The Washington Postleads with the U.S.-U.N. decision to seek new leaders when the Iraqi government takes control of the country on June 30, rather than relying on the majority of Iraqi politicians who have been in power during the occupation. The Los Angeles Timesleads with—and the Post fronts—Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s statement that he told President Bush last week he no longer felt bound by an earlier pledge not to harm Yasser Arafat. The New York Timesleads with direct warnings from American authorities in Iraq to insurgents in Fallujah: If the rebels do not lay down their arms, the U.S. will attack within days. (This threat was the lead story in yesterday’s LAT; it also topped the Wall Street Journal’s worldwide news box on Friday).
Opinion polls indicate that the public does not support most members of the Iraqi Governing Council. Likely to be axed soon is Ahmad Chalabi, a Shiite politician long thought to be in the running for a top spot in a post-Hussein Iraq. Chalabi has lost love from the Bush administration, who is lately irritated by his insistence on removing Baathists from power. (Chalabi said Thursday that allowing Baathists to return to office was like letting Nazis lead Germany after World War II.) Chalabi’s party, the Iraqi National Congress, might also lose its $340,000 monthly stipend.
Sharon’s threat, which was revealed in a TV interview, seems designed to create the impression that the White House approves of any action taken against the Palestinian Authority president. (The State Department insisted Friday that President Bush asserted to Sharon his opposition to the assassination or exile of Arafat.) Sharon is looking for support among hard-liners in his Likud Party for the May 2 vote on his proposal to withdraw from Gaza Strip settlements. The papers note that the entirety of this interview will air Tuesday, which is Israel’s Independence Day.
The papers mention that four men were killed by Israeli security forces in two separate incidents Friday. The WP says that according to Israel, three men were members of the radical group al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, and the fourth was a Hamas member.
The pressure is increasing in Fallujah because of the impending lack of food and medicine and the fact that insurgents had only turned over outdated weapons, a senior Bush administration official told the NYT. “Our patience is not eternal,” said a military spokesman in Baghdad. (On Thursday it was the top Marine general in Iraq that gave a similar warning and made headlines on Friday.) And more troops may be on the way to Iraq: Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East, said on Friday that he would probably request more troops, which currently number 135,000, according to the Times.
Early morning reports indicate that insurgents struck a military base north of Baghdad with rockets Saturday morning, killing four American soldiers. At about the same time, an apparent suicide car bomb exploded in Tikrit, leaving at least three Iraqis dead.
Everyone fronts the death of Pat Tillman, an American soldier in Afghanistan who left his career as a safety for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals to enlist as an Army Ranger. Tillman—who gave up a $3.6 million contract offer from the Cardinals in 2002 to join the Army with his brother—was killed in a firefight Thursday near the Pakistan border, which left two American soldiers wounded and an Afghan soldier fighting with the American troops dead.
On Friday L. Paul Bremer III, chief of the American occupation authority in Iraq, delivered a blunt televised speech in which he acknowledged mistakes during the American-led occupation. He also told Iraqis that the American mission for democracy in Iraq would not succeed without them.
Also on Friday, Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr threatened the commencement of suicide attacks if American troops enter Iraq’s holy cities to capture or kill him. “Some of the mujaheddin brothers have told me they want to carry out martyrdom attacks, but I am postponing this. … When we are forced to do so … we will all be time bombs in the face of the enemy,” Sadr said during his regular Friday sermon to thousands.
The NYT alone fronts President Bush’s decision to ease most Reagan-era sanctions in Libya on Friday. (Both the LAT and WP stuff the story.) Friday’s announcement was in response to Libya’s abandonment of nuclear weapons. But Libya’s not completely back in the Bush administration’s good graces: The country remains on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. The papers note that the lifted restrictions are a major victory for American oil companies, who had been banned from doing business in Libya for the past 18 years.
The Post and LAT front the Vatican’s unveiling of a long-awaited set of rules governing the celebration of Mass. In an effort to stop abuses of church practices, a senior Vatican official said that politicians who support abortion should be barred from receiving Holy Communion. John Kerry is in favor of abortion rights, and he has not been denied communion in his hometown.
The Washington Post runs a correction about the photos of American flag-draped caskets the paper published Friday. The photos were identified as coffins of Americans who had died in Iraq and were being returned to the U.S. One photo in yesterday’s Post was actually of a casket of an astronaut from the space shuttle Columbia. The photos were originally posted on a Web site called the Memory Hole, which had obtained the photos through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Air Force. NASA subsequently made a statement that many of the photos pictured astronauts’ coffins rather than those of American soldiers from Iraq.