The Washington Post leads with an update on U.S. security measures being taken in preparation for the election of Iraq’s national assembly. The New York Times leads with word that Israel will cut back offensive operations in response to Palestinian initiatives to stop violence. The Los Angeles Times’ top non-local article reports that the drilling of gas wells in Rocky Mountain states will degrade air quality, spewing smog into the national parks there.
The WP leads with news that the U.S. is stepping up preparations for Sunday’s vote in Iraq. The effort, called Operation Founding Fathers, involves moving Iraqi security forces and materials to voting sites, enforcing a “no roll” vehicular ban, and filling the cities with tanks, Apache attack helicopters, and combat jets in a show of force. The NYT notes the beginning of a nationwide 7 p.m. curfew. Meanwhile, five American soldiers were killed by roadside bombs and small arms fire. The NYT notes that insurgents bombed schools across Iraq, anticipating their use as polling places. The WP finds schools defaced by graffiti warning that anyone voting will be beheaded.
The NYT leads with word that Israel will scale back offensive operations in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Shortly after Palestinian police charged with stopping terror attacks against Israelis were deployed throughout Gaza, Israel ordered its army to stop arresting or killing Palestinian militants. Deadly force against militants will be authorized only in the case of immediate threats to Israelis. The measures go part of the way toward meeting the requirements of new Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, who wants to negotiate a ceasefire. PM Ariel Sharon says the time is right for a “historic breakthrough,” but his officials warn that Abbas will have to dismantle Hamas before Israel will come to the table. That could be problematic given that, as the LAT notes in its reefer, Hamas just won decisive victories in local Gaza Strip elections and is poised to seek greater influence.
The LAT off-leads with news that the Bureau of Land Management will drill 50,000 gas wells in Wyoming and Montana. The bureau determined that the resulting pollution will cloud national parks, cause acid rain, and obscure monuments. But under pressure from the White House to fast-track energy production, it approved the plan anyway.
The NYT and WP front pieces about Iraqi absentee voting in the U.S. and around the world. In the U.S., with the help of police and bomb-sniffing dogs, people of Iraqi descent voted without incident, although only a disappointing 10 percent of eligible people registered. The WP notices that those casting votes in the Washington area were mainly Kurds and Shiites, with few Arab Sunnis. The NYT carries stories of Iraqis in America savoring their chance to finally vote, quoting one man who said, “The paper in my hand … cost us a million people’s deaths.”
The WP teases news that the Iraqi election campaign is being conducted largely on television. Rallies are unsafe; billboards get torn down. Television is the only medium not susceptible to vandalism and intimidation. Iraqi stations are being bombarded with both GOTV ads and ads from various parties. One ad targets the Sunni Arab minority, whose failure to turn out could threaten the legitimacy of the results.
The NYT fronts news that radical Shiites continue to oppose the election, suggesting that this “foreshadowed” an underwhelming voter turnout. Ali Sistani, the country’s highest Shiite leader, says that every Iraqi has a “religious duty” to vote. But followers of Shiite rebel Muqtada Sadr are not swayed. “Our religious leaders have not told us to vote,” said one young Shiite.
Meanwhile, the LAT wonders how long Sistani’s United Iraqi Alliance can hold together. The alliance’s rival factions all benefit from Sistani’s influence, but once a ruling coalition is formed, the alliance could collapse, weakening the united Shiite voice Sistani is hoping for.
All three papers have interactive multimedia features about the Iraq election, providing video, lessons explaining the complicated voting process, and updates about campaigning efforts and the security situation. The LAT offers charts explaining the legislative, executive, and judiciary branches. The WP maps Iraq’s ethnic breakdown. The NYT’s map is chillingly color-coded by “attacks per 100,000 people.”
The LAT reports that a U.N. commission on Sudan has concluded that the violence in Darfur does not constitute genocide. Militias and rebels committed crimes against humanity, and some acted with a “genocidal intention,” says the commission’s report, but there was no state policy to exterminate a particular ethnic group.
The NYT fronts the disclosure that Michael Chertoff, Bush’s pick for homeland security secretary, advised the CIA about torture. When he headed the Justice Department’s criminal division, Chertoff was asked what was and wasn’t legal in interrogating detainees. Pain and deception were acceptable, but Chertoff opposed threatening the families of detainees.
Almost Infamous … The NYT fronts word that murder defendant Robert Blake, once pursued by paparazzi, now spends his days shuffling around the courthouse alone. “Mr. Blake’s moment in the sun has been eclipsed by the supernova that is Michael Jackson,” writes Charlie LeDuff. In fact, now that rock producer Phil Spector is on trial, Blake is “not even the most famous murder defendant in Southern California.” Talk about a buzz kill.