Today's Papers

Rolling Rebellion

Everybody leads with the spreading uprisings in Iraq. There was heavy fighting in the Sunni town of Fallujah as Marines battled street-to-street; according to the papers U.S. forces now control about one-fourth of the town. Local hospital officials say dozens of Iraqis have been killed there. A wire piece in USA Today says about 280 Iraqis have been killed and about 400 wounded. One Marine was killed and at least six wounded. Two GIs were killed elsewhere in separate attacks. As the Washington Post emphasizes, at least 40 U.S. servicemen have been killed over the past seven days.

After coming under fire from a mosque in Fallujah, Marines called in an airstrike that appears to have destroyed the religious compound’s outer wall. Iraqis said 40 people were killed in the strike, while the Marines said they saw only one body, a guerrilla’s. Everybody sees the airstrike as potentially having a big impact among Iraqis, with the Los Angeles Times, which has a reporter embedded with the Marines in Fallujah, giving the strike a near banner headline.

Elsewhere, followers of radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr moved against more cities, mostly in the south. Ukrainian troops abandoned the town of Kut after a daylong fight with Sadr’s forces. The New York Times mentions that Sadr’s men appear to be focusing on non-U.S. coalition forces in the belief that they’re not well-trained and are easier to break.

The Post headlines and other emphasize SecDef Rumsfeld’s suggestions that in an effort to beef up the force in Iraq, the Pentagon will probably keep some GIs there past their original end of deployment dates.

Top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for both Sadr and coalition troops to stand down and “refrain from escalating steps that will lead to more chaos and bloodshed.”

The LAT, WP, and NYT all give the strong impression that things are much worse than the administration or the military is portraying. Page One of the NYT announces above the fold: “ACCOUNT OF BROAD SHIITE REVOLT CONTRADICTS WHITE HOUSE STAND.” The remarkably tough, albeit thinly sourced, piece cites U.S. intel officials as well as Iraqi observers who contradict the official position that the uprising consists of, as Rumsfeld put it, “thugs, gangs and terrorists.”  Rummy added, “There’s nothing like an army or large elements of hundreds of people trying to change the situation.”

Yes there is, says the Post, whichwanders through Shiite-dominated Sadr City and concludes that the  U.S. is going to have a hard time following through on its promise to “destroy” the rebelling Mahdi militia. Everybody interviewed in the neighborhood said essentially the same thing: As one tribal elder put it, “The Mahdi Army is the people. They’re the sons of all the city.”

The LAT has a more mixed view: Visiting Najaf, a usually moderate holy city where Sadr has holed himself up, the paper concludes that while Sadr has more support than the administration portrays, it seems as though the majority don’t support him; it’s just at the moment they’re not interested in making a big announcement about that.

The WP suggests—at the end of a piece inside—that the Marines in Fallujah are either trying to fool reporters or are fooling themselves:“Marine officials here continued to broadly describe their opponents as anti-coalition forces made up of Islamic extremists, criminals and Iraqis loyal to ousted president Saddam Hussein, along with a few foreign fighters. But several interpreters for the Marines, offered a slightly different description. ‘A lot of Iraqis hate us. They believe we are invaders who will take away their country’ said one interpreter.”

Most of the papers see signs that the Shiite and Sunni rebels are beginning to team up just a bit. The Post, for instance, notes that they made a joint raid earlier this week on a U.S. patrol in Baghdad. The NYT emphasizes that what coordination there is seems to be low-level and haphazard.

The NYTimes’ Christine Hauser says a NYT reporter (Jeffrey Gettleman) and freelance photographer were held along with two Iraqi staff for hours by insurgents in a small town just south of Baghdad. Hauser says that when they were released, the town was “completely controlled by the insurgents.” The NYT’s John Burns was held for hours by Sadr supporters earlier this week.

The Post says that with U.S. forces overstretched, private security forces have begun banding together to coordinate against rebel attacks. The Post, which appears to be reporting from D.C., says there have been at least three instances in the past few days in which security contractors were attacked, called the military for help, and were left to fend for themselves.

The Post says that the Marines, who have lost 25 men in the past week, are releasing less information about their casualties than is the Army. While the Army usually lists the location and type of attack, the Marines often only release a daily tally of those killed.

The papers note that commission has reviewed the nearly 11,000 Clinton-era documents the White House initially withheld, and on all but a handful has agreed with the administration’s assessment that they were irrelevant or duplicative. A total of about 50 documents, which the commission said it didn’t specifically request but “nonetheless are relevant to our work,” are still in dispute. Given that outcome, the WP’s headline seems over-the-top: “9/11 PANEL: BUSH WHITE HOUSE WITHHELD PAPERS.”

The Wall Street Journal goes high with a German court’s release of the only person convicted of involvement with 9/11, with the judge saying that Mounir el-Motassadeq had been denied a fair trial since the U.S. refused to allow a key AQ prisoner to testify. El-Motassadeq is expected to face a new trial on other charges in June.

Finally, proof Jews don’t control the media … From the NYT correction box:“An article on Saturday about unusual ways some families find to bring the themes of Passover to life at seder observances misidentified maror, a traditional seder food. It is a bitter herb, not a paste typically made of apples, nuts and grape juice or wine. (That is charoset.)”