Today's Papers

Sadr Totters

Most of the papers lead with Iraq, where things have calmed down a good deal. The Washington Post and USA Today headline radical clericMuqtada Sadr’s militia returning control of government buildings in various towns to Iraqi police while high-level Shiite representatives met with Sadr’s people to try to hammer out a deal. In Fallujah, a tentative cease-fire seems to be holding. The Los Angeles Times’ lead says that the U.S. used “massive firepower to regain control” of the highways leading out of Baghdad. The New York Times, which off-leads Iraq, doesn’t think that the U.S. actually regained control: “TROOPS IN IRAQ STRAIN TO HOLD LINES OF SUPPLY.” At least two convoys were attacked Monday and three contractors killed. After one of the attacks, the convoy was looted while Iraqi police looked on. The Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide news box with the top U.S. commander in the Mideast, Gen. Abizaid, asking for reinforcements of “two brigades of combat power, if not more,” about 10,000 troops. The NYT leads with President Bush’s mention that “now may be a time to revamp and reform our intelligence services.” The Times, right up in the second paragraph, notes that the White House has “not acted on a number of far-reaching proposals” to reorganize intelligence services in the past, including ones forwarded last year by the congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks. The coming 9/11 commission report is expected to call for major reform, perhaps including the creation of a domestic intelligence agency.

The Shiite talks with Sadr are supported by top cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and the U.S.’s position on them is unclear. The U.S. has placed about 3,000 troops outside the holy city of Najaf, where Sadr has holed himself up. “My intent is to destroy Sadr’s militia, absolutely destroy it,” said one U.S. commander. “We’re just waiting to be unleashed.” He added, “If we do this wrong, it will be felt from Morocco to Indonesia.”

Najaf’s residents don’t seem happy about their new neighbor; some locals handed out anti-Sadr leaflets, which stated, “We don’t want anyone, whoever he is, to surround himself with armed bodyguards and return us to an era of slavery for the Iraqi people.”

With the U.S. Army essentially tapped out, it’s unclear where the requested troops will be found. They could be shipped from the U.S., or they could be, simply, soldiers in Iraq held beyond their return dates. The total number is also up in the air. “You could see that number halve—or even double,” one unnamed Pentagon official told the LAT.

The LAT profiles one Iraqi unit that has actually helped the U.S. in Fallujah. Though some of them have already deserted, “these guys are hard-core,” said one Marine. One of the Iraqi soldiers also warned that the transfer of power better happen quickly: “If it does not happen by June 30, everyone will quit. We fight for Iraq, not the U.S.”

Kidnappings also continued, with about 10 Russian contractors seized yesterday. Three Czech journalists disappeared Sunday. And the military has listed two soldiers as well as seven employees of Halliburton as missing; they were all in a convoy that was attacked Friday.

The Post says some drivers for contracting companies, which ship about half the military’s supplies in Iraq, have been refusing to drive the roads. Halliburton also said it was suspending some of its convoy deliveries. There have “been some delays” in supply lines “due to the recent hostilities,” said one military spokesman.

Everybody notes that the Pentagon is insisting that the claims of hundreds of civilian casualties in Fallujah is just Jenin-style propaganda. A front-page piece in the Post looks at the effect the Arab media’s portrayal of Fallujah is having on Baghdad’s streets while the Post’s Pamela Constable goes to a Marines roadblock around Fallujah and tries to find out the truth. “There has been a constant flow of casualties coming through,” said one officer. “There are women and children and men, a lot of men.”

The Pentagon announced that 60 Americans had been killed in combat over the past week, the highest number of the war, including the week of the invasion.

The WP fronts and the NYT goes inside with word that 9/11 commission draft reports portray Attorney General John Ashcroft as essentially uninterested in counterterrorism before 9/11. Shortly before the attacks, Ashcroft had rejected a request to increase counterterrorism funding. The Times, which cites “panel officials and others with access to the reports,” says Ashcroft’s people have mounted an “aggressive, last-minute effort” to get the panel to rewrite the reports, which they are one-sided.  

The NYT says inside that freelance nuke proliferator Abdul Qadeer Khan has told Pakistani authorities that back when he was helping out the North Koreans about five years ago, he saw three of their nukes. The CIA has long suspected that North Korea has a nuke or two, but it’s never been able confirm that. Intelligence officials aren’t sure Khan is right. For one thing, they note, Khan is trained as a metallurgist not as a nukes scientist (!) and might not be able to tell the difference between a live weapon and a mock-up.

The Post fronts Bush’s proposal to revamp the federal program that subsidizes rent for low-income families, known as Section 8. Under the proposal, money would bypass states and go directly to local housing authorities. It would eliminate rules that families pay no more than two-fifths of their income in rent as well as rules that most of the money go to extremely poor families. The Post says the proposal is widely disliked, including by Republicans, and suggests that despite White House statements to the contrary, the administration’s budget proposes cutting funds to the program, albeit by a small amount.

USAT runs a nearly 400-word correction on a 1999 story, “SAUDI MONEY AIDING BIN LADEN,” that among other infractions refers to an audit that never appears to have happened. The correction ends, “The story was written by Jack Kelley, a reporter who was found recently to have fabricated several high-profile stories. In this case, the story’s assertions had been widely reported and subsequently retracted by others.”