Today's Papers

U.N. On Again?

The New York Times leads with word that the White House is now considering what may end up being a compromise plan to internationalize the effort in Iraq. As Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage floated it, the idea is to have a “multinational force under U.N. leadership, but [an] American would be the U.N. commander.” The new effort for a U.N. mandate is also the Washington Post’s top non-local story. The Los Angeles Times leads with U.S. and allied intel agencies’ suspicion that they got snookered by Saddam, who used double-agents and misinformed defectors to give the impression that he had banned weapons. Why would he do such a dumb thing? To save face and appear like the baddest strongman around. (That went well.) Rather than having the banned weapons themselves, says the LAT’s Bob Drogin, Saddam appears to have kept the blueprints so that he could quickly produce, say poison gas, should he get in a tight spot. USA Today leads with the EPA’s passage of a new rule that allows industrial plants to upgrade their equipment without having to also install the latest pollution controls.

As the NYT notes, the proposed peacekeeping plan, which Armitage downplayed as just “one idea being explored,” is similar to the arrangement the U.S. had with the U.N. in Somalia. But the details of the proposal don’t seem to have been hashed out yet. In fact, the Post says that neither the Pentagon nor White House has signed off yet. The Wall Street Journal, perhaps prematurely, concludes the plan is window-dressing anyway: “It would do little more than have the U.N. give its blessing to a force that would remain under U.S. control.” Maybe that’s why, as the Post notes, European diplomats aren’t into the idea.

Everybody notes that two more GIs were killed in Iraq yesterday and five were wounded.

The Post goes after Halliburton on Page One, saying that Vice President Cheney’s former company is earning “significantly” more from its no-bid Iraq contracts than had been known. Halliburton now has deals there worth $1.7 billion. That number continues to grow as more work is given to the company under long-ago signed, nebulous “super-contracts.” The Post says that overall one-third of the $4 billion spent monthly on the military presence in Iraq is going to independent contractors.

Meanwhile, the Journal notes that U.S. officials have boosted the contract of another U.S. company in Iraq, Bechtel, by 50 percent, to $650 million. The paper calls the juiced-up contract, which is for the electric grid, another sign that the administration has “seriously underestimated” the cost of rebuilding.

The NYT says inside that U.S. officials are about to issue an order opening Iraq up to foreign investment. The ruling will exempt various central industries, such as oil, water, and electricity. The proposal includes a few other restrictions, including giving the Iraqi Governing Council veto power over the entry of $40 mil-plus businesses. On the other hand, notes the Times, there will be no requirement for companies to reinvest profits in Iraq.

The White House said the new EPA rules are needed to fix what they said were ill-defined regulations that had required plants to upgrade their pollution controls whenever they modified equipment. The administration said the old rules had resulted in many plants falling into disrepair as owners avoided putting money into them that would have triggered the pollution-control requirement. But the NYT, which goes inside with the new rules, mentions that a recent GAO study said the EPA doesn’t have solid evidence of that supposed trend. Meanwhile, the LAT says that “objective, non-partisan groups” think that the new rule “defies the Clean Air Act’s strategy for older plants.” Said one analyst (not from an environmental group), “It’s hard to escape the fact that this is having a serious impact on public health.”

A NYT editorial doesn’t seem supportive of the new policy, calling it a “transparent giveaway to Mr. Bush’s corporate allies.”

The papers all go inside with Yasser Arafat’s call yesterday for Palestinian militant groups to stop their attacks on Israel. The LAT notices that the appeal was one of the few times recently that Arafat has agreed with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. But the NYT suggests that as much as anything the call was an effort by Arafat to simply stay at center-stage.

USAT fronts the results of a poll it took in which people were asked, “Do you approve of a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument displayed in an Alabama court building?” Seventy-seven percent said … no.