Everyone leads that terrorists attacked compounds in Eastern Saudi Arabia yesterday, killing at least 10 people and seizing about 50 hostages, many of them Western oil workers. By early this morning, Saudi commandos had freed the captives and were taking gunmen into custody. The U.S. State Department confirmed that one American was killed and two others wounded. It was the second assault against out-of-towners in the Kingdom this month, and the New YorkTimes’ initial online story noted that more than 90 people have been killed there in the past year in militant attacks and shootouts. In statements posted on the Internet, a radical Islamic group connected to al-Qaida claimed responsibility.
The NYT initially reported that the assailants, wearing military-style uniforms to escape detection, scaled an unguarded wall of Khobar’s Oasis Residential Resorts compound shortly after dawn and then went door to door, pulling residents from their homes. According to the AP, the gunmen separated Muslims from non-Muslims and released a Lebanese woman after telling her they were in search of “infidels” and Westerners. Some of the more grisly details already taking shape at press time: The attackers opened fire on a school bus and killed a 10-year-old Egyptian boy; they tied a rope to one of the slain bodies and dragged it behind their car through the streets; they threw a body out of the six-story building in which they were holed up; and one American executive watched as his wife was shot in the legs as she ran from her garden to a nearby guard house.
Of the three papers, the NYT riffs loudest on the unfortunate timing and location of the attack vis-à-vis oil prices but tempers its alarm with a reminder that “it would take an assault on a production facility itself to send real tremors through the market.” Saudi Arabia had been lobbying OPEC to reduce the rate of crude by upping production, but one longtime resident who works for the national oil company tells the paper, “Forty families had already decided to go next month before this happened. That is a lot.” Even before the shooting had stopped, some residents were already spotted packing up and driving away. Both the NYT and LAT note that the Saudi Kingdom’s oil industry, which is the largest in the world, is dependent on roughly 6 million foreign workers.
With the June 30 transfer of power deadline looming, the NYT off-leads, and the WP and LAT reefer, the internal wrangling over the selection of the Iraqi president. In one corner sit U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and L. Paul Bremer, supporting the moderate, ra-ra-West Adnan Pachachi. In the other corner are the leaders of the Governing Council, who, evidently emboldened by their trumping of Brahimi on the selection of Iyad Allawi as prime minister, support council president Ghazi Yawar. Says the NYT, “The dispute reflects the surprisingly strong role being played by the Iraqi Governing Council, an American-appointed collection of political leaders that is collectively derided by many Iraqis.” The Post chimes in, “Although Brahimi and Bremer wanted the council’s role to be limited … members have maneuvered over the past week to give themselves a decisive role.”
In an hourlong interview with reporters on Friday, presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry articulated his foreign policy agenda, and per custom, didn’t exactly beat around the Bush. In its below-the-fold coverage of the exchange, the WP focuses on the fact that Kerry waxed pragmatic about promoting democracy abroad versus protecting national security, whereas the NYT zeroes in on his critique of Bush’s “almost myopic” obsession with Iraq. While Kerry has struggled to distinguish his vision of Iraq from the president’s, both papers cite his sharp contrast on North Korea, i.e., that he would engage in bilateral talks with Pyongyang.
Inside, the NYT takes an exclusive look at an Army report by Maj. Gen. Donald Ryder disclosing that hundreds of Iraqi prisoners were held in Abu Ghraib for extended periods despite any evidence of guilt. Apparently some Iraqis were detained several months for simply expressing “displeasure or ill will” toward coalition forces. According to the paper, the Army arrests hundreds of Iraqis each week and “has offered little public explanation of the process of deciding who should be released and who should remain in prison.” Said the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq last week, “If they were innocent, they wouldn’t be at Abu Ghraib.” (Two days later, 624 prisoners were released from the prison, the fourth such release this month. Perhaps he was channeling President Bush, who once declared of the Guantanamo Bay detainees, more than 100 of whom have been released, “The only thing I know for certain is that these are bad people.”)
The WP and LAT give Memorial Day a little more play than the NYT. Yesterday’s dedication ceremony of the National World War II Memorial in D.C. drew 117,000 ticket holders and perhaps tens of thousands more—the largest gathering of WWII vets since, well, WWII.
Once again, says the LAT’s off-lead, the U.S. is making concessions in Najaf and Fallujah in an effort to limit casualties and stabilize Iraq, a strategy that “carries risks, such as appearing weak militarily and losing credibility in the already skeptical eyes of Iraqis.” And apparently Sadr wants even more; namely, for U.S. soldiers to stop patrolling Najaf and Kufa, reports a deeply stuffed WP article. Yesterday skirmishes between Sadr’s militiamen and U.S. forces threatened a fragile cease-fire, and three marines were killed in the Anbar province west of Baghdad.
In one of the most severe losses since the fall of the Taliban, four U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan yesterday by remnants sympathetic to the former regime, who seek to disrupt the September elections.
On the heels of this week’s WMD non-apology from the editors of the NYT, Public Editor Dan Okrent presents a withering diagnosis of the newspaper’s institutional problems, which include “The Hunger for Scoops”; “Front-Page Syndrome” (um, Nagourney much?); “Hit-and-Run Journalism”; “Coddling Sources”; and “End-Run Editing.” TP is glad to see him call out Judith Miller by name and ask if she’s done any post-ex-fact(o)-checking with her sources. TP’s favorite line from Okrent to Miller: “Stories, like plants, die if they are not tended. So do the reputations of newspapers.”