USA Todayand the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox lead with the latest violence from Iraq, including the kidnapping of the archbishop of Mosul. USAT says another 15 Iraqis were killed, the Journal says at least 22, and the Los Angeles Timessays at least 28. Two Marines were also killed; spokesmen wouldn’t say exactly where. According to early morning reports, a suicide car bomber hit the Baghdad HQ of one of Iraq’s leading Shiite parties, killing at least three. The Washington Postleads with a poll showing mixed numbers for President Bush. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they disapprove of his handling of Iraq, and 55 percent said they don’t like how he’s handled “the Social Security issue.” But a slight majority, 54 percent, said they support some sort of privatization plan. And if it matters to you, the president’s job approval rating is 52 percent.
The LATleads with some politicians and observers doubting the president’s repeated recent assertions that he’s serious about pushing his guest-worker proposal or that he can pull it off in any case. The New York Timesleads with word that the United States has quietly penalized eight major Chinese companies for helping Iran with its apparent nukes program. The current White House has apparently followed the Clinton administration’s habit of trying to play down what one official described as China’s “serial proliferator problem.” The latest penalties didn’t get a press release; they just showed up in Page 133 of the Federal Register.
Most of the Iraqis killed yesterday died in two attacks: Seven police were killed when their minibus was ambushed in Baquba and another seven were killed by a suicide car bombing in Baji , north of Baghdad. A suicide bomber also hit a Marine patrol in Ramadi. That’s likely where the two Marines were killed, but again, spokesmen would only say they died somewhere in the region.
In the far southern city of Basra, insurgents shelled a few polling places overnight, including a kindergarten. Nobody was wounded. The Post says guerrillas also attacked polling stations in two other towns, including Mosul. (Insurgents have also apparently been threatening schools recently.)
The LAT notices that the attack Basra is the latest in a trend and “demonstrated anew an ability to strike in the relatively peaceful south.”
Echoing a report in Sunday’s NYT, the LAT says military commanders are now saying they’re going to shift resources away from any offensives and toward training Iraqis. The apparent change, which has been touted once or two before, comes as commanders and even SAOs acknowledge GIs can’t beat the insurgency on their own. Offensives “are not the long-term solution,” said a senior administration official. “Training Iraqis is the whole nine yards right now. If they don’t get better, we can’t get out of there.”
Everybody mentions Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ordering Palestinian security services to make “maximum efforts” against militants. Abbas is heading to Gaza to talk with Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The NYT notes that the rare previous efforts by Palestinian security forces to crack down “have been halfhearted and never sustained.”
The Post fronts Chinese leaders struggling with how to respond to the death of Zhao Ziyang, a former party leader who disagreed with the Tiananmen Square crackdown and had been under house arrest for 15 years because of it. The WP says chat-room “users posted hundreds, if not thousands, of notes of sorrow, only to watch as censors deleted most of them quickly.” The Journal doesn’t dwell on any outpouring, saying China’s rocketing economy has created an ownership society, with university students more interested in “jobs, fashion, and entertainment” than democracy.
A front-page NYT piece looks at the “potentially pivotal role” Vice President Cheney is playing in shaping the administration’s domestic policy agenda. On Social Security, he reportedly favors allowing people to divert nearly half their payroll taxes into private accounts, just what conservatives have been pushing. He also reportedly supports cuts in benefits.
The LAT looks at how the White House’s push for faith-based social services helped Bush win a bit more support among African-Americans, particularly in places like … Ohio.
The NYT fronts and Post stuffs a U.N. report concluding that rich countries can meet their (sort of) promise to halve extreme global poverty if they increase their international aid to about half of 1 percent of GDP, up from the current average of 0.25 percent. The difference would be about $50 billion annually and could save millions of lives. The United States currently clocks in at about 0.15 percent, last among rich nations.
The Post fronts Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge lowering the terror warning level for Washington, D.C., and saying there’s “absolutely nothing out there” suggesting a threat for the Inauguration Day. The WP makes a big stink of comments Ridge made back in April warning that terrorists could strike during the inauguration, sniffing that “in retrospect” it’s now clear the original warning was just an “educated guess.” The only problem with that is that Ridge said it back in April and never even said the threat was specific to the inauguration. In any case, the Post queries a half-dozen security experts, in and out of government, seemingly in the hope of getting them to bag on Ridge for his original warning. Only one even begins to take the bait: a former Clinton-era official.