Everybody leads with what appears to be a final deal on the long-delayed intel-reform bill. Some House Republicans who had been holding it up agreed to lay off after the bill was changed to at least nominally address their concerns that the Pentagon would lose too much control over intel resources.
Congressional and administration sources tell the papers that Vice President Cheney spent the weekend speed-dialing, pushing the deal. The tweaked bill now includes a sentence promising not to “abrogate the statutory responsibilities” of the Department of Defense. The New York Timessuggests that this change is just a fig-leaf to satisfy the grumbling Republicans. SecDef Rumsfeld, and for a time seemingly the White House, also had concerns about diluting the Pentagon’s power.
The NYT, USA Today, and Los Angeles Times front the attempted storming of the American consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Five local employees were killed as were four of the five gunmen. The attackers briefly took some of the employees hostage but never made it inside the main building where Americans were.
There hadn’t been a big attack in Saudi Arabia in six months, and analysts duel about the meaning of this one. “This is a last gasp,” one Saudi journalist told the Washington Post, pointing to the fact that assault failed. Others see it as a sign of the militants’ successful regrouping.
In a phone call, the attackers called themselves the “Fallujah Brigades.” And a group calling itself “al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula” later claimed responsibility. As everybody notes, there was no way to verify the claim. Despite that, most of the papers refer to the attackers as members of “al-Qaida.” And left unsaid is what exactly the term refers to: a loose movement? A distinct group led somehow by Osama? Most analysts think it’s the former or perhaps a mix. But TP wonders what most Americans conjure up when they hear the term. Anyway, with the lack of commonly accepted meaning, headlines like “AL-QAIDA TO BLAME FOR SAUDI HIT” (USAT online), have plenty of misinformation potential.
Only the LAT and NYT get Saudi Arabia datelines (from Jeddah, to boot), with the LAT relying on a freelancer. The Post gives the old college try, filing from Berlin. As TP has asked before, is something holding the papers back from getting bureaus in Riyadh? (Will the Saudi gov’t not give permission?)
The military announced that five American troops have been killed in the al-Anbar province, which Fallujah is a part of. The Wall Street Journal briefly mentions, in an AP article, that insurgents roamed the streets of central Baghdad “just hundreds of yards from the Green Zone.” (The Scotsman has a few more details.) Also, a top finance-ministry official was assassinated in Baghdad.
The Post notes inside that Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani has put together a unified slate of (mostly Shiite) candidates for the election, which the paper says should quell concerns of a Shiite split. But the NYT has a different take: “RIFT AMONG SHIITE FACTIONS MAY HURT THEM IN ELECTION.” The piece hangs its thesis on one Shiite organization that said it won’t join Sistani’s slate. Except, as one reputable blogger has noted, that org seems to be pretty small. The Times’ talk of a rift is based largely on complaints from it.
The Post details Shiite clerics’ big GOTV campaign, which includes posters quoting Sistani, such as, “One vote is like gold, but even more precious.” Another (non Sistani-quoting) poster read, “Elections are the ideal way to expel the occupier from Iraq.”
The Christian Science Monitor notices that some Kurdish authorities are threatening to boycott the elections.
In a Page One piece, the Post hypes an interview it had with Centcom commander Gen. John Abizaid: “COMMANDER SEES SHIFT IN ROLE OF U.S. TROOPS.” That “shift”— which would have GIs focus on training rather than combat—isn’t happening soon and maybe never. “We can’t predict what’s going to happen after the elections,” Abizaid noted.
The NYT’s Page One features the latest dagger from CIA folk: Two Agency assessments of Iraq are “much more pessimistic than the public picture being offered by the Bush administration.” The reports say things are about to get worse, with increasing sectarian violence. (Not a shocker.) One of the more interesting tidbits is who was behind one of the sobering assessments: Michael Kostiw, a key aide to new CIA chief Porter Goss. The concern about Goss appointees has been that they’re too partisan and not straight-shooters. Apparently not in this case. One “government official” described Kostiw’s pessimistic take on Iraq as “an honest portrayal of the situation on the ground.”
The paper notes inside that the FBI complained about abuses at Gitmo back in 2002. According to one agent’s letter, some of the treatment there resulted in detainees “curling into a fetal position on the floor and crying in pain.” The agent recalled raising objections with two generals at the base, who in turn argued that the “D.O.D. has their marching orders from SecDef”—that is, continuing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.