Today's Papers

War and Mouth Piece

The Washington Post and New York Times lead with the latest from Iraq: The WP focuses on a top general’s belated admission that GIs are facing “a classical guerrilla-type campaign.” The Times also flags those comments, but it gives equal play to the Pentagon’s acknowledgement that—faced with an overstretched Army and no significant relief from allies—troops in Iraq will likely have served in-country for at least one year. Yesterday’s LAT briefly mentioned this. The top story in the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox says that the Pentagon plans to call up about 10,000 National Guard troops to send to Iraq. USA Today leads with the AARP coming out against the Senate and House’s Medicare drug benefits bills. The retired persons group, which has 35 million members, said it will “not hesitate to oppose” the final bill unless the legislation becomes more generous. The Los Angeles Times off-leads Iraq and gives a four-column headline to a horrific car accident in Santa Monica in which an elderly man plowed through a farmer’s market, killing nine people and injuring dozens.

One GI was killed and six wounded yesterday in a spate of attacks. Also, somebody murdered the mayor of a town in western Iraq. The NYT quotes Al Jazeera as saying the mayor had been “accused of cooperating” with American forces. Yesterday was the anniversary of Saddam’s seizure of power in 1979.

“It’s low-intensity conflict, in our doctrinal terms, but it’s war, however you describe it,” said the U.S.’s new commander for the Mideast, Gen. John Abizaid. As recently as Sunday, SecDef Rumsfeld refused to invoke the G-word. Abizaid seemed to also contradict his boss when he noted that the guerrillas are “better coordinated now” and have “some level of regional command-and-control.” Finally, Abizaid responded to soldiers’ ripping Rummy, reminding GIs, “None of us that wear this uniform are free to say anything disparaging about the secretary of defense or the president of the United States. It’s our professional code.”

Also yesterday, a shoulder-launched missile was fired at a U.S. cargo-plane approaching Baghdad. The papers note that officials said yesterday that there was actually another such attack a week ago, which as the NYT briefly inside, “had not been previously disclosed.” Actually, there might have been three attacks total: Newsweek recently reported that there was a missile firing three weeks ago. Is this another case of the Pentagon trying to keep attacks on the down-low?

The LAT emphasizes something the paper briefly mentioned yesterday: The administration appears to be considering going back to the Security Council to get a strong U.N. mandate for Iraq operations. “I am in conversations with some ministers about this,” said Secretary of State Powell. India, France, and Germany have all said they’ll only consider contributing troops under a U.N. mandate. The Journal says that even some allies who have offered help haven’t really followed through: “Hungary pledged a truck company for Iraq. But, defense officials later learned the Hungarians were willing to send 133 drivers, but no trucks or mechanics.”

The Journal,which has a nice piece on troop strength concerns, says that things could well get worse since all these long deployments will inevitably result in lower re-enlistment rates. The WSJ quotes one officer as saying that military specialists in Iraq who are in particularly high demand might have to stay for two years. 

The NYT stuffs word that Iraq’s current oil exports are at about 10 percent of their prewar levels. The piece says that before the war, the White House had been banking on oil exports totaling $15 billion to $20 billion, much of which would be used for reconstruction. They’re now estimating that exports will bring in $3.5 billion.

The WP gives a peek into the closed-door Senate intel committee hearings that CIA Director George Tenet was trotted in front of yesterday. According to the Post, Tenet said that he never actually saw the uranium sentence before it made it into the State of the Union. But as the Post suggests, that doesn’t mean a whole lot, since Tenet successfully intervened when Bush tried to make a similar comment last October. “The real question is why someone was so insistent that they wanted this information in,” said one Democratic senator.

USAT, which goes inside with the hearings, emphasizes what seems like a more important point: Committee members suggested that they will widen the hearings and question White House officials about their role in the screw-up: “We’ll let the chips fall where they may,” said the committee chairman, a Republican. The NYT notes inside that the Senate as a whole voted and rejected, along party lines, a proposal to create a commission to look into Iraq-related intel issues. 

The NYT off-leads word that Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas announced plans to visit the White House next week where he will reportedly ask that the Israelis be pushed to freeze settlement construction and release many more Palestinian prisoners. 

The papers briefly mention inside that South Korea and North Korea exchanged a few rounds of machine-gun fire yesterday along the DMZ. The last such incident happened about two years ago.

A WP story stuffed on Page A19 says the Dept. of Homeland Security’s intel unit is “understaffed [and] unorganized.” Relying on “members of Congress and independent national security experts,” the paper points out various apparent failings, including the fact that most of the unit’s computers can’t handle top secret data.

The NYT goes inside with the cash-crunch facing the global fund to fight AIDS and other major diseases. The fund is set to approve $1.6 billion in projects, but so far has only received pledges totaling $400 million.

Most of the papers reefer the death of Celia Cruz, the “Queen of Salsa.” She was 77. 

So, it wasn’t the press conferences? The WP’s Lloyd Grove flags a departing interview Ari Fleischer gave People magazine. Asked to name his favorite moment, Fleischer recalled, “I came in one day in March 2001 and there was a note on my desk that said, ’Ari, the president would like you to meet him on the South Lawn at 6 p.m. to play catch.’ “