Today's Papers

Que Syria Syria

The Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and New York Times all lead with the fall of Lebanon’s pro-Syrian government after massive street protests and what the NYT calls a “grueling no-confidence debate” in parliament. “I am keen that the government will not be a hurdle in front of those who want the good for this country,” said the prime minister as he tossed in the towel. A caretaker government will stick around until elections in the spring, which will likely serve as a de facto referendum on Syria’s occupation. The Washington Postand USA Todaylead with the massive suicide car bombing in Hilla that killed 115 Iraqis and wounded about 150, the single deadliest attack since the insurgency began. The bomber targeted a crowd of police recruits who had been waiting for health check-ups. A market across the street was also destroyed.

Defying a ban, tens of thousands protesters had gathered outside Lebanon’s parliament. “We didn’t have a chance to speak before,” one 70-year-old woman told the LAT. “We were afraid that we would be hurt or arrested, but we’re not afraid anymore.”

One poster: “Leave Us in Peace, Not in Pieces.”

While the protest movement has largely transcended religious and sectarian lines, the Post flags one element largely missing: Shiites. Hezbollah has stuck by Syria. “As long as Israel is on the other side of the border, Lebanon and Syria will be in the same bunker,” said a spokesman. “We share a bilateral destiny.”

The NYT notices that U.S. officials “declined to provide the exact number” of Iraqi security members killed in the insurgency. And the Post mentions another bit of information management, this one less subtle: Iraqi police forbade journalists from entering the hospital where bombing victims were and “beat several cameramen” who tried to get in.

With insurgents constantly targeting Iraqi security forces, most of the papers cite officials reassuring that there are still plenty of recruits. But the Journal says recruiting centers in Sunni areas have been forced to close, with the result being that most recruits are Shiite, an outcome that obviously reinforces the sectarian dynamics of the war. 

In other Iraq violence, the military announced a GI was killed Sunday night by a gunman in Baghdad, a suicide bomber in the capital killed one police officer, and two police officers were killed in what the NYT calls “heavy clashes” in Mosul.

The LAT fronts and others go inside with a federal judge ruling that the government needs to charge alleged al-Qaida plotter Jose Padilla or release him. “The president has no power, neither express nor implied, neither constitutional nor statutory, to hold petitioner as an enemy combatant,” wrote the judge, who was appointed by President Bush in 2003. The ruling, which gives the administration 45 days to decide, is similar to the Supreme Court’s decision last year on Yaser Esam Hamdi who was eventually released and sent to Saudi Arabia.

The papers all flag various bits of the State Department’s annual report on human rights. The NYT, on Page One, focuses on the bit from Iraq, which cites “arbitrary deprivation of life, torture, impunity, poor prison conditions, and arbitrary arrest and detention.” The Post looks at countries that have served as destination spots for the U.S.’s policy of extraordinary rendition. One Australian citizen found himself in an Egyptian jail, where he was reportedly beaten, shocked, and nearly drowned. When he was shipped to Guantanamo Bay, guards found fingernails were missing.

A Page One piece in the Journal notes that the administration is barring international AIDS organizations from applying for federal grants unless they promise to also work against prostitution.

USAT fronts a poll showing support for Bush on Social Security flagging. Just 35 percent of respondents support his Social Security “record,” down eight points since three weeks ago and 14 points since he first took office. 

The Post says inside that the White House has set a self-imposed six-week deadline to start turning public opinion on Social Security. As part of the effort, the Treasury Department has opened a “war room” to, as the Post puts it, “help coordinate and refine the administration’s message on the issue.” Perhaps the shop’s first piece of work was its name: the “Social Security Information Center.”

With all the trepidation about where Iraq’s government will be heading, Dilip Hiro reminds in a NYT op-ed that Islamic governments aren’t all equal. He points to Qatar, a nation that’s far from a democracy (um, think monarchy) but has freedom of the press, some checks and balances, and crucially, women in bikinis. “Instead of worrying about the mixing of faith and law,” says Hiro, “let us see how the emergent Islamic Republic of Iraq creates a category by itself among democratic yet religious states of the Persian Gulf.”