Today's Papers

‘Hard-Line’ Headlines

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead with populist hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s landslide victory in the second round of Iran’s presidential election yesterday. As of 9:45 a.m. in Iran this morning, the country’s official news agency said the Tehran mayor’s tally stood at a crushing 62.3 percent to 35.3 percent. (Meanwhile, the papers’ stories used variants of the term “hard-line” a combined 11 times.) The New York Timesoff-leads Iran and goes instead with word that an Italian judge issued arrest warrants late Thursday for 13 U.S. intelligence agents who, 2½ years ago, allegedly abducted a terrorist subject from a Milan street and turned him over to Egypt, where he was tortured—a story first broken in March by the LAT.

Only the LAT makes much of it, but turnout in Iran was estimated last night at only 48 percent, a far cry from 63 percent in the first round, when the race was winnowed to Ahmadinejad and former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Throughout the day yesterday, the Interior Ministry, which is still controlled for the time being by reformists, alleged voter intimidation—including the presence of the Basiji militiamen, Ahmadinejad’s former comrades, at polling stations.

Instead, the papersplay up a pretty straightforward class angle. To wit: Rafsanjani is head of the “Expediency Council” and a millionaire power broker who wears flowing clerical robes that underscore his connections to a political apparatus seen as corrupt; the NYT says his belated attempt to pick up the reformist mantle never took off. (Despite a wave of caustic, anti-Ahmadinejad text messages young voters fired around earlier this week, many disenchanted young voters stayed home.) Meanwhile, Ahmadinejad looks the everyman part and invoked the revolutionary rhetoric of 1979 to appeal to older working-class voters who resent the growing economic and cultural gap between rich and poor. A civil engineer turned radical militia member, he also made a lot of nuts-and-bolts promises: pay raises, more jobs, expanded health care, government pensions, and wiping out official corruption and cronyism.

I am proud of being the Iranian nation’s little servant and street sweeper,” Ahmadinejad said, referring, according to the WP, to a populist campaign stunt in which he joined Tehran’s street sweepers. The NYT catches him waxing even more lyrical after casting his ballot: “As the people’s servant, it is my honor to be a part of this endless ocean and I am also honored that our dearest people have their trust in me. And I do hope I always remain an ordinary member of the Iranian people.”

Then there’s prognostication that Ahmadinejad—no fan of America—could, as the NYT says, “complicate” negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, a fear that occasions the best quote in the WP: “A weakness of Ahmadinejad is that he does not have the vaguest idea of international relations, international structures,” said an Iranian professor who, the paper adds casually, “has known Ahmadinejad since first grade.”

The papers all mention a large suicide car bombing in Fallujah that killed six American troops, including at least four women, the most women to die at once since the war began. The women were on their way to checkpoint duty, assigned to pat down Iraqi women and girls, when a car swerved into their seven-ton transport truck and exploded, “sending metal shards and body parts in all directions, and a huge cloud of black smoke and swirling dust climbing into the evening sky.” It was the second attack in a week within Fallujah, which had been relatively quiet since the U.S. operation to wrest it from insurgent control in November.

The attacks came only hours before a joint news conference with President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, who was in Washington to meet with lawmakers and top administration officials, and gave an upbeat assessment to match his American counterpart’s. “We want to secure love instead of hatred in our country, coexistence and cooperation in Iraq instead of cursing each other,” Jaafari said.

The Timeses both catch a federal appeals court decision upholding much of a Bush administration rule that would allow power plants to make upgrades to their plants without installing pollution-control equipment. Both industry groups and environmentalists claimed victory, however, because the decision said any modernization plan must weigh whether pollution will get worse, and the plants must keep records of their emissions, a requirement the new rule had originally exempted.

The Post has a good profile of the Serbian human rights advocate who tracked down and earlier this month released a harrowing video Serbian troops took while they taunted and executed six Bosnian Muslims in 1995. Some nine members of the unit have since been arrested.

The WP and LAT have breaking news on a long-running Justice Department cover-up: “Spirit of Justice” and “Majesty of Law” have finally been stripped of John Ashcroft’s dowdy blue drapes.

The Italian arrest warrants contain a wealth of detail: According to eyewitness accounts, the radical imam was approached on his way to mosque by two men who sprayed him in the face with chemicals and then bundled him into an unmarked van. The agents didn’t hide their tracks very thoroughly—while all but a few used apparent cover names, investigators were able to put together a detailed account of the operation by examining hotel registries, rental-car receipts, and cell-phone calls made in the area at the time, including some to CIA headquarters.

The NYT and LAT say it’s unclear whether the Italians knew about the operation beforehand, but the WP and Boston Globe say the Italian antiterror squad was taken by surprise. ”By kidnapping him [the Americans] interrupted an investigation already taking place by the Italian police,” an anonymous official told the Globe. ”We had already been tapping his conversations. We had information on his friends and his links.” Interestingly, the WP quotes a former CIA counterterrorism official who doubts it was a CIA operation. “The agency might be sloppy, but not that sloppy,” he said. “There is no way they would sanction a kidnapping on Italian soil.”

Your intel budget hard at work … After noting that Italian investigators raided one operative’s Italian “villa” for evidence, the NYT says that, according to the warrant, the spooks stayed in five-star hotels for the week of the abduction, amassing $144,984 in charges.

Even weirder: Part of the rendition then took place on a Gulfstream IV executive jet belonging to a part owner of the Boston Red Sox, who admitted to the Globe in March that he regularly leases it to the CIA—with the team logo covered up, of course.