The Washington Postleads with the latest from Iraq, where U.S. troops advanced to the outskirts of Najaf’s Ali Imam Mosque and tried to isolate Moqtada Sadr and his thousand militiamen reportedly inside. As the LAT notes, a spokesman for the cleric said early this morning that Sadr was moderately wounded during an airstrike. (He was reportedly outside the mosque, visiting militiamen.) The Los Angeles Timesemphasizes that government and Sadr’s forces are negotiating a bit, though the Post quotes a Sadr spokesman dismissing the talks as “superficial.” Meanwhile, Sadr’s rebellion spread to at least six other cities. The heaviest fighting was reportedly in Kut, where Mahdi militiamen attacked a police station, the U.S. responded with airstrikes, and 84 people were reportedly killed, most of them civilians. Overall, the Iraqi Health Ministry reported 157 dead and 600 wounded yesterday. One GI was killed in the fighting; the military didn’t say where. (The most comprehensive round-up of the clashes and casualties comes not from any of the papers, but from a blog.)
The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox and New York Times lead with the surprise resignation of New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, who announced that he’s gay and has had an extra-marital affair with a man. That man is a former state official and according to the papers is or had been planning to file a sexual harassment suit against McGreevey. McGreevey appointed the official, who later resigned when it became clear he wasn’t qualified for the job. The governor said he will formally step down Nov. 15 and will be replaced by the state’s Senate president, also a Democrat. By waiting to quit, McGreevey will avoid triggering a special election. The LAT leads with the California’s Supreme Court voiding San Francisco’s roughly 4,000 gay marriages after finding that the mayor overstepped his authority. USA Todayleads with Hurricane Charley bearing down on Cuba and Florida with winds projected to be up to 130 mph. Gov. Bush has asked one million people to evacuate.
The LAT’s Edmund Sanders is embedded with the GIs in Najaf and gives the best view from the U.S. side, where commanders described their strategy as a “slow squeeze.” Said one officer, “We don’t want to rush to failure. We’ll take our time.”
The NYT has the best view from the other side—though even it’s limited. The paper talked to an unnamed reporter who was in and around the Ali Imam Mosque with Sadr supporters. “They’re sitting in their foxholes, their basements and their hotels, with their rocket-propelled grenades, their mortars and their Kalashnikovs, just waiting for the Americans to come,” said the reporter. “They’re a little nervous, of course, but they don’t seem to be exhausted. Much of the time, when they’re not praying, they’re laughing.”
The Post goes inside with a series of serious clashes in Baghdad, where the streets were mostly empty. The town, says the WP, has taken on the “pall of a besieged city.” Citing a wire report, the WP adds that a few hundred Iraqi National Guard in Amara “vowed to switch their allegiance” until U.S. forces leave Najaf.
The NYT says the U.N. turned a blind eye while Saddam skimmed of billions of dollars from the U.N.-controlled oil-for-food program. The Times says the international body was paralyzed by conflicting interests among members and the need for consensus. Nor did bureaucrats care much about the skimming since their “priority was keeping goods flowing to the Iraqi people.” Said one Dutch diplomat who worked on the program, “We never had clear decisions on anything. So we just in effect condoned things.”
The WP and NYT preview a report out today from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office concluding that President Bush’s tax cuts have shifted the federal tax burden from the rich toward the middle class. Most income brackets saw a decline in taxes, but the rich got a much bigger break.
An op-ed in the Post looks at the “largest humanitarian catastrophe of our times.” It’s not Darfur. It’s the war in the Congo, in which about 4 million people have died in the past eight years. The writer, Jason Stearns, recently served on a U.N. peacekeeping mission there. He looks at the latest round of violence, and points out what the U.N. (and international community) did to head it off: They “created a panel of experts.” Guerrillas eventually attacked one major city, taking control, looting, and raping. U.N. peacekeepers were stationed there, but didn’t intervene. “It’s for the [Congolese] parties to sort out,” said a U.N. spokesman, “When war breaks out, the role of peacekeepers ends.”