Today's Papers

Iraq in Roil

The Los Angeles Times and USA Today lead, the New York Times and Washington Post off-lead, and the Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide news box with developments in Iraq, where a “patchy” cease-fire took hold yesterday between insurgents and U.S. forces in three Iraqi cities, and a U.S. Army attack helicopter was downed by a missile outside Baghdad, killing both crew members. More than 50 U.S. soldiers have died in the last week, and the papers cite AP and Reuters reports putting civilian casualties in the besieged Fallujah at 600. The NYT and WP lead—and the LAT fronts—President Bush’s statement to reporters yesterday that the intelligence briefing he received on Aug. 6, 2001, was not specific enough to merit action. “I am satisfied that I never saw any intelligence that indicated there was going to be an attack on America—at a time and a place, an attack,” he said in the most-cited sound bite, which the NYT taps as its “Quote of the Day.”

The papers’ Iraq stories paint an increasingly chaotic picture, where even a truce aimed at negotiating an end to the uprising is marked by continued fighting. “I don’t consider this a traditional cease-fire,” one Marine commander said in the WP’s Iraq roundup, which it runs inside. “I am still authorized to do everything necessary to defend Marine units.” The NYT’s John Burns underlines the deteriorating situation in his catch-all off-lead: “How serious matters have become was evident across Baghdad on Sunday, with entire districts in this city of 5 million people more deserted than they had been since the 21-day war last year.” The WSJ notes inside that things are so hairy that many news organizations, including the Journal, the NYT, and WP, are curtailing their reporting (subscription required).

One piece of relatively good news comes from Karbala, where, according to the Christian Science Monitor, more moderate Shiite clerics appear to have taken control from Muqtada Sadr’s militia over the course of the holiday weekend.

Nevertheless, seven Chinese citizens were kidnapped in south-central Iraq yesterday, and the papers all note that nothing more has been heard about the captured Halliburton employee whom insurgents had threatened to kill if Marines did not pull out of Fallujah by yesterday evening. Moreover, the fate of three Japanese civilian hostages taken last week remains unclear, after reports that they would be released yesterday. Still, a British civilian contractor captured a week ago was released and is said to be safe.

The WSJ goes inside with how the sympathies of everyday Iraqis are turning against Americans, and the paper is alone in reporting that at least four members of the Governing Council have resigned so far in protest of the U.S.’s siege tactics in Fallujah. According to Australia’s Age, British military commanders are also opposed to what they call the U.S.’s “sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut approach” that includes the use of artillery against targets in densely populated areas. “My view and the view of the British chain of command is that the Americans’ use of violence is not proportionate and is over-responsive to the threat they are facing,” said one commander from his base in southern Iraq.

Alone among papers, the NYT notes (after the jump in its off-lead) that the U.N. team that arrived in Iraq last week has made almost no progress in hammering out who or what exactly will inherit the sovereignty the U.S. means to transfer on June 30. “Even meeting with some of the key leaders has been a logistical nightmare,” the paper writes. Both the LAT’s lead and a separate front-page NYT story about the military dangers of Iraq’s political sclerosis quote administrator L. Paul Bremer’s response on NBC yesterday when he was asked who’ll be taking over in two and a half months. “Well, that’s a good question,” he said, “and it’s an important part of the ongoing crisis we have here now.”

The WP’s off-lead narrates the discovery of an insurgent hideout in Fallujah that may have been home to some foreign fighters. Among bomb-making implements, suicide vests, and letters home describing the martyrdom to come, Marines also found a cheat-sheet for identifying American military ranks by insignia. “I see captain and lieutenant, but no warrant officer. Guess I’m safe,” said one Marine as he laughed nervously.

The WP and NYT both front extensive updates on the tangled investigation into the March 11 train bombings that claimed 191 lives in Madrid—and both papers add fodder to fears (voiced recently by Slate’s Mickey Kaus, among others) that al-Qaida-style terrorism is replicating itself among home-grown extremists who keep only loose ties to the organizational center. “Our current thinking is that most of the group was based in Spain, but it benefited from the warrior ideology of Al Qaeda,” one Spanish official told the Times. “The connection is perhaps ideological, not operational.” The attack’s main organizer, who later blew himself up, along with six accomplices, allegedly met with a senior al-Qaida operative, identified as Amer Azizi, to ask for manpower and money, according to the Post. But that operative, who is still at large, demurred, offering only his endorsement and permission to use the al-Qaida name to take credit.

When asked about the Aug. 6 PDB, in a short exchange excerpted inside the Post, President Bush minimized its importance and said he would have “moved mountains” had he perceived a threat. “It said Osama bin Laden had designs on America,” Bush said, in the NYT and WSJ. “Well, I knew that. What I wanted to know was, is there anything specifically going to take place in America that we needed to react to?” One political science professor had this gotcha quote for the NYT’s kicker: “Truman said, ‘The buck stops here.’ Bush is saying, ‘The buck never got to me.’ “

The LAT’s fronter, a separate page-one NYT article, and a piece inside the WSJ all suggest that the focus will now shift to how the FBI reacted to the information in the briefing, especially as the 9/11 commission is scheduled to hear testimony from Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller this week. “It seems to me the FBI has more questions to answer than Condoleezza Rice or Dick Clarke or anyone we’ve had testify before us so far,” said one commissioner on a Sunday talk show.

Bush answered reporters’ questions about the PDB at Fort Hood, where he visited with injured soldiers and distributed purple hearts yesterday. According to separate pieces inside the WP and NYT, only one pool reporter was allowed to accompany him during the visit; the reporter said Bush emerged “red-eyed” and “grim,” appearing “strained under the sudden and immense weight of the presidency.”

The IRS’s audit rate for corporations has fallen steadily under the Bush administration, according to a new report that the WP fronts and the NYT and WSJ run inside. The papers put their decimal points in different places (the WSJ and  NYT say 7.3 percent of businesses faced an audit in 2003 while the Post says it was 0.73 percent), but either way, the number of business audits shrank almost 20 percent from 2002 and more than 50 percent since 1999.

USAT reefers the politics of search engines: specifically, an effort to “Google bomb” Sen. John Kerry. A group of Web-savvy Republicans has launched a campaign to make Kerry the No. 1 Google search result for the query waffles, linking the word to his campaign Web site on their blogs. So far, with only 44 participants, they haven’t managed to breach the top 1,000 results on Google, but on Yahoo! this morning, they’ve reached No. 2. The effort was inspired by last year’s successful bid to make George Bush’s presidential bio on the first Google result for the phrase “miserable failure.” (Bush supporters, in response, managed to replicate the feat with the phrase “great president.”) ” ‘Waffles,’ isn’t as mean as ‘miserable failure,’ but says something about what many people feel about Kerry,” explained the organizer, who says he isn’t affiliated with the Bush campaign.