Today's Papers

Surgin’ Insurgence

The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox lead with the extraordinary wave of violence in Iraq. At least 80 Iraqis and 11 U.S. soldiers have been killed since Friday—bringing the U.S.’s one-week toll to 23. In Sunday’s deadliest attack (the papers report a total of four), insurgents ambushed a bus of Iraqi civilian contractors in Tikrit and killed 17 by “open[ing] fire on the bus with AK-47 rifles until they ran out of ammunition” (NYT). USA Today stuffs Iraq and leads with baseball: Under pressure from Commissioner Bud Selig and Sen. John McCain, the players union will consider instituting stricter drug-test policies.

The WP’s Iraq coverage examines the U.S. military’s claim that they’ve “gained ground” in recent months as a result of several offensives. U.S. officers are citing a decrease in the average number of rebel attacks nationwide from 130 in early November when the Fallujah invasion began to around 60 this week. But, the piece is quick to note, “intelligence officers expect the number to rise again before the national elections set for Jan. 30.” A few less sanguine facts are these: The insurgents, mostly minority Sunnis, have succeeded in assassinating 338 Iraqi officials with ties to Americans since Oct. 1 and, according to the NYT, “have also made unmistakable efforts to foment ethnic and sectarian conflict by striking at Shiite Muslims and Kurds.” Moreover, the groups are now splintering into smaller guerrilla units that will be more difficult for U.S. forces to combat.

In that vein, NYT Iraq correspondent John Burns takes a front-line look at the challenges facing a Marine battalion charged with locating and neutralizing militant cells in a rebel stronghold outside Baghdad.

On Sunday, Sunni leaders representing dozens of political parties became the latest to call for delaying the elections, raising the now-familiar objection that a legitimate result would be impossible in such a violent climate. Most Shiite parties, by contrast, want to see the elections happen on time. As one leader cautioned, the timing issue is starting to look like “the first seed of civil war.” (A Sunday NYT piece went a bit further and argued that a civil war has already started.)

Both the LAT and WP front updates on the Army’s cover-up of NFL star Cpl. Pat Tillman’s death by friendly fire. The Army first claimed that Tillman was killed in an “intense fire fight” with enemy combatants (LAT), but it’s since come to light that his death was the result of an ill-conceived order by a commander that moved Tillman’s group into the line of fire of a heavily armed Army Humvee, whose gunners mistook Tillman and company for Afghan soldiers and opened fire. The WP’s report is the second in a two-part series.

The NYT fronts an exclusive interview with current Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in which the outbound leader attacks opposition head Viktor Yushchenko for backing out of a signed agreement to “pursue the constitutional changes in exchange for new laws for conducting a new election.” Kuchma also advises Yushchenko’s opponent, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, to consider dropping out of the two-man race. Unopposed candidates must win 50 percent of the vote, and Yushchenko could conceivably fail to do so.

The WP fronts a look at the phenomenon of advocacy groups who pose as media sources to advance their agendas. One such publication is The Madison County Record, a legal newspaper in Illinois “that bills itself as the county’s legal journal.” Though you couldn’t tell from reading it, the Record is actually co-owned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and only covers absurdly frivolous lawsuits against businesses (woman sues restaurant for $50k after hurting her teeth on a piece of chicken): Not coincidentally, these are just the kind of suits the chamber has launched a massive campaign to get rid of.

USAT fronts a discussion of the predatory housing loan problem in America. In recent years, increasing numbers of people—most of whom are minorities and immigrants—have been victimized by so-called subprime mortgage lenders: those who offer expensive loans to borrowers with weak credit ratings. The subprime industry is weakly regulated because there’s no federal law governing the practice, and without legal safeguards, borrowers rack up huge debts without ever paying off their homes

And I’ve Got a Bridge To Sell You: According to USAT, Ohio’s vote recount is complete, though another is forthcoming. The state will certify a Bush win by 119,000 votes, or about 2.2 percent of the turnout, then starting Dec. 13, the Green and Libertarian Parties will pay for another set of recounts covering all of Ohio’s 88 counties. The cost? A mere $113,600.