicting 9/11. Read the transcript for yourself.

California’s budget deal includes $1.1 billion in cuts to local governments. As the paper explains, the legislature only “closed the deficit” by using creative accounting and by borrowing at least $14 billion. Next year, says the LAT, the state will have “a guaranteed deficit” of at least $7.9 billion. The plan now goes to the state assembly, where the LAT says it faces a tough fight.

The thesis of the NYT’s lead—”RED INK IN STATES BEGINNING TO HURT ECONOMIC RECOVERY”—isn’t exactly supported by a mountain of evidence. In what seems like its best shot at providing hard numbers, the Times says states have cut spending between $20 billion-40 billion over the past two years, “no one knows exactly how much.” That’s in a $10 trillion economy. The article also seems to get sloppy, noting that California’s pending budget deal “presumably requires the state to rid itself of at least $8 billion in current spending.” Presumably? As the LAT notes, the deal doesn’t call for such cuts; they’re going to borrow the cash.

The WSJ goes high with Israel’s decision to release between 100-200 Palestinian militants. Palestinians have been demanding that all 5,000 Palestinian prisoners be released. Meanwhile, the LAT fronts Israel’s dismantling of 10 West Bank roadblocks. (The WP says three were taken down.) Dozens of checkpoints remain, but the LAT emphasizes that Palestinians were still pumped. “To me, this is the beginning,” one grocer told the paper. “This is the first time we are seeing something real as a result of this ‘road map.’ “

Everybody notices Lance Armstrong’s record-tying fifth win of Tour de France. He won the 2,125-mile race by 76 seconds.

The WP notices that Seabiscuit author Laura Hillenbrand had a fun night last week. She visited the White House and watched the equine movie with George and Laura. “We had the night of our lives,” said Hillenbrand. “At the end of the movie, the first lady brought me cookies”—in the shape of a horse.