The New York Times leads with the chaotic burial of Yasser Arafat in Ramallah. Tens of thousands of fervid—and sometimes armed—mourners packed into the leader’s broken-down compound, creating a mob that was essentially out of control. When the helicopter carrying the coffin landed and was instantly thronged, panicked officials scrapped the formal ceremony in favor of simply getting the casket across the courtyard to the tomb—a feat that took armed guards over an hour. Despite the dangerous overcrowding and constant into-the-air rifle fire by mourners and guards alike, only a few minor injuries were reported. The Washington Post leads with the continued fighting in Fallujah, with U.S. forces pushing into the city’s southern neighborhoods, where most of the remaining fighters are hidden. One top Marine commander claimed the U.S. has 80 percent of the city, and that “we’ve broken their back and spirit,” but other officials worried the rebels might make a bloody last stand. The Los Angeles Times leads with the Bush administration’s indefinite suspension of the military trials in Guantanamo Bay, which were ruled unlawful this week by a U.S. District Court. From the article: “Administration officials are said to be considering moving all 550 detainees … to a military prison on American soil.”
Earlier Friday, Arab heads of state and diplomats from around the world gathered in Cairo for a brief and private ceremony that unexpectedly included Syrian President Bashar Assad and King Abdullah II of Jordan, whose fathers had bitter differences with Arafat. The U.S. sent Asst. SecState William J. Burns, and Israel sent no one. An unofficial funeral was also held in Gaza by thousands of other Palestinians without access to Ramallah. They carried two empty coffins—one covered with pictures of Arafat and the other draped with a Palestinian flag—from the center of the city to his second compound on the Mediterranean coast. All three papers wax eulogistic about Arafat’s stature and legacy but are careful not to be controversial.
In Fallujah, 22 American soldiers have now been killed and 170 seriously wounded. As many as 600 insurgents may have died, with 450 more captured. A message on the Internet, apparently from insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, urged fighters to “endure just for a short time,” while spilling the blood that would “light the way to God’s victory.” U.S. and Iraqi reinforcements traveled to Mosul after Thursday’s wave of attacks there crippled the city’s 5,000-man police force (whose loyalty is now in doubt), allowing insurgents to regain a foothold there. The surge of violence in those cities and elsewhere prompted Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, to claim that “the insurgency is not abating.” (PBS’s NewsHour ran a vivid segment on the fighting.)
The WP fronts the resignation of CIA veteran and Deputy Director John McLaughlin amid complaints that Director Porter Goss’ chief of staff, Patrick Murray, has been treating senior officials disrespectfully. Deputy Director of Operations Stephen Kappes also tendered his resignation after a run-in with Murray but was convinced to delay his decision until Monday. Problems within the agency’s upper echelons appear to be pervasive, with several other high-level officers privately expressing doubts about Goss’ tenure and threatening to leave as well.
The LAT and WP front—and the NYT reefers—the guilty verdicts in the trial of Scott Peterson. Peterson was convicted of first-degree murder for the death of his wife Laci, and for the second-degree murder of their unborn child. The widely visible trial lasted five months and saw 185 witnesses testify. During tumultuous deliberations this week, two jurors were dismissed for undisclosed reasons. Peterson could face the death penalty.
As everyone reports, Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair stood together at the White House on Friday and called the present moment a “great chance” to forge a peace accord in the Middle East. Bush said he’d like to see the matter resolved by the end of his second term, saying, “I think it is possible.” But both leaders implied that it wouldn’t be possible unless the next set of Palestinian leaders is moderate enough to negotiate. The Bush-Blair event is also thought to signal the beginning of an aggressive campaign by the White House to heal relations with Europe, which the president will visit in February in part to build a consensus on how to proceed in the Middle East.
At long last: DreamWorks SKG has acquired the movie rights to the sexy hit ‘90s TV series Baywatch, and has plans to release the movie in 2006. According to the article, however, “it’s still too early to say whether any original cast members would appear in the film, or whether the story would be played seriously or more for laughs.” Analysts at RAND and the APA are said to be intereseted in these same questions and may be consulted before any decisions are made.