The New York Times leads (online, at least) with “a potentially far-reaching” anti-abortion clause that conservatives have slipped into the omnibus spending bill that Congress is expected to vote on today. The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times (online) stuff the abortion portion and lead instead with a full helping of Iraq, where the LAT channels the spirit of the conventional wisdom to pronounce that rising violence imperils January’s elections. The WP’s catchall lead instead goes high with news that government forces raided the Abu Hanifa mosque, the most holy Sunni shrine in Baghdad, just after Friday afternoon prayers, killing between two (WP) and four (LAT) people in a chaotic melee that left blood spattered on the sidewalk outside. The focus of the raid may have been the prayer leader, who was arrested; just before, the NYT says he had been urging the faithful to make cities like Mosul into battle zones “like Fallujah.”
The LAT catches late word that House and Senate negotiators have agreed on a final version of the $388 billion spending bill with the anti-abortion provision intact; it is likely to pass. The NYT says it will allow hospitals and healthcare providers that receive federal money to opt out of state and local regulations requiring them to offer abortion counseling. The WP frames it differently: States that mandate the availability of such services, like New York and Hawaii, could lose federal funding. “They are catering to their right wing doing this,” Sen. Tom Harkin said in the NYT. “It doesn’t make it right. I think this is the first step.”
The papers’ Iraq roundups return again to Mosul, where the LAT says clashes continued, the NYT says U.S. troops mounted successful intel-gathering raids, and everyone notes that between two (WP) and a dozen (NYT) decapitated bodies were seen strewn in the streets. The WP reports that the group “Al-Qaida in Iraq” claimed on its Web site to have beheaded two Iraqi National Guardsmen before a large crowd and the NYT interviews someone who says he was there for the grisly slayings. “The bodies are still on the street because [the insurgents] have threatened everybody not to come near them,” the man said.
The papers also note that fighting continues to flare in central and northern Iraq. The WP reports that U.S. troops fought a ninth day of battle against insurgents in Hawija, while a car bomb in eastern Baghdad killed at least three and wounded 13, according to the LAT.
The WP off-leads allegations that the $30 billion sweetheart deal the Air Force made to lease Boeing tankers was backed by the secretary of the Air Force, not just the contracting official who’s already pleaded guilty to charges in the matter. In a series of punchy emails released yesterday by Sen. John McCain (who himself delivered a fiery Senate speech on the topic), the AF secretary called the deal’s detractors “animals,” and asked a lobbyist to “quash” one of them. At one point he wrote a colleague, “Privately between us: Go Boeing!” The secretary resigned a couple days ago for what he said were personal reasons.
The WP reports that Iran is continuing to turn raw uranium into hexafluoride gas, despite its agreement earlier this week to freeze such activity. “This is really a shot in the eye,” one European negotiator told the Post. “The Iranians are trying to get as much work in before the suspension takes effect because they know most countries want the freeze to be permanent,” another diplomat added. The papers, however, disagree on when that effective date would be. While the WP and Knight-Ridder say the IAEA expects the freeze to begin on Monday (Nov. 22), the NYT says, in passing, that Iran does not plan to suspend enrichment activities until Dec. 22. This TPer wonders: unfortunate typo or casus belli?
Meanwhile, as some officials vocally bolster Colin Powell’s surprisingly bellicose (and weakly substantiated) statement Wednesday that Iran may be building delivery systems for nuclear warheads, others are still muddling the hard-boiled message. “We’re not in a Feb. 5 mode on Iran, in the sense that we’re not ready to submit our information to public scrutiny,” an anonymous official says in the NYT, referring (blind to the irony?) to Powell’s infamously inaccurate Security Council presentation on Iraqi weapons. Deputy SecState Richard Armitage likewise downplayed the tough talk as a role-playing exercise. “My view would be that the incentives of the Europeans only work against the backdrop of the United States being strong and firm on this issue,” he said on Al-Jazeera yesterday. “In the vernacular, it’s kind of a good cop-bad cop arrangement. If it works, we’ll all have been successful.”
Everyone notes that Fed Chair Alan Greenspan talked down the greenback during a banking conference in Frankfurt yesterday, saying the current accounts deficit—now at nearly $600 billion—was unsustainable, and that lower demand for U.S. debt could eventually drive down the dollar even further and force interest rates up. Administration officials have said they will not intervene, in part because a weak dollar helps domestic manufacturing by making U.S. exports cheaper. The dollar was down sharply in currency markets after Greenspan’s remarks.
The papers note that protesters greeted President Bush as he arrived in Santiago, Chile, yesterday for the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, with the alternating goals of 1) making nice and 2) twisting arms. More enlighteningly, NYT marks the occasion with a long story on China’s growing influence in Latin America. The relationship, built on China’s need for imports to feed its economy (in fact, Santiago announced a free trade agreement with Beijing last week), has a political side, too. For example, after the Caribbean nation Dominica severed ties with Taiwan, China awarded it a direct aid package of $112 million.
Chicken soup for the mujahadeen … The Post a fronts a colorful story that highlights explains the political significance of the often inflammatory Friday prayer sermons delivered at both Shiite and Sunni mosques across the country: “In American terms, they might be akin to a mix of stern evangelical sermons, combustible talk radio and self-help lectures.”