Today's Papers

F. B. Aye!

USA Todayleads with word that one-third of the 1,600 former soldiers who’ve been ordered back into service are giving the Army the hand and haven’t shown up. Several have requested medical exemptions, which they’re unlikely to get. “The numbers don’t look good,” said an Army spokesman. The New York Timesleads with, and nobody else fronts, an audit concluding that the FBI has a backlog of 123,000 hours of untranslated recordings “potentially” connected to terror-related investigations. That’s 20 percent of the total of such material. (The piece explains far down what “potentially” means: any recordings in languages “commonly associated with terrorism.”) Also, AQ-related recordings may have been erased because of the fed’s B-list, antiquated computer system. The Times briefly brings up the case of Sibel Edmonds, an FBI translator who tried to raise the flag about translating issues—and was fired for it. She never got much play in the papers; a few months ago Slate’s Fred Kaplan detailed her case. The Los Angeles Times leads with the terror campaign against government officials and supporters in one provincial capital, Ramadi. The Washington Postleads a poll both showing President Bush with a solid, though shrinking lead, and Sen. Kerry with increasing negatives on nearly all issues. The poll has Bush up 51 percent to 44 percent among registered voters, four points less than last month, but just about the same as two weeks ago. USAT teases a similar poll. Following standard operating procedures—and fine journalistic practice—the Post pretends no non-Postie polls exist. Most show the race tightening a bit.

The governor of the provincial capital the LAT profiles has had three sons kidnapped (he resigned as a result), the deputy governor was kidnapped and killed. And 10 Iraqi contractors have been assassinated. “We do not know who the attackers are or who is backing them,” said the province’s acting governor. A Marine officer said, “The government in Baghdad is not recognized by anyone in Al Anbar” province, the heart of the Sunni triangle. The piece also details how the Marines have kept parts of town friendly by doling out small reconstruction projects.

The Wall Street Journal goes high with the latest from Iraq, where seven Iraqi National Guardsmen were killed in two car bomb attacks and two GIs were killed, one by gunfire and one in a car accident. U.S. planes also repeatedly struck in Baghdad’s Sadr City. A local hospital reported 10 dead and 70 wounded; a military spokesman said the high number was “suspect.”

One “senior military official” told the LAT that reports of civilian deaths in Fallujah—scene of most of the airstrikes—were “propaganda.” The LAT says he “suggested that local hospitals have been infiltrated by insurgent forces.”

Knight Ridder recently did the math and concluded that twice as many Iraqis, seemingly civilians, have been killed in the past few months by U.S. operations than by terrorist strikes. The piece got its numbers from the Iraqi Health Ministry and mentions that the “U.S. military said it kept estimates [too], but it refused to release them.” A few months ago, a Pentagon spokeswoman said, “We don’t keep a list.” What exactly is the Pentagon’s policy on tracking civilian casualties?

A piece inside the WP says the administration raised its target number of Iraqi security forces by a third, to 135,000. Meanwhile, contrary to the president’s statements about “nearly 100,000 fully trained and equipped” security forces, the military has acknowledged that only 8,200 have been fully trained. (Reuters flagged the discrepancy on Friday.) Finally, the Post mentions that a respected analyst released a report recently concluding that the number of security forcesis actually dropping “in part because of desertions and purging of low-grade personnel.”

The Post’sSteve Fainaru experienced what he calls the “uneven vulnerability” between GIs “and their Iraqi allies, who use vastly inferior equipment.” He was in an armored Humvee when a bomb exploded, killing five Iraqi National Guardsmen in a Nissan pickup right behind him. No GIs were killed but three were wounded; Fainaru wasn’t hurt.

The NYT goes below-the-foldwith a CIA “Don’t belittle our work!” leak. As the Times paraphrases, analysts said prewar analyses predictedan invasion of Iraq “would increase support for political Islam and would result in a deeply divided Iraqi society prone to violent internal conflict.” The Times helpfully hints at the leaker identity—and his motivation. For one thing, it explains these prewar reports were put together by the same folks who wrote the recent doom-and-gloom analysis about Iraq’s current situation, an analysis President Bush originally dismissed as “just guessing.”

Citing “government figures and several independent assessments,” the Post says on Page One that health-care costs have soared in the past four years while the number of people covered by insurance is dropping. Eighty-five million people went uncovered for some period in the past year. The story relies largely on two studies from liberal-leaning groups. They obviously have an interesting in limited their scope to four years. And what’s the Post’s reason?

The NYT stuffs a non-partisan congressional watchdog report concluding that the administration “exceeded its authority” when it let health care companies limit Medicare patients’ choices of doctors, nursing homes, and other care.

Relying on a new book by a well-regarded jihad-expert (a Frenchman who’s very critical of Bush and the Iraq invasion), Post columnist David Ignatius says the al-Qaida movement may be turning a corner, and not the one you think:

The Taliban regime in Afghanistan has been toppled; the fence-sitting semi-Islamist regime in Saudi Arabia has taken sides more strongly with the West; Islamists in Sudan and Libya are in retreat; and the plight of the Palestinians has never been more dire. And Baghdad, the traditional seat of the Muslim caliphs, is under foreign occupation. Perhaps it takes an outsider—a Frenchman, even—to help Americans see the war on terrorism in perspective. Saturated in terrorism alerts and images of violence from Iraq, Americans may miss the essential fact that the terrorists are losing.