Today's Papers

Shiite Might

The New York Times leads with the push by leading Shiite clerics for Islam to be the guiding standard of the new Iraqi constitution.The Washington Post leads with the effort by a top Shiite politician to include Sunnis who boycotted the election in the writing of the new constitution. Adel Abdel-Mehdi—the current finance minister and the leading Shiite candidate to become Iraq’s next prime minister—encouraged participation by the Sunni groups, who had earlier indicated they would be willing to work with the new government. Though Abdel-Mehdi’s remarks signaled a de-escalation of tension, he did reject a demand by Sunni leaders for a timetable for the withdrawal of American forces. The Los Angeles Times leads with major budget cuts sought by President Bush. Some of the most vulnerable populations—from public housing residents to Medicaid recipients to farmers on price supports—would be touched by the billions of dollars of cuts.

According to the NYT, the Shiite clerics are not united on how much the constitution should be based on Islam, and some conservative leaders think Sharia (Koranic law) should be the basis for all legislation. This would be a major departure from the transitional law enacted by Americans before the interim Iraqi government took over; that legislation granted equality for minorities and women and qualified Islam as merely “a source” of the laws. A State Department official indicated the Bush administration is, at least for now, simply watching as the Iraqis sort out the issue.

More violence broke out in Iraq, making Saturday one of the bloodiest days since the election, says the Post. According to the papers and various wire reports, two American soldiers were killed by a mine explosion Friday night north of Baghdad. On Saturday, a Marine was killed during “security and stability operations” north of Baghdad, and at least 33 Iraqis were killed in a string of incidents across the country. Among those were a member of Baghdad’s city council and a member of Iraq’s intelligence service who were killed in separate drive-by shootings. Video footage posted on an insurgent group’s Web site showed seven Iraqi National Guardsmen being killed. And questions continued to surround the kidnapping of an Italian journalist. At least two different groups have claimed responsibility for the abduction.

Also on Saturday Iraq’s electoral commission released new results reporting Shiite-affiliated political groups leading in the south. The Post says the vote count for the National Assembly will be completed by Thursday, and the NYT reports that the electoral commission has fined political parties who violated election rules.

The LAT fronts a profile on Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who was influential in what is appearing to be a major victory for Shiite Muslims in the Iraqi election. In preparation for shaping the constitution, he has reportedly been studying the American, French, and German constitutions.

The papers are unsurprisingly heavy with Iraqi electoral news. In fact, the election has been so all-consuming, says the NYT, that ordinary Iraqis are talking about the Americans a lot less these days.

While the LAT focuses on the people and programs harmed by the domestic budget cuts proposed by the White House, the NYT’s front page story on the potential reductions spotlights the implications of the limits on subsidy payments to farmers. The move is a major policy shift for the administration, and it pits the president against some of his greatest allies in the rural South. The Post homes in on the difficulty in getting Congress to go along with the budget slashes. 

The NYT fronts—and others stuff—a report that federal prosecutors have ended a criminal investigation into whether several CIA officers lied to their superiors and lawmakers about a secret antidrug operation that ended in 2001 with the tragic death of American missionaries in a plane that was shot down in Peru.

The papers report that NATO troops located the wreckage of a missing Afghan plane Saturday; it looks as though no one could have survived.

The NYT editorial board has grim words summing up Bush’s Social Security plan: “The more we learn, the worse it gets.”

The Post fronts a story on a growing environmental movement within the evangelical Christian community, noting also inside that more than 1,000 clergy and congregational leaders of mainstream churches and synagogues have signed a statement chastising the president for rolling back and opposing programs that were environmentally friendly. The NYT runs a piece on an ongoing debate over “The Death of Environmentalism.”

Daniel Okrent, the NYT’s contentious public editor, takes on Judith Miller’s curious appearance on MSNBC’s Hardball With Chris Matthews last week. AsSlate’s Jack Shafer noted, Miller claimed that the White House had made “belated and sudden outreaches” to Ahmad Chalabi “to offer him expressions of cooperation and support” and perhaps even “a chance to be an interior minister in the new government.” Despite the shocking nature of this news, it hasn’t appeared in the Times. Okrent learns that at least a few Times editors were unaware of Miller’s statements about Chalabi. Miller didn’t respond to Okrent’s calls or e-mails, and executive editor Bill Keller wouldn’t talk to Okrent about the issue, so the public editor is left to point to the paper’s “Ethical Journalism” handbook, which instructs reporters not to “say anything on radio, television or the Internet that could not appear under his or her byline in The Times.”

The WP reports that newly confirmed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will be taking three White House attorneys with him to the Justice Department to be his top aides, despite his assertions during confirmation hearings that he sees a difference between representing the White House and representing the country. Two of the lawyers were in charge of the White House’s response to the investigation into the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity. As the Post puts it: “That investigation is being handled by, uh, the Justice Department.”