The Washington Post leads with the latest from Iraq, where 10 U.S. soldiers were reported killed over the weekend. Among them were five Marines who were killed in an attack by a few hundred guerrillas near the border with Syria, an area that had been relatively quiet. Ninety-nine U.S. soldiers have been killed in April, the deadliest month in the war. The New York Times guesstimates that 1,000 Iraqis—including both guerrillas and civilians—have been killed this month. The Wall Street Journal wordwide news box and NYT lead with the newly inaugurated Spanish prime minister fulfilling his campaign promise and ordering the withdrawal of his country’s 1,300 troops in Iraq. The Los Angeles Times leads with “tens of thousands” of mourners in Gaza attending the funeral for recently appointed and assassinated Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi. The paper says the procession was about the same size as the one for Hamas founder Sheik Yassin, which is to say, massive. The NYT off-leads news that some key rightist members of Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s Cabinet endorsed his plan to pull out of Gaza. USA Today, in an odd choice, leads with word that in the two years before Sept. 11, U.S./Canadian air defense command, NORAD, conducted exercises that envisioned hijacked jetliners being used as weapons and in one instance being flown into the World Trade Center. The exercises were created by “scriptwriters” and were not in response to specific intelligence warnings. The White House also said it hadn’t been aware of them.
USAT’s lead, of course, contrasts NORAD’s exercises with the White House’s occasional insistence that the government never imagined that hijacked planes could be used as missiles. But the lead has some problems. For one thing, it’s not news. TP founder Scott Shuger mentioned NORAD’s planes-as-bombs exercises two years ago. What’s more, it’s long been known that intelligence services were generally aware that al-Qaida types had been interested in such schemes. Considering that, besides the facile coincidence factor, why is this story in the lead spot?
The NYT fronts Iraq boss Paul Bremer upping his rhetoric and warning that the guerrillas “must be dealt with, and they will be dealt with.” The Times’ first sentence warns of a potential showdown with “rebels in Fallujah and Najaf.” But as the paper eventually gets to mentioning, while a fight in Fallujah may be approaching, it’s still unlikely that there’ll be one in Najaf, which is essentially the Shiites’ Vatican.
The NYT mentions that a reporter from the St. Louis Post Dispatch was with the Marines during the attack in a border town near Syria. That reporter, Ron Harris, has a sobering dispatch detailing the Marines’ hard-edged search patrols the day after the fight. “When we first got here, we tried making friends,” said one soldier. “Then I started evacuating my friends and it wasn’t cool anymore.”
The Post says that attacks on convoys near Baghdad have led to shortages of “food and other essential supplies” at military bases as well as at the U.S. HQ. “Whatever we take, it’s dangerous now,” said the owner of an Iraqi trucking firm that has worked with the U.S. “The mujahedeen stop you on the road. They ask you: ‘Who are taking these things for?’ They want to see the papers. If you lie and you don’t have the right papers, they will burn you with the trailer.’ “
Lagging behind the WP and others, the NYT has a lengthy piece on the proliferation of security contractors in Iraq. There’s a lot of retread, but the Times does get a draft of the rules of engagement the military has written for the contractors. The draft states that in limited circumstances contractors would have the authority to detain civilians.
In a news analysis that amounts to a scathing (and slightly overwrought?) critique of the occupation, the LAT’s Alissa Rubin says that while the fighting has calmed down, the “reality on the ground was, if anything, more disturbing than the week before.” Rubin writes that “more and more Iraqis who once resented—but tolerated—Americans, now refuse to talk to them.” Fallujah has become a symbol. Said one Iraqi doctor, “America won the war on April 9 last year; they lost the war on April 9 this year. That is what Iraqis feel.”
The Journal notes that eight Afghan soldiers were killed in an attack by suspected Taliban guerrillas.
A Page-One Post piece, citing unnamed Pentagon officials who “briefed” the paper, says the administration plans to spend $660 million to help mainly countries in Africa train and equip troops for peacekeeping missions. There aren’t enough such troops right now, and analysts praised the plan.
The WP says below-the-fold that a congressional bill meant to simply remove a $5 billion export subsidy has turned into “one of the most complex, special-interest-riddled corporate tax bills in years,” with $170 billion in tax cuts (that are at least theoretically off-set by tightening of various tax loopholes). One lobbyist “involved in drafting” the bill described the result as “a new level of sleaze.”
The NYT goes Page One with unnamed administration officials complaining that Secretary of State Powell blabbed to Bob Woodward about his misgivings (and supposed prescience) about the Iraq invasion. “It’s such a soap opera with him,” said one “official.” (Take that, Al Siegal!)