The Los Angeles Times leads with the “massive” suicide car-bomb in central Riyadh that killed at least four and wounded about 150. The New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today lead with Iraq catch-alls headlining the suicide car-bombings in Basra. The death toll in those attacks now stands at 73, including 17 children. Some British soldiers arriving at the scene were met by angry residents who pelted them with rocks.
Over the past few weeks, Saudi police have had a series of run-ins with militants, and police say during that time, they’ve disarmed five car-bombs. Most of the papers echo the administration’s assertions that al-Qaida is behind the attack. But the NYT, which has the only story today filed from Riyadh, suggests that it’s more likely the attackers were fellow travelers, that is, jihadists. “We are looking at the B-team. They are less disciplined, a little more ad hoc,” one U.S. official told the Times. As Lee Smith recently reminded in Slate, al-Qaida isn’t a “centralized body” with endless numbers of agents dutifully taking orders. Rather, it appears to be a small organization with a limited capacity; the bigger threat is the ideology and movement it has come to represent.
The Wall Street Journal says that the bombings in Shiite-dominated Basra could hurt the nationalistic, Fallujah-fueled good vibes developing between Sunni and Shiite. “We have two different phenomena happening: One is terrorism, and the other is armed resistance,” said one Iraqi analyst. “While the armed resistance is targeted specifically at coalition forces, the terrorists seem to be waging a sectarian war between Shiites and the Sunnis.”
The Post fronts word that the administration has decided to loosen its ban on former Baathists and top military officers in government. “The decisions made a year ago have bedeviled the situation on the ground ever since,” said one “senior U.S. official involved in Iraq” policy. “Walking back these policies is a triumph of the view in the field over policies originally crafted in Washington.” No announcement has been made—except to the Post—and details are apparently still being worked out. (Later editions of the LAT also front the decision and credit the Post.) Yesterday’s NYT quoted U.S. generals complaining about the ban.
The papers say that as Marines in Fallujah were attacked at least twice yesterday, the Marines’ top general in Iraq warned that an American offensive is “inevitable” unless guerrillas give up their heavy weapons. Looking at the few rusty and out-of-service guns that the insurgents have handed over, one Marine told the NYT, “This is an insult.” U.S. commanders do seem to be aware of the PR problems with going back in. “We have the potential to turn this into the Alamo if we get it wrong,” said one in another piece inside the Times.
The NYT does man-on-the-street interviews in Baghdad and finds “words dripping with venom at the American occupiers.” Nobody mentioned Basra; nobody mentioned kidnappings: It was all about Fallujah. “Frankly, we started to hate the Americans for that,” said one salesman. “The Americans will hit any family. They just don’t care.”
The NYT also notes that the U.S. has decided to keep only a few hundred troops around the holy city of Najaf, where cleric Muqtada Sadr is holed up. Thirty sheiks in town sent Sadr a letter urging him not to rile things up: “Now, when the negotiations are not a success, we ask you in the name of Islam to keep our city hallowed.”
The Post mentions inside that Spain said it will complete its pullout from Iraq within a month, twice as quickly as expected. “It’s causing us to have to scramble to backfill very important positions,” said one unnamed senior administration official. “And it could unnecessarily jeopardize operations and lives.”
The NYT says on Page One that two contractors working on Iraq’s electric grid, G.E. and Siemens, have suspended their work. “Between the G.E. lockdown and the inability to get materials moved up the major supply routes, about everything is being affected in one way or another,” said the top U.S. official for electricity in Iraq. He added, “I think we’re still in good shape as far as getting our equipment back up before the summer really hits us.”
The WSJ says that in response to Bob Woodward’s reporting, the Pentagon has acknowledged that starting in 2002 it spent about $180 million upgrading bases in the Mideast that ultimately helped with the invasion of Iraq. The military didn’t give Congress details about the spending, which the Pentagon says was simply part of the “war on terror.” The Journal says “even lawmakers who supported [the invasion] say the Defense Department stretched its authority and hid facts.”
The Journal mentions inside that Jordanian police killed four suspected militants who police said had been planning chemical and bombing attacks against the U.S. embassy and other targets in Amman.
The Post announces on Page One that columnist Mary McGrory has died. She was 85.