Today's Papers

Ali, the Greatest Ever

The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal worldwide news box, and Los Angeles Timesall lead with the extraordinary day in Iraq, where returning cleric Grand Ayatollah ali-Sistani brokered a peace deal and roughly 70 people were killed, about half by Iraqi police. In the deal, Muqtada Sadr is supposed to end his uprising while his militia as well as GIs are supposed to pull out of Najaf. USA Today leads with and WP off-leads census data showing that the percentage of uninsured as well people living below the official poverty line both increased for the third straight year. Median household income was also stagnant, at $43,318.

Sadr’s men can keep their guns, and the cleric himself won’t be arrested—a deal the Post characterizes as being forced on the weak government by Sistani. Sadr “is as free as any Iraqi citizen to do whatever he would like in Iraq,” said one widely quoted Iraqi minister. One Iraqi official told the Post the U.S. doesn’t have to pull out until Sadr does. One Marine was killed in the fighting yesterday.

The NYT sees some signs that the deal, like others, won’t stick. For one thing, Sistani’s aides refused to discuss details, such as timing. And then there was Sadr’s performance (or lack thereof) at the cease-fire news conference: “He was spied slipping out to the street just as it got under way. Later, Mr. Sadr’s promised public statement failed to materialize.” The other papers mostly see this as an agreed-upon face-saving move.

Everybody mentions that Al Jazeera received a video of what appears to be the execution of an Italian journalist kidnapped in Iraq. Two French reporters in Iraq have been missing since last week.

The NYT fronts word that a classified annex in the latest report on Abu Ghraib specifically slaps the former top commander in Iraq. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez issued a series of loose and increasingly confused interrogation guidelines that resulted in officers thinking the abuse they were meting out was approved. The classified annex says that the treatment at least implicitly approved by Sanchez involved putting prisoners in solitary while “naked in very hot or very cold, small rooms, and/or completely darkened rooms, clearly in violation of the Geneva Conventions.” Asked whether Sanchez’s orders had opened the door to abuse, one of the report’s authors said Sanchez “didn’t close the door, and he should have.” The Times also notes that it’s a bit of a mystery why these criticisms are classified in the first place.

Citing unnamed government officials, the LAT stuffs and the NYT says above the fold that the president is about to issue an executive order giving the head of the CIA more power, though what exactly that means is unclear. As it stands, the director of central intelligence is only symbolically the boss of non-CIA intelligence agencies since he has no control over their budgets. The Times says up high that the coming executive order will tell the other agencies to give the CIA chief “full authority on budgetary and other matters.” Uh, except the article’s 11th paragraph says “some details” of the plan are still up in the air, such as “the extent of any new budget authority to be given to the director of central intelligence.” In other words, the main new power that the CIA chief could get—control of purse strings—might not be given. That’s a teensy bit hard to figure out from the Times’ headline, “BUSH PREPARING TO BOLSTER C.I.A. DIRECTOR’S POWER.”

The LAT’s treatment of the CIA story is smarter, not buying the notion that the changes will necessarily strengthen the director’s role: “INTELLIGENCE CZAR PLAN REPORTED.”

The NYT and USAT front separate 30-minute interviews with President Bush, who told the Times he made a “miscalculation of what the conditions would” be in post-invasion Iraq. (Here’s a partial transcript of the interview.)  He also told the NYT he doesn’t really think Kerry has fibbed about his Vietnam service—”No, I don’t think he lied”—but he again declined to criticize ill-supported ads charging Kerry with just that. While the NYT’s headlines Bush’s lukewarm defense of Kerry, it might not be a change in tack for the president. During his USAT interview, Bush declined to make a similar point and instead said the vets’ campaign “really doesn’t seem that ugly to me.”

The Times also says the president “appeared unfamiliar” with a recent administration report concluding that human activities seem to explain global warming. The White House had previously remained agnostic on that; the new report acknowledged what most scientists now agree on—at least it seemed so. “Ah, we did?” said Bush. “I don’t think so.”