The New York Times, Wall Street Journal worldwide news box, and Los Angeles Times alllead with the latest from Iraq, where a conference to organize elections went severely off-message as many Shiite delegates demanded that the U.S. pull out of Najaf. Fighting restarted in that holy city, and two U.S. soldiers were killed. As the conference was being held—and at least one delegate tried to storm the stage in protest—mortar rounds landed near the gathering, shaking the windows and the building itself. Two people were killed and at least 17 wounded. The Washington Postleads with Charley’s aftermath: 16 people are now confirmed killed, about 1 million are without electricity and 500,000 without water. Florida officials still don’t have a count on the number of homeless. Citing unnamed officials, USA Today leads with vague, unconfirmed intelligence: al-Qaida might have non-Arab sleepers in the U.S. “If we knew somebody was here as an operative,” Homeland Security Chief Tom Ridge told the paper, “and we knew who they were or where they were, they wouldn’t be on the street.”
The LAT and NYT both bemoan the free-styling in Baghdad: “IRAQI CONFERENCE ON ELECTION PLAN SINKS INTO CHAOS,” says the NYT. The Post, though, celebrates it: The protestors eventually got a sit-down with Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, after which a government spokesman seemed to promise to hold off a Najaf offensive and keep an “open door” to negotiations. “This is democracy in action,” said a U.N. adviser. The LAT notices that the spokesman warned that “the open door may not remain open.”
In Najaf, U.S. forces fired artillery into the town’s cemetery but didn’t make a move for the Imam Ali Mosque, the holiest site in Shiite Islam and where Muqtada Sadr is holed up.
The papers all reiterate the U.S. and Iraq’s position that Iraqi troops will be the ones clearing out the mosque if and when it comes to that. Only Knight Ridder points out a potential wrinkle: Iraqi troops have been refusing to fight and instead are quitting. One Iraqi defense official said at least one battalion is AWOL. When Knight Ridder pressed an Iraqi officer for confirmation or numbers, a U.S. spokesman interrupted. “Certain things, you can’t discuss,” he said. “If somebody asks that question, that’s, like, classified stuff.”
It’s getting harder to report from Najaf: The Iraqi government, in its latest nod to freedom of the press, has ordered all journalists to leave the city. The Post says police arrested an Al Jazeera cameraman.
One GI was killed by insurgents elsewhere in Iraq, as were a Ukrainian and a Dutch soldier.
The Journal says local officials in Ramadi, the provincial capital near Fallujah, have demanded U.S. forces leave town.
The NYT announces above the fold that FBI agents have been having little chats with—and issuing a few subpoenas to—some antiwar types that are planning to protest during the GOP convention. Apparently, such visits have historically been a no-no. But a Justice Department office recently issued a ruling blessing the chats: “Given the limited nature of such public monitoring, any possible ‘chilling’ effect caused by the bulletins would be quite minimal and substantially outweighed by the public interest in maintaining safety and order during large-scale demonstrations.” The office that issued that opinion is the same one that issued a memo green-lighting the torture of terror suspects.
A front-page LAT piece says that despite the recent al-Qaida arrests, the U.S. still has no idea where Bin Laden is. Meanwhile, the Times paraphrases one Pakistani official, saying Washington has “stepped up pressure on Pakistani authorities” to nab OBL before the November elections. “The next month and a half is absolutely crucial,” said the Pakistani. “The way the Americans are pressuring Pakistan, they want Osama bin Laden.”
The papers all briefly mention continued fighting in Afghanistan, where government soldiers fought rival warlords as well as the Taliban. At least 36 people died, mostly antigovernment gunmen.
The NYT stuffs word that cleanup at “dozens” of toxic Superfund sites is going to be temporarily scaled back or stopped because Congress hasn’t allocated enough money for the jobs.
The Times’ Elisabeth Bumiller looks at some of the difficult—and typical—questions the president faces during his “Ask President Bush” forums on the campaign trail. “I’m 60 years old, and I’ve voted Republican from the very first time I could vote,” began one no-nonsense participant. “And I want to say this is the very first time that I have felt that God was in the White House.”
“Thank you,” responded the president.