The Washington Post leads with American commanders in Iraq saying they need more troops to continue hunting insurgents. “What’s important is to keep the pressure on these guys now that we’ve taken Fallujah from them,” one says in the Post. The New York Times leads with the agreement by the 19 “Paris Club” nations and Russia to forgive 80 percent of the $39 billion Iraq owes them, a story that for some reason rates only AP wire copy in the other papers. The Times waits until after the jump to mention that Iraq owes another $80 billion to Arab nations. The Los Angeles Times leads with President Bush’s reiteration of his plan to offer visas to illegal Mexican workers in the U.S., despite strong opposition from Republicans. USA Today leads with federal authorities ordering three airlines to beef up security on U.S.-bound flights from Moscow and Istanbul. It may sound like breaking news, but the TSA tells the paper that the steps are similar to those taken at other foreign airports.
The Post says that the new GIs, likely drawn from a brigade in the 82nd Airborne, will number between 3,000 and 5,000—on top of those who have already had or will soon have their tours extended. The story also notes, way after the jump, that insurgent attacks, after surging at the beginning of the Fallujah operation, have settled down to 70 to 80 per day, approximately what they were before. “Our assessment is that the insurgency remains viable,” a said senior military intelligence officer, who estimated it would take a week or two to measure the real effect of the operation. “One of the things we see the insurgents doing is moving to areas where we don’t have a lot of presence.”
Everyone reports, and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with, word that an Iraqi commission set Jan. 30 as the date for elections there, despite the continuing violence and threats of a Sunni boycott. The LAT says that Grand Ayatollah Sistani is gearing up for a massive Shiite GOTV operation (ACT probably wishes it, too, could have issued a fatwa ordering people to the polls), while the WSJ says there’s little hope that the U.S. will be able to craft a unified slate (subscription required) of candidates from across political parties. Instead, it seems likely that voters will choose among groups largely defined by their sectarian makeup. The Journal also mentions that two strange bedfellows have held talks about creating a slate with a particularly anti-American platform: Ahmed Chalabi and Moqtada Sadr.
The papers continue to file lots of Fallujah stories. Military officials took two reporters from the WP and NYT on a tour of several houses where they suspect hostages were held and killed; the stories are a sobering catalog of dried blood and torture implements. In one house, the papers found what may have been the cage where the British hostage Kenneth Bigley was kept before his beheading in early October.
Meanwhile, the NYT’s Dexter Filkins files an excellent first-person story from his time with a frontline company of Marines, nearly a quarter of whom were wounded or killed in a week. “Nothing in the combat I saw even remotely resembled the scenes regularly flashed across movie screens,” he writes. “[E]ven so, they often seemed no more real.”
And the NYT also runs a detailed piece on the NBC cameraman’s chilling blog entry about what happened in a Fallujah mosque when he taped a Marine shooting an apparently unarmed prisoner. In a post titled, “Open Letter to the Devil Dogs of the 3.1,” he says that the prisoner was among a group of men who had been disarmed and treated for wounds the previous day. Yet just before his squad arrived, another exited, apparently having shot the wounded men and left them to bleed to death.
The NYT fronts a story on the (no longer) obscure provision Republicans inserted into the omnibus spending bill that would have allowed the chairmen of congressional appropriations committees to review any American’s tax return regardless of privacy regulations. “Nobody’s going to defend this,” said Sen. Bill Frist, the majority leader, although Republicans did engage in some CYA-related program activities, saying that the language will be promptly removed from the bill and that it was merely intended to ease congressional oversight of the IRS.
Everyone reports that President Bush was “disappointed” about the scuttling of the intelligence bill on Saturday, but the WP’s and USAT’s stories go high with Sen. Pat Roberts’ statement on Fox News Sunday that Bush may have been part of the problem. “There’s been a lot of opposition. Some of it is from the Pentagon. Some of it, quite frankly, is from the White House, despite what the president has said.”
Colin Powell arrived in Israel yesterday to ask Israelis to ease up in time for the Palestinian election and to work out the details of an estimated $20 million U.S. aid package to the Palestinian Authority. The Post says that congressional Republicans have told Powell to secure guarantees of accountability and oversight before they will approve the aid. The NYT notes that the money is symbolic chump change compared to the nearly $1 billion kicked in annually by European and Arab countries.
Although complaints about civil rights violations have remained constant over the last four years, a study has found that the number of charges brought by the Justice Department has halved and the number of cases recommended for prosecution has fallen by a third, according to an AP story in both the LAT and NYT. “Collectively, some violators of the civil rights laws are not being dealt with by the government,” said one of the study’s authors. “This trend, we think, is significant.” The Justice Department had no comment.
Chile Reception … The papers all have fun with the security scuffles that overshadowed the closing days of the APEC forum in Chile. Last night, the Chilean government canceled an elaborate state dinner rather than force its guests to go through Secret Service metal detectors. And the night before, Chilean security agents blocked members of Bush’s detail from entering another dinner, resulting in a shoving match. Bush, without his personal guard, doubled back outside, reached into the fray, and pulled the agent out. The WP, which fronts photos of the jostling, has the best play-by-play, saying Bush looked “enormously pleased with himself” as he walked back into the dinner with his agent in tow. “He was wearing the expression that some critics call a smirk, and his eyebrows shot up as if to wink at bystanders.”