The New York Times leads with word that Saddam Hussein’s regime siphoned off billions of dollars in kickbacks from foreign companies that took part in the U.N.’s oil-for-food program during the past several years. The Washington Post’s top non-local story looks at John Kerry’s favorable prospects in the 10 potentially decisive Democratic primaries and caucuses coming up on Tuesday. (With the primary roadshow moving onto the national dailies’ local turf, the NYT and Los Angeles Times also front Super Tuesday coverage.) The LAT’s top non-local story weighs evidence that many of the suicide bombings carried out recently in Iraq—initially thought to be the work of foreign fighters—may have been engineered by native Iraqis.
The NYT’s corruption report, which relies on newly cooperative Iraqi officials and documents given to the paper by members of the Iraqi Governing Council, found that Saddam’s government began skimming off the top in 2000, once the U.N. lifted curbs on the amount of oil Iraq could sell in return for food and medical supplies. Although the U.N. administered the program’s funds, the Iraqi government bargained firsthand with foreign vendors, a loophole that allowed them to slip shady provisions into otherwise legitimate contracts with a number of mainly Russian and Arab companies. (The U.N. had focused its oversight of the program on making sure that Iraq didn’t receive any goods with military applications, and according to one official, it only learned of the scheme after the end of major combat operations last year.)
The papers all note that the IGC failed to meet its deadline yesterday for completing a temporary constitution, amid continuing disagreement over the role of women, Islam, and minority Kurds in the Iraqi society to come. Council members said they would work through the night in the hopes of wrapping things up. “Bremer is really pressing us,” one IGCer told the NYT. “Everyone is hungry and sleepy. This is not the way write the law of a country.”
In other Iraq news, the NYT looks ahead to the logistical and security challenges facing the military as 110,000 new soldiers begin to enter the country over the next three weeks, relieving 130,000 others who will be rotating stateside. A piece inside the WP takes a detailed look at the origins of the prewar British intelligence claim that Saddam could have launched a chemical or biological attack on 45 minutes’ notice, retracing the game of international telephone that placed the (since discredited) bit of intel at the heart of the Blair government’s case for war. That tidbit, which was passed by an Iraqi army officer to his father-in-law, who relayed it to the exiled opposition group that ultimately gave it to the Brits, was stripped along the way of the caveats that it referred to battlefield munitions (not long-range missiles) and came secondhand from a single, uncorroborated source.
The papers all front updates on the persistent unrest in Haiti, where rebels continue to surround Port au Prince as armed supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide roam the streets of the besieged city. The situation is especially unclear this morning, with early wires reporting that Aristide has left Haiti for the Dominican Republic, with plans to seek asylum in a third country. On Saturday, the White House issued a statement urging Aristide to step aside, describing the crisis as “largely of Mr. Aristide’s own making,” and concluding that “his own actions have called into question his fitness to continue to govern Haiti.” (The LAT profiles the pro-Aristide gangs hunkered down in the capital, while the NYT checks up on key rebel figures, some of whom have ties to the junta that first deposed Aristide in 1991.)
As John Kerry maintains a significant lead in delegates, polls, and endorsements, John Edwards is focusing his efforts on Ohio, Minnesota, Georgia, and Maryland in hopes of winning enough of Tuesday’s contests to keep his campaign alive. In what the papers play as a sign of confidence, Kerry has scaled back his ads, spending only in those markets where Edwards is advertising as well. (And flashing back to a once-larger field, the WP “Style” section runs a lengthy post-mortem on the internal tensions and sour media relations that helped derail the Dean campaign.)
The papers all note that the six-way nuclear-disarmament talks focusing on North Korea ended in measured frustration Saturday, with the DPRK retreating from a previous offer to freeze its programs and insisting that it be allowed to maintain a civilian nuclear-energy capability. Formal discussions are expected to resume sometime before July.
The NYT fronts word of rededicated U.S.-Pakistani efforts to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden, employing some of the same soldiers and methods used in the successful manhunt for Saddam. The military says it’s now counting on improved intelligence and nicer weather, as well as increased cooperation from President Pervez Musharraf, who has faced increasingly violent opposition from Islamic extremists at home. “Two assassination attempts close together tends to be life-focusing,” one U.S. official said.
The NYT “Week in Review” section takes a look at social stratification in rapidly capitalizing China. Although nominally socialist and officially classless, China today has a level of income inequality that exceeds that of Japan and the U.S., and which is nearly as stark as it had been just before communists seized power in 1949.
In the none-of-our-business department, a tenaciously descriptive piece inside the WP recaps the debate over whether George Washington—father of nothing, it turns out, except for our republic—was sterile. An article just published in a medical journal contends that GW was probably left infertile by complications of tuberculosis, a theory endorsed by a number of scholars. Some historians, though, hold to the traditional view that Martha Washington was the responsible party. “In Washington’s mind, at least, there is the idea that he could father a child,” a dissenting biographer told the paper. “If a virile man who can ride a horse 20 miles a day thinks he can still do it, do we listen to him or to a medical expert 200 years later?”