Today's Papers

Jafari Expedition

The Los Angeles Timesand USA Todaylead with Iraq’s Shiite coalition picking Ibrahim Jafari as their candidate for prime minister. Jafari comes from the religious Dawa party, which has historically had close relations with Iran. Nobody is sure how far Jafari will push Islamic law, in the likely event he gets the top job. The New York Times leads with President Bush saying he has “deep concern” about the E.U. lifting its arms embargo against China. One Clinton-era official administration told the LAT, “There’s a legitimate question of whether the United States and China will end up shooting at each other over Taiwan. This is not all political symbolism.” Bush suggested Congress might retaliate by limiting arm sales to Europe. The Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox and Washington Postalso lead with the latest from the president’s travels. The Post, suffering comprehension problems, headlines the president pooh-poohing as “simply ridiculous” the notion that the U.S. is preparing to attack Iran. The president added, “Having said that, all options are on the table.” The doubt-twist, says the LAT, “elicited laughter.”

The administration crowed that all NATO countries are now in on a plan to train 1,500 Iraqi police, a “much smaller” (WP) commitment than the U.S. had pushed for. France was the latest country to join in. Number of trainers it pledged: one.

Jafari, who lived in London until 2003, has talked plenty about respecting all groups in Iraq. And as the LAT notes, he was also behind a “move last year to make Islamic law Iraq’s legal basis for dealing with issues such as marriage, divorce and inheritance.”

The NYT sees the Jafari pick as setting the stage for a “potentially polarizing battle.” Secularists, such as the Kurds and the still-in-the-game Iyad Allawi are “intent on sharply curtailing Jafari’s powers or blocking him and his clerical-backed coalition.” The other papers don’t see a big showdown. The LAT notes that Allawi’s “own party members give him virtually no chance” of taking on Jafari.

USAT paints a more complex picture of Jafari. It cites one expert who said that, for all the talk about his party’s buddy-buddy relationship with Iran, Jafari actually left Iran for London in 1989 in order to be “less dominated by Iranian views.”

Former U.S. favorite Ahmed Chalabi had been in the running against Jafari. But he pulled out, which the papers mostly attribute to pressure from the Shiite coalition. The Christian Science Monitor, though,paraphrases a Shiite politician saying Chalabi was bought off with an offer to “to make him the top financial overseer in Iraq.” USAT talks to a Chalabi aide who asserted the same thing.

The NYT and WP front and others stuff federal prosecutors accusing an American who had been held in a Saudi prison for nearly two years of plotting to assassinate President Bush. Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, 23, was flown back to the U.S. yesterday and charged with providing “material support” to terrorists. The charges don’t actually center on the purported assassination plan, which according to paraphrased fed sources in the Post, “never advanced beyond the talking stage.” Abu Ali’s lawyer said Saudi forces tortured his client: “He looks like someone who’s been whipped.” The lawyer offered to show the judge, who declined. (Would confessions gained through torture be admissible? Slate’s Phil Carter says probably not.)

The NYT, which seems to have extra reporting on the case, says the Saudi forces who arrested Abu Ali were “apparently acting in consultation with American officials.” Abu Ali’s family recently sued to bring him back to the U.S. And the Times says that in December a U.S. judge wrote, “More than one United States official has stated that Abu Ali is no longer a threat to the United States and there is no active interrogation.”

The Post’s Abu Ali coverage includes this interesting bit: “One source involved in the case said the U.S. government had hoped Saudi Arabia would bring charges against Ali, in part because of the lack of evidence linking him to any al-Qaida activities.”

The papers’ Abu Ali headlines don’t exactly nail the nuance in the case. Take the NYT: “AMERICAN ACCUSED OF PLOT TO ASSASSINATE BUSH; Man Held by Saudis since June 2003 is Linked to Al Qaeda.”

The USAT, NYT, and LAT front the Supreme Court agreeing to hear an administration challenge to Oregon’s assisted-suicide law.

The NYT’s Nicholas Kristof prints a few graphic photos from Darfur. He also excerpts a (seemingly authentic) document captured from the government-supported Janjaweed militia: “Change the demography of Darfur and make it void of African tribes.”