Today's Papers

For Whom the Bell Polls

USA Today leads with a big poll of Iraqis showing that while most are happy Saddam is gone and think the ensuing difficulties are worth it, 57 percent want the U.S. to “leave immediately”; 75 percent of respondents in Baghdad said that. The New York Times, in a caveat-filled lead, says a Pentagon report has apparently concluded that many of the bombings and more sophisticated attacks in Iraq are being carried out by Saddam’s former secret police. The Wall Street Journal’s worldwide news box and the Washington Post lead with catch-alls on Iraq emphasizing a series of firefights as well as repeated U.S. air strikes in Fallujah. U.S. officials again put off a plan to patrol with Iraqi forces in town. Insurgents still haven’t turned in heavy weapons as city leaders said they would. The Los Angeles Times leads with a Supreme Court ruling that Southern California air quality officials overstepped their authority when they required garbage haulers and other companies to buy low-pollution vehicles.

While most Iraqis said they want the U.S. to leave, 53 percent also said they’ll feel less secure if GIs exit. Thirty percent of Sunnis said attacks against U.S. forces “can be completely justified,” and 71 percent of all respondents described GIs as “occupiers.” One potential reason for the disenchantment: 85 percent of respondents said the U.S. is trying only a little or not at all to restore basic services. Gallup conducted the poll, interviewing 3,500 Iraqis in late March and early April.

The NYT says the Pentagon report that Saddam’s henchmen are behind some bombings is apparently based on interrogations and other specific intelligence. The story, which is datelined Washington, acknowledges that the paper didn’t actually see the report and is relying on descriptions and quotes from “United States government officials and military officers.” In other judicious tush-covering language, the NYT says, “It is not known whether [the report] represents a fully formed consensus or whether there might be dissenting assessments. … The report does not address the question of how broad-based support for the insurgency is.”

The Post suggests that faced with a series of bad options, the administration hasn’t decided whether to attack Fallujah. But the LAT suggests that’s not true and seems to pull back the cloak a bit: The paper says the Marines have moved into position to attack—”We got the last unit in place today,” said one officer—and U.S. officials now “say a full-scale assault is all but inevitable.” The paper says that special ops troops have already been moving against the insurgents and says the gunship attacks are basically offensive and meant to soften up the guerrillas before the strike. One unnamed senior administration official said it won’t be a “guns-blazing, culminating kind of thing. It’s going to be much more subtle than that.” A military commander had a different perspective: “When we go in, you’ll see, we’re going to go in with heavy armor, and we’re going to kill people.”

That’s a horrible idea, writes Iraq specialist Sandra Mackey in a NYT op-ed. She says the U.S. still doesn’t understand that tribal codes are probably going to make the fighting endless. Mackey recommends negotiating.

The NYT hypes a poll showing eroding support for President Bush as well as his handling of Iraq. It pegs his approval rating at 47 percent, the lowest of his presidency and about four points below a month ago. The poll also shows Bush leading Sen. John Kerry 43 percent to 41 percent, with Nader clocking in at 5 percent. In a nice nod to the existence of an outside world, the Times reviews other outlets’ recent polls, where the trends are similar but Bush has generally fared a touch better than at the NYT.

The LAT and NYT go inside with reports of photos of American guards in Iraq abusing prisoners. The guards were arrested in March, but the Pentagon hadn’t released details about the charges. Among the photos were pictures of prisoners piled on top of each of other and one with an epithet written on his skin. Another prisoner had electric wires connected to his body. Neither paper runs any of the photos, which were broadcast last night on 60 Minutes II.

The LAT fronts word that a Pentagon official, the deputy undersecretary for international technology security, is under investigation for allegedly attempting to strong-arm coalition officials in Iraq into tweaking a big contract proposal to help his friends at a cell phone consortium land it.

The Post fronts the White House’s decision to count the millions of hatchery-bred salmon as “wildlife,” thus upping the number of salmon for the Endangered Species Act. The first half of the story is standard and uninformative: Environmentalists think the change is horrible while logging and other industry groups think it’s good science. Getting a sense of the truth requires slogging through until the 13th paragraph. There, the paper explains that six salmon scientists, whose opinion had been solicited by the administration, recently wrote in a journal that the change is bogus. “The current political and legal wrangling is a sideshow to the real issues,” said one of the researchers. “We know biologically that hatchery supplements are no substitute for wild fish.” The researchers had told the administration the same thing. But the Post says the scientists were “told that some of their conclusions about hatchery fish were inappropriate for official government reports.” 

USAT’s graphic “Snapshot” shows that the percentage of the world population living in extreme poverty—defined as less than $1 per day—has dropped over the past 20 years from 40 percent to 21 percent. Which is fascinating—and basically useless since there’s no explanation of whether inflation was considered.

Describing the situation in Fallujah, the Post says, “Observed from a Marine forward operating base in the city, most streets appeared deserted. The roar of fighter jets, the thud of explosions and the sight of massive smoke clouds rising into the air punctuated the afternoon.” Or as President Bush put it, “Most of Fallujah is returning to normal.”