Today's Papers

Petition Impossible?

Everyone leads with a call yesterday by several prominent Iraqi political parties and leaders for a six-month postponement of the parliamentary elections set for Jan. 30. They issued a petition after a two-hour meeting at the home of former governing council honcho Adnan Pachachi. Interim Prime Minister Allawi’s party, the Iraqi National Accord, says it did not sign the petition, but the New York Times reports that a representative attended the meeting and assented orally.

The Los Angeles Times says the list of parties supporting the delay is diverse—including Sunnis, Kurds, Christians, socialists, a tribal group and a women’s group. Of course, everyone raises the specter of an ethnic showdown, as Shiite leaders, most notably Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, remain firmly committed to holding elections as originally planned. (Sistani’s gone so far as to issue a GOTV fatwa.) The NYT says there’s also disagreement within the Iraqi electoral commission about whether anyone in the government actually has the power under the interim constitution to approve a delay. And even a commission organizer who tells the NYT that they do have the authority says they probably won’t use it. “There’s a schedule, and we need to stick to that,” he said.

It’s unclear how adamant the U.S. is about the current schedule. Everyone mentions that President Bush delivered some pro-January boilerplate over a cheeseburger in Crawford, Tex., and the Washington Post flags concerns about greasing a slippery slope (“Once you change it the first time, why can’t you change it a second?” a Western diplomat asks). But according to the NYT, administration officials say privately that they will insist on the current timetable only as long as Iraqi officials do so.

Three hours of round-table negotiations between would-be Ukrainian presidents Yanukovych (the “official winner”) and Yushchenko (the “opposition”) still produced no Viktor victorious, the papers say. Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief who participated in the meeting, declared it a limited success, but the bar was set awfully low: The two candidates managed, in the NYT’s words, “moments of civility and shared smiles,” agreeing to continue talks today, while their parties agreed to convene Parliament for debate.  At the same time, the country’s Supreme Court, which on Thursday halted official announcement of the election results, will begin hearing arguments on Monday and could issue a decision this week. Buried at the bottom, the NYT helpfully notes that the court is elected by Parliament, and has generally been controlled by the outgoing president, Leonid Kuchma—Yanukovych’s patron. But one of Kuchma’s own advisors tells the paper the court appears to be siding with the opposition and may do so again when it reconvenes.

The LAT, alone, ventures that the day’s events  increase the likelihood of a repeat election, as Yushchenko wants. The key shift is that Russia, which supports Yanukovych, may now look favorably on a do-over.

According to the NYT and WP, European and Iranian negotiators were still unable to resolve a matter of some 20 enrichment-capable centrifuges that Iran wanted to use for “research,” a rupture that threatened to scuttle the whole enrichment freeze agreement. Iranian diplomats initially said that they were shocked that the Europeans were so stuffy about the whole thing and bowed to a face-saving agreement to shutter the centrifuges. But, according to the WP, which has the most detailed story, a letter putting that new commitment in writing never arrived at IAEA. Talks will continue informally over the weekend. Meanwhile, the LAT checks in with a story on just how little the U.S. knows about Iran’s nuke program.

Back in Iraq, everyone says that insurgents lobbed mortars into the Green Zone yesterday, killing four British security contractors and wounding 15. Meanwhile, in restive Mosul, U.S. forces say they’ve found between 21 (WP) and 32 (NYT) burned, mutilated and decapitated bodies, likely of Iraqi security forces, strewn in the streets in the last two days. Some are pinned with notes that read, “This is what happens to Iraqi National Guard soldiers.” The NYT’s sobering off-lead says the total toll over the last week has been 65, with some 20 confirmed as members of the new Iraqi security forces. The U.S. military spokesman there tells the WP that guerillas may have migrated up from Fallujah to mount a campaign of fear and intimidation. “Mosul is as tense as I’ve seen it, and I’ve been here 10 months,” he said.

The WP fronts a story on U.S. prison camps’ ballooning population, which has almost doubled since early October as the military continues to assault and round up insurgents. Apart from that peg, however, the story consists mostly of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey “Gitmoize” Miller bragging to the Post about his camps’ new electronic prison records and their “positive” reviews from the Red Cross. Significantly, Miller says abuse complaints are down 60 percent from May to about 10 per month, out of which about two or three are usually substantiated. “These are not intentional,” he explains. “These are overly aggressive kinds of things, like combat takedowns.”

Everyone notes that popular Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti agreed yesterday, after some four hours of arm-twisting, to not to run against PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas in the Jan. 9 election for the Palestinian presidency, in which the two risked splitting the Fatah vote. In return, Fatah agreed to hold internal elections (on Aug. 4) to allow more of Barghouti’s allies to gain power in the movement; the last internal elections were in Tunisia in 1987 when Abbas and Yasser Arafat were still in exile. Although everyone has been saying that the popular Bargouti could have won, the NYT notes that a recent poll showed Abbas actually leading Barghouti 24 percent to 10 percent, with, um, some 48 percent undecided.

The Post’s A-1 shocker: “HASTERT LAUNCHES A PARTISAN POLICY.” The nut: Legislation, such as the intel overhaul bill, is unlikely to make it to the floor unless a “majority of the majority” approves.

Everyone mentions briefly that Chief Justice Rehnquist will still not be on the bench when the Supreme Court reconvenes on Monday for its two-week December session. Rehnquist will ostensibly be participating from home, but everyone speculates about when he might retire. “Jan. 7 will mark his 33rd anniversary on the court,” writes the NYT’s Linda Greenhouse, while the LAT says that the inauguration, at which Rehnquist would normally do the swearing in, is the key date to keep in mind.

Everyone fronts day-after-Thanksgiving mad- dash shopping photos, leading, among other annoying things, to a NYT Quote of the Day with an exclamation mark: “Someone actually stole my shopping cart!” News briefs in the NYT and WP point out, however, that not everyone is so reverent about our commercial rituals. In Lafayette, La., iconoclasts glued the locks on about 30 stores, forcing hundreds of would-be shoppers to wait, in some cases until midmorning, as locksmiths were summoned.