Today's Papers

Omen Numeral

The Los Angeles Times leads with an Iraq catchall topped with an unnerving figure: “U.S. DEATH TOLL IN IRAQ AT LEAST 52 THIS MONTH.” USA Today and the Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox lead with the presidential campaign. USAT’s lead hypes its own Gallup poll that shows President Bush 13 points ahead of Sen. John Kerry among likely voters, while the LAT says two other polls show Bush losing his post-convention bounce and settling into a dead heat. The Washington Post and New York Times lead with the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan, which slammed the Gulf Coast last night, killing at least 23 people in addition to the 68 who died during its destructive swing through the Caribbean.

The Iraq pieces in the WP and NYT go high with the brazen early morning raid in Baghdad’s posh Mansour neighborhood during which masked gunman kidnapped three construction contractors—two American, one British—from their unguarded home. No shots were fired. The NYT notes that more than 100 foreigners have been kidnapped since April. The papers mention that terrorists detonated a bomb in downtown Baghdad yesterday, killing one, and Iraqi police said they found the body of a foreign man in the Tigris north of the capital; he had been shot in the head. The military also said that three Marines died yesterday, bringing to at least 1,021 the number of American troops killed.

No one knows the number of civilian casualties since the invasion—and there’s been scarcely any reporting about it here. But according to yesterday’s Financial Times, the Iraqi health ministry has been keeping figures since April 5 of this year—a little over five months. Since then, some 3,186 civilian men, women, and children have died in attacks and fighting. The figure does not include police, who are counted separately, or insurgents, who are generally buried by their supporters.

Emboldened by his poll lead in some close states from the 2000 election, like Missouri and Ohio, the WP says Bush is now confident enough to venture outside traditional battleground states to ones that Gore won in 2000, like Wisconsin and Minnesota. A Kerry adviser said the campaign “expects to compete hard in both states, to the end,” but allowed that that Wisconsin especially is “going to be a tough, tough fight.”

The LAT fronts a story on how the deterioration in Iraq is coloring the presidential campaign. For example, Kerry’s appearance before a National Guard convention yesterday, which the NYT splashes above the fold, was an occasion to unfurl yet another tough sound bite, telling some 4,000 officers that Bush is living in “a fantasy world of spin,” oblivious to the catastrophe that even his own intelligence agencies admit is unfolding in Iraq. He pledged that, should he win, “I will always be straight with you—on the good days and the bad days.” Far down in its piece, the NYT notes that Kerry was more coolly received by the group than Bush had been two days ago. One dissenter in the audience explained his logic: “What he was saying about George Bush not telling the truth on Iraq—I just don’t believe that. George Bush did tell us the truth, so I guess I couldn’t believe what Kerry was saying.”

A week after revelations that the CIA hid many Afghan prisoners from the Red Cross, the NYT returns to the prison-abuse story at the U.S. military installation at Bagram, where two prisoners died and others say they were stripped naked, hooded, and chained to the ceiling for 10 days at a time. In an about-face from earlier official contentions that the deaths were from natural causes, military investigators there now want to charge some two-dozen American soldiers with crimes, including negligent homicide.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai narrowly avoided an assassination attempt yesterday when a rocket whistled past his landing helicopter, which swerved violently and flew away. The trip—to attend a school opening in a provincial capital—was his first campaign stop outside of Kabul in the run up to the Oct. 9 presidential election.

The NYT off-leads a leak from a 1,500-page draft report that the U.S.’s Iraq Survey Group plans to make public in the next couple weeks. In the meantime, someone anonymous wants you to know the following: While Iraq had no WMDs before the war, there’s new evidence that it had “clear intent” to start making them again if U.N. sanctions were lifted.

What Foer? The NYT op-ed page is apparently now publishing short fiction.

By and large, the papers’ Hurricane Ivan coverage is best when they focus on scene pieces and evocative writing. One story inside the WP visits an Alabama zoo where many animals escaped, including a half-ton gator named Chucky. “As long as Chucky’s been fed, Chucky’s happy,” said the zoo’s director. “Right now, I don’t think he’s happy.” Deep in USAT’s Cover Story, a Pensacola, Fla., man explains how he tried to wait out the storm in his home. “The wind blew off the screen door. Then the house started shaking, reeling and rocking around 1:15 a.m. I told Mama we had to get out,” he said. “We got out the back door just in time, just before the whole house collapsed.” The winner, however, is the NYT’s simile-laden story from what was left of Pensacola:

Concrete chunks of sidewalks were flicked into the street like plastic dominoes. … Roofs were pulled from homes like the perforated tops of cellophane bags. … Both sides of the trailer had been pinched in as if by giant fingers. … Gas stations and auto dealers seemed particularly vulnerable, their aluminum awnings torn and twisted like crepe paper.