Today's Papers

Mahdi Gras

The Los Angeles Times leads with, and everyone else fronts, the collapse of the tenuous 2-month-old cease-fire and ensuing violence throughout the country between American troops and Iraqi radical cleric Muqtada Sadr’s militia, as he called for an uprising against the U.S.-supported interim government. The New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today all lead with news related to the recently released intelligence on al-Qaida. Both the NYT and USAT play up the Tuesday arrest of 12 men in England, focusing on an alleged al-Qaida operative in London who is accused of coordinating the detailed surveillance of major U.S. financial institutions that led to Sunday’s terror alerts. The WP, which doesn’t mention the arrests until the ninth paragraph, instead focuses on the recent successes of intensified Pakistani operations against al-Qaida.

Intense fighting between Sadr’s Mahdi Army and a combination of American soldiers, Iraqi policemen, and the Iraqi National Guard lasted throughout the day. The violence was mainly concentrated in the Shiite city of Najaf, but skirmishes with the Mahdis cropped up in Baghdad, Basra, and a few other southern cities. Only the NYT provides a blow-by-blow account of the truce’s collapse, which happened over the span of four days and apparently climaxed at 2 a.m. Thursday, when a Najaf police station came under heavy fire. The NYT paints a picture of an Iraqi populace angered by Sadr’s calls for violence, but the WP is more agnostic, noting that what happens in the near future may be dependant on what “messages Shiite clerics deliver during Friday prayer services.” Both the LAT and the NYT note that Sadr called for a reinstatement of the truce later in the day, but the interim government was nonplussed and seems willing to use the force of arms to deal with the first test of its rule since the June 28 handover of sovereignty. Interestingly, all the papers note at the bottom that “special correspondents” (most likely Iraqis?) were employed in Najaf.

The sketchy NYT lead relies on what seems to be a singular “senior counterterrorism official.” The NYT says the main suspect, who may not have actually stepped foot in the U.S. to direct his operation, was “described by the officials as by far the most important Qaeda figure” arrested as a result of intelligence discovered after a series of June and July raids on al-Qaida operatives. The NYT’s nameless source predicts more arrests in the upcoming months. There was no report on whether the much-discussed surveillance documents, most recently updated in January 2004, were a component of an active plan or merely stored for later use. The LAT reports that the London arrests transpired because officials were concerned that the Pakistan arrests might scare off suspects into hiding. The Wall Street Journal looks at 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s apparent connection to many of the recent arrests.

In tangentially related news, two prominent Albany Muslims were arrested by the FBI and charged with conspiring to launder money from the sale of a surface-to-air missile as part of a plan to assassinate a Pakistani diplomat. * The FBI said the men’s arrest had nothing to do with al-Qaida but instead came as the result of work by an undercover informant. Critics are accusing them of entrapment and playing politics.

A Page-One story in the NYT, using this past March’s primary elections in Chicago as a case study, explores the problems with the election reform act of 2002, specifically “provisional balloting.” Intended to resolve registration problems on Election Day, the system instead disenfranchised over 10,000 voters, possibly skewing at least three local races. While other cities handled the provisional ballots with moderate ease, officials are concerned that the much higher volume expected in November could cause a 2000-esque fiasco.

The NYT fronts a dispatch from Darfur, Sudan, exploring the opacity of the “Janjaweed,” Arab militias that are accused of conducting what amounts to genocide on the region’s black inhabitants. Inside, it runs a Reuters report of Sudanese pledges of cooperation, but the front-pager shows how they are displaying long-incarcerated petty criminals as militias and not really doing anything.

Both the LAT and WP note that a senior intelligence officer previously stationed at Abu Ghraib testified in a military court that abuse was not condoned and that she was shocked by the photographs released in May. Other testimony indicated that intelligence staff had previously abused prisoners, however. The LAT buries an intriguing nugget at the end of the piece: According to the testifying intelligence officer (who the article had implied was someone who ascribed to the “bad apples” theory of Abu Ghraib), “Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who ran the Guantanamo Bay prison, changed the tone of operations when he and his staff visited Abu Ghraib and encouraged her to bring prison guards into the effort of collecting detainee information.”

The presidential candidates’ swing state criss-cross continued yesterday, as John Kerry talked about energy independence, President Bush pushed for his new “flex time” plan, and John McCain condemned a group of Vietnam Veterans who just produced a TV ad accusing Kerry of lying about his service experience. Although McCain specifically requested it, the White House did not condemn the ad.

The price of oil skyrocketed even further yesterday when the Russian government declared that it was banning beleaguered oil behemoth Yukos, which is responsible for about 2 percent of the world’s petroleum output, from using its bank accounts to operate. Like previous scares, Russia probably will not try to shut down production but once again scared the markets with its vague, ominous announcement.

In the WP, a front-page story reports that the State Department is planning to include placing information in U.S. passports starting next spring. These passports-of-the-future will have a digital photo woven into the cover, and face-recognition technology will be able to spot suspects with only a swipe through a scanner. One caveat, however: Nobody thinks they’re going to work.

Correction, Aug. 6: This article originally and incorrectly stated that two Muslim men from Albany, N.Y., were recently arrested for trying to buy a missile. They were actually arrested for conspiring to launder the proceeds of such a sale. (Return to the corrected sentence.)