Today's Papers

Kings of Queens?

Everyone leads with the endgame in Fallujah, as U.S. forces pound remaining pockets of insurgents in the smoldering city’s southern neighborhoods. “There are no high-fives yet,” said a Marine commander in the Los Angeles Times, but by yesterday Iraqi officials were already claiming victory. The New York Times emphasizes that the final battles are particularly intense, with the Washington Post reporting that the remaining insurgents look more like an organized army, wearing blue camouflage uniforms, mounting coordinated attacks, and moving through reinforced bunkers and tunnels. At least 22 U.S. troops have died in the assault so far, with hundreds wounded.

There is no sign in Fallujah of Abu Musab Zarqawi, and the WP’s leadsays that the American cordon around the city is more porous than advertised, with Iraqi reporters able to slip in from the south as insurgents filtered out on land and along the Euphrates. Meanwhile, as American Humvees broadcast messages yesterday guaranteeing that insurgents who surrender will not be harmed, a mosque blared a caustic reply: “We ask the American soldiers to surrender and we guarantee that we will kill and torture them.”

The NYT fronts the most literary scene piece, framed by the broken migration of geese unfortunate enough to be flying over a southern Fallujah neighborhood that GIs have dubbed “Queens” while “tank blasts brought down the sides of buildings as if they were waterfalls and howitzer shots shook the ground over and over, like the aftershocks of some great earthquake.” In the Week-in-Review, the NYT’s Edward Wong takes a look at the paradoxical necessity of assaulting a Sunni stronghold to win over its residents: “BREAKING A CITY IN ORDER TO FIX IT.”

The NYT also goes down the road to nearby Ramadi, where the guerrillas seem to have set up shop. “My personal take is that Ramadi is a less-publicized Fallujah, in the sense of the combat you face every time you go into town,” said a company commander at a small downtown base named Combat Outpost. Everyone’s Fallujah lead also checks in on the northern city of Mosul, where some 500 insurgents overran and looted police stations on Thursday and Friday. Yesterday, residents told the WP that there was no sign of government or U.S. military presence in the city’s western half. The NYT notes that Kurdish militiamen have been appearing on the streets to keep order, and the government has ordered four Kurdish battalions of national guardsmen to the city.

The papers report that Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei promised yesterday to hold presidential elections by Jan. 9, as required by law. Former premier and new PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas will run as Fatah’s only official presidential candidate, but Marwan Barghouti, the most popular Fatah leader after Arafat, has said he may run for office from Israeli prison, where he is serving five life sentences. Hamas, which the LAT says is now sometimes outpolling secular leaders, may have trouble fielding a candidate, however. Not only is the organization’s leader anonymous these days, but a Palestinian official told the NYT that the group would have to drop its stated goal of destroying Israel to be eligible.

Meanwhile, in its off-lead, the NYT outs the so-called quiet steps that Israel is taking to boost the power of moderate Palestinian leaders like Abbas, releasing some $40 million in frozen tax revenue and discussing the possibility of pulling IDF troops from some areas.

The WP and NYT follow up on the Post’s revelation yesterday that the CIA’s directorate of operations is practically in revolt, with its deputy director threatening to quit (and taking his photos off of his office walls), while a handful of other officials say they may do the same. According to a host of anonymous sources, the new CIA Director Porter Goss has been ineffective at marshalling support within the clandestine service for his as-yet-unspecified plans to refigure it, and has rebuffed the advice of four ex-heads of the directorate about how to win it over. “Clean the place out if it’s needed, but you’ve got to be clever about it,” a former operations official told the Post.

Both papers note that Goss lost some momentum early on when he nominated someone who had been arrested for shoplifting in the 1980s as the agency’s No. 3 official. Now, some are complaining that the new No. 3—a logistics veteran known only as “Dusty” because he has worked undercover for most of his career—isn’t qualified for the job.

French ex-pats continued to evacuate the Ivory Coast yesterday, even as an “eerie calm” replaced the violent anti-French riots of the last few days. Recap: A week ago, Ivoirian jets, claiming to be going after rebels despite a year-old cease-fire, hit a French peacekeeping camp, killing nine French soldiers. The French retaliated by destroying much of the country’s tiny air force, a move that, along with other clashes, inspired mobs to attack foreign residents, looting and burning houses.

Everyone notes that Vice President Cheney underwent three hours of heart tests yesterday after experiencing shortness of breath. Verdict: The veep has a severe cold, which aides say he contracted during a pheasant hunt in South Dakota. The LAT, for its part, runs through the process for and history of nominating a new vice president, in the event Cheney were to step down.

Even as New Mexico continues to count ballots and some push for a recount in Ohio, Florida has nevertheless managed to resolve a contentious city council race in a small town west of Orlando. After two recounts, the candidates remained deadlocked at 689 votes. So, in accordance with Florida law dictating that candidates “draw lots,” the city organized a coin-toss. Afterwards, both contenders shook hands and hugged. “There’s nothing I can do about it,” said the loser, who called heads. “He flipped the coin, and I lost.”