The New York Times leads with the revelation that some 377 tons—yes, tons—of highly powerful explosives vanished from Iraq’s sprawling and abandoned Al Qaqaa military facility after the American invasion last year. Although U.N. weapons inspectors had placed the stockpile under seal and warned that the explosives needed to be protected, administration officials concede the facility was never secured. The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox lead with the massacre of about 50 recently trained Iraqi National Guard recruits at a phony police checkpoint on Saturday. A group led by Abu Musab Zarqawi claimed responsibility for the attack. USA Today off-leads the killings, leading instead with an upbeat assessment of electronic voting machines, which it says could halve the number of spoiled ballots in this election. (Exactly two weeks ago, USAT led with a story on provisional ballots, touted under the following dek: “ELECTION OFFICIALS FEAR NEW ‘HANGING CHADS.’ “)
According to the NYT’s lead, “Administration officials say they cannot explain why the explosives were not safeguarded, beyond the fact that the occupation force was overwhelmed by the amount of munitions they found throughout the country.” While the paper makes clear that the stockpile—which contained the highly potent RDX, HMX, and PETN—was well known before the Iraq war, it says that Condoleezza Rice only learned of the looting “within the past month.” Iraqi officials tell the Times that they warned former CPA administrator L. Paul Bremer back in May that the explosives had likely been stolen, but the paper cannot verify if he passed their warning along to his superiors; Bremer didn’t return phone calls.
Blogger-journalist Josh Marshall, citing his own sources and the Nelson Report newsletter, suggests, however, that Washington must have known and implies that there was some kind of cover-up. According to Marshall and Nelson, the Pentagon has been aware of the theft for a year and actually pressured both the Interim Iraqi government and the IAEA to keep it under wraps. TP, of course, would like the papers to reconcile these accounts with the administration’s.
The papers say that the slain Iraqi guardsmen were heading home on leave in three minibuses when they were stopped by guerrillas, who were wearing Iraqi police uniforms. Most of the guardsmen appeared to have been lined up in rows, made to lie down on the ground, and shot “execution-style” in the back or head. The Post notes that the attack was “unusual for its boldness if not for its target.” Insurgents mounted at least eight other strikes on Iraqi police and national guars forces across the country in the hours surrounding the massacre.
In their guardsmen stories, both the NYT and LAT mention that Moqtada Sadr pledged support yesterday for insurgents in Fallujah, a move that raised doubts about his commitment to his own peace agreement. “I am ready to provide a helping hand for you, my mujahedin brothers in Fallujah in our beloved Iraq, for I condemn or denounce all violations and attacks on all Iraqi cities,” Sadr said in a statement according to the LAT.
File under Better Late Than Never: The WSJ reports that the Pentagon has drafted a directive that would order the military to develop war plans designed to minimize postwar instability like that in Iraq. The 11-page document, which the paper posts online to subscribers, would compel planners to involve the State Department and other civilian agencies in post-conflict plans, expand foreign language programs, and push the military toward more active intelligence gathering.
The WP and LAT front and the NYT reefers the all-but-victory of Afghan president Hamid Karzai in the country’s first presidential election, according to the Web site of the Joint Electoral Management Body, which ran the election. Although final results are not due until Oct. 30, Karzai currently has 55 percent of the vote, enough to avert a runoff, with 94 percent of the votes counted. Despite the lopsided victory, some opposition candidates are still displeased. “[W]e want to congratulate to Mr. Karzai on the election that he is winning as a result of a large-scale fraud and cheating,” a rep for one candidate told the NYT.
The NYT fronts a sprawling, 5,800-word epic detailing the problems and internal struggles plaguing the military tribunals for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The piece progresses mostly chronologically, as a growing cast of dissenters—Condi Rice to Colin Powell to even John Ashcroft—made their displeasure with the slow pace, exclusive planning, and weak evidence of the prosecutions known.
The NYT reports that Iran rejected a European proposal that it forgo uranium enrichment in return for help building a light-water reactor; on Oct. 16, the papers reported that the U.S. grudgingly gave its assent to the negotiations. Still, Iran said it would offer a counter-proposal on Wednesday and indicated it was ready to pursue more negotiations. “We need to reach a balanced agreement, one that would eliminate Europeans’ worries, if there are any, and one that would recognize our rights within the nonproliferation treaty,” a foreign ministry spokesman said.
Just one more week (probably) … The Post runs a semi-amusing Style piece on Pre Election Anxiety Disorder. Meanwhile, in the papers’ campaign-trail round-ups, Kerry went faith-based in Florida, where Al Gore made the rounds of Black churches yesterday, while Bush stumped in New Mexico, where the WP runs a story on charges of Republican voter intimidation and counter-charges Democratic cheating. Still the controversy hasn’t dampened some voters’ enthusiasm. “I’m excited to cast my first vote,” said a young woman who was born in the United States to illegal immigrants. “They can ask for ID. They can make me last in the line. I don’t care. I’m voting!”