The New York Times leads with the Bush administration’s decision to move up its timetable in transferring power in Iraq. The administration now hopes to hold elections in the first half of next year, and administration officials say that the United States is willing to turn civilian authority over to a temporary government before a new Iraqi constitution is written. The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead and the Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide newsbox (online) with the suicide bombing in Nasiriyah that killed at least 26 Italian police and Iraqis. (The WP puts the number of dead at 29.) As USA Today and others point out, it was Italy’s worst single combat loss since the Second World War.
The Bush administration’s decision, which WP and LAT off-lead, comes as escalating violence has forced the White House to try to come up with a clearer exit strategy in Iraq. The new timetable may help placate some of the insurgents currently targeting coalition forces, and it could allow Bush to significantly reduce the number of troops stationed in Iraq or effectively end the U.S.-led occupation before the 2004 election. But many observers are wary of an accelerated transfer of power. One worry is that a constitution crafted by an elected body, which would likely be made up largely of Shiites, would enshrine Islam as the Iraqi state religion, infuriating the Sunni minority and further destabilizing the region.
The papers say the attack in Nasiriyah, which took place at the Italian military police headquarters, has forced the U.S. to become more aggressive in combating Iraqi insurgents. More than 100 people were injured in the explosion, which showered body parts onto surrounding streets and incinerated cars with people still in them. The bombing, like other recent attacks, appeared to be intended to drive U.S. allies out of Iraq. Despite mounting public pressure, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has vowed not to pull his troops.
WP fronts an interview with Maj. Gen. Charles H. Swannack in which he says that Saddam Hussein and his generals may have planned to employ guerrilla-style tactics from the very beginning. Swannack and some colleagues say the methodical nature of recent attacks suggests that the Baath Party government cached weapons in advance of the invasion of Iraq. Others disagree, arguing that the latest offensive shows only that Saddam loyalists have regrouped after finding their organization in disarray following the invasion.
Playing catch-up, the NYT goes inside with word of a secret CIA report saying that ordinary Iraqis are losing faith in American-led occupation forces and the Iraqi Governing Council. (Knight Ridder’s Jonathan Landay had the story yesterday.) The report, endorsed by Paul Bremer, the head of the provisional authority organizing the reconstruction, warns that without immediate corrective action, U.S. efforts to rebuild Iraq as a democracy could collapse. Described in both stories as “bleak,” the report says that no Iraqi political institutions or leaders have shown an ability to govern the country.
The WP and NYT front an agreement between the White House and the independent commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks over access to classified presidential briefings. The compromise grants “varying degrees of access” to the documents, known as Presidential Daily Briefs, to a commission subcommittee. The panel’s chairman had initially threatened to subpoena the documents, and the limited access allowed by the agreement has angered some commissioners.
The WP fronts the Senate’s first all night talk-athon in a decade. Republicans orchestrated the event, in which the two parties alternate speeches every half hour, to draw attention to the fact that Democrats have blocked four of the 172 federal judges nominated by the Bush administration. The all-nighter was conceived largely as a publicity stunt, with reporters given the opportunity to record such developments as the arrival of cots at the Capitol. Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, called the event a “historic justice-for-justice marathon,” but minority leader Tom Daschle didn’t see it quite the same way. “We begin tonight what I view to be a colossal waste of time,” he said.