The Los Angeles Times and New York Times lead with U.N. envoy for Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi telling the Security Council that an interim government should be picked by the end of May, a month before the planned transfer of nominal sovereignty. USAToday leads with what it describes as the “most violent” fighting in Fallujah since Marines surrounded the city, with the U.S. launching gunship strikes on one neighborhood in town. The Washington Post’s top non-local story says the U.S. is updating its estimate of the number of North Korean nukes from “possibly two” to at least eight, enough perhaps for more than a deterrent force. The new estimate is based on circumstantial evidence, such as an analysis of plutonium byproducts on the clothing of an unofficial U.S. delegation that visited the nukes site. The Post notes that private analysts have said for months that Pyongyang probably has more nukes. “It’s long overdue for [the administration] to do something,” said one analyst.
It is not clear what’s happening in Fallujah. For one thing, some of the papers are now putting quotes around “cease-fire” and “defensive” Marine action. And while most papers say there was extraordinarily heavy fighting (as does a wire story, citing residents), the LAT suggests it may be overblown: The Marines launched what they insisted was a routine mission—”This was one of our quieter nights,” said one officer—the only difference being that an Al-Jazeera camera happened to catch the action and broadcast it live. The NYT’s Fallujah story, which headlines “fierce fighting,” is filed from Baghdad, where John Burns all but says he reported by watching Al-Jazeera, which is what happens sometimes when it’s not safe to travel.
Guerrillas in town didn’t turn in their heavy weapons by yesterday’s deadline, but the U.S. says it still doesn’t plan on a full-scale attack. “At this point we don’t think that putting deadlines, ultimatums on the table [is] very helpful,” said a military spokesman. Nearly pulling a Cronkite, Burns says the strategy of negotiation “now seems deeply uncertain, like much else about the wider American enterprise in Iraq.”
One GI was killed in Baghdad’s Sadr City, a Shiite neighborhood.
The Post fronts the U.S. military’s announcement that 64 gunmen, apparently supporters of cleric Muqtada Sadr, were killed on Monday night near Najaf; the military said Marines had come under attack and called in gunships. Most of the deaths are from the same battle the papers had sketchy reports of yesterday.
The Times’ Burns continues to hear reports that Sadr’s position is weakening. After a few of Sadr’s supporters were reportedly killed by an unknown group, some of his men appear to be shedding their trademark black outfits.
The NYT fronts and others tease a bomb and follow-up attacks by heavily armed gunmen in Damascus, who apparently targeted a former U.N. office. Syrian officials said two civilians were killed and two of the attackers later died in a shoot-out with police. Given the tight control Syria’s government keeps and the fact that no papers are reporting from there, nobody really knows what happened. But the best—and most innovative—coverage comes from the BBC, which asked people who saw the blasts or live in the neighborhood to write in. The BBC then posted the responses.
Alone among the papers, the Wall Street Journal reports up high on clashes between Thai police and Islamic militants in which, according to early morning reports, about 100 people have died.
The NYT has a long, largely rehashed piece about the in-house intelligence shop that Pentagon officials set up to second-guess intelligence agencies that had doubted that Saddam was connected to al-Qaida. One CIA analyst said the Pentagon office’s motto seemed to be, “Leave no dot unconnected.”
The papers note inside that the White House has insisted that the president and vice president’s joint appearance before the 9/11 commission not be recorded and that no official transcript be made. While arguing that the non-recording is necessitated by the classified info they’ll be discussing, a White House “adviser” added that a transcript “implies testimony,” which the White House insists Bush and Cheney aren’t giving. An outside analyst said the decision simply “gives them more maneuverability in case someone slips up or says something he regrets.”
The NYT’s John Kifner watches the Marines in Fallujah train members of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps for their coming joint patrol, or what the Marines call the “suicide patrol.” Kifner doesn’t seem impressed. Sporting “footwear ranging from lounge-lizard zip-up boots to counterfeit Adidas running shoes,” the Iraqis launched an imaginary raid with their Marine counterparts:
The Marines formed them up in two lines, the Iraqis crouching in action-movie style. One had the shoulder strap of his AK-47 assault rifle stretched across the muzzle. “Yallah” from the Iraqis, “Let’s go” from the Marines—the Defense Corps men trotted toward a small cinder-block building, crouched by the door and strolled inside. “Bang! bang!” shouted the Marines, simulating gunfire. “All clear,” said the Iraqis, learning to make the Marines’ thumbs-up sign. “That’s how it will go for now,” said a Marine commander.