Today's Papers

Khobar Tended

Everyone leads with the end of a standoff in the Saudi Arabian city of Khobar, where Islamic militants killed 22 people and held at least 40 more hostage for 25 hours in an upscale housing complex mainly populated by foreigners working in the oil industry.

According to the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, Saudi commandos defused booby traps and stormed the Oasis complex when the gunmen started executing hostages. The LAT article reveals that some residents of the complex were not taken hostage or killed because they were Muslim; the attackers were deliberately targeting Westerners and other foreign workers. All the papers note that the commandos captured the militants’ leader—and both the LAT and WP note that the anonymous man is on Saudi Arabia’s 25 most-wanted list—but that three of the gunmen used human shields to steal a car and escape into rush hour traffic. The New York Times reports that the situation of the human shields, and the gunmen, are unknown, and checkpoints have been set up all over the city. The NYT and LAT both idly speculate that the attack is a sign of Islamists’ desperation and weakness, citing the target’s propaganda appeal and lax security (the WP points out that while oil infrastructure is heavily guarded, the housing complexes aren’t) and a crackdown that started after last summer’s suicide bombings in Riyadh.

Everyone notes that an Islamist Web site posted an audio statement by Abdulaziz al-Muqrin, a leader of al-Qaida in Saudi Arabia, taking responsibility for the attacks, and the LAT and WP report that he claimed the attack was an attempt to destabilize worldwide oil markets and the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Pieces inside both the NYT and WP vaguely wonder if the “psychological shock” of the attacks will rattle foreign investors and affect the Saudi push to increase OPEC production, causing even higher oil prices. Major oil markets in both New York and London are closed on Monday.

The NYT stuffs word from Iraq that fighting between insurgents and American forces broke out in Najaf for the first time since Muqtada Sadr’s acceptance of a cease-fire on Thursday, when he promised to make his militia stand down. The scrum began Sunday afternoon when insurgents fired on American troops, and it continued later in Kufa (where there had been shooting earlier in the weekend) when Americans tried to retake control of a local police station. American officials speculated on many possible reasons for the re-ignition of violence, including possible splinter groups from Sadr or a misunderstanding of the cease-fire terms, but could not confirm any of them.

Only the NYT has news of a new investigation into 24 possible assaults and thefts committed by U.S. troops while on patrol in Iraq. According to the NYT the investigation“widens the scope of potential wrongdoing beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib and other prisons, to the daily operations of American forces in Iraq.” While military officials asserted that they were isolated cases of delinquency, an anonymous “Defense official” said that this report is only the tip of the iceberg and, interestingly, more reports of abuse have been coming in from soldiers emboldened by the Abu Ghraib debacle.

The NYT also fronts and the WP stuffs articles on the failure of U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to keep the selection of Iraqi interim leaders apolitical; instead of letting him select his preferred technocrats, both the CPA and the Iraqi Governing Council have been interceding and lobbying on behalf of their favorite sons. Brahimi still has not selected a president between his and the CPA’s choice, Adnan Pachachi, and the IGC’s choice, current council president Sheik Gazi al-Yawar. Both possibilities are Sunnis.

An LAT piece reveals that “[f]or two months, someone has been kidnapping the best doctors in Iraq.” Over 100 of Iraq’s top doctors have been abducted and occasionally beaten, but not killed, over the past few month. The intimidation and trauma has caused something of a physician shortage. There is barely any evidence explaining why doctors especially are being kidnapped, but Iraqi officials suspect a campaign to destabilize the Iraq health-care system.  

All the papers note inside that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is, after a seven-hour Cabinet meeting, one vote away from approval of his Gaza withdrawal plan. Still spearheading the opposition is finance minister and rival Benjamin Netanyahu, who had supported the plan until the Likud Party rejected it in a referendum.

A front-pager in the WP notes that Chinese military chief and ex-President Jiang Zemin has been consolidating power by promoting a hard line toward both Hong Kong and Taiwan. However, even though the stance may reduce new leaders’ wiggle room, it appears that bureaucratic nemesis and current Premier Hu Jintao actually supports Jiang’s policies. However, relations between the two are frosty: Earlier this year, Hu tried to get Jiang to fully retire while Jiang has used military-controlled media to mount a propaganda campaign and stacked the Politburo with his allies, and many wonder if he’s trying to push Hu out.

That is a highly misleading statement … Legendary WP Editor Ben Bradlee once lamented (and TP agreed)that “[e]ven the very best newspapers have never learned how to handle public figures who lie with a straight face” and that the one phrase you’ll never see on the front page of an American newspaper is “[t]hat is a lie.”

Well, his former paper’s front-page campaign summary focusing on President Bush’s ad blitz came pretty close today. The article inconspicuously begins with a laundry list of the accusations about the Iraq war, taxes, and homeland security that Bush’s campaign has leveled against Sen. John Kerry. But, in the sixth graf, the authors tartly shoot back: “[t]he charges were all tough, serious—and wrong, or at least highly misleading.”