The New York Times leads with the increasing concern among officials that a new front in the Iraq war might be fought at the Syrian border as the military tries to stop foreign fighters from entering Iraq. Some anonymous officials tell the NYT that the military is considering sending small teams of Special Operations commanders into Syria to gather intelligence, while others say these operations have already begun. The Los Angeles Timesleads with, the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with, and the Washington Post’s top nonlocal story is devoted to Saturday’s referendum on the Iraqi constitution. Security is tight in Iraq’s second national vote since the U.S. invasion, and police have banned private cars from circulating in the streets.
Although some officials insist that Syria’s border was never crossed, others say that forces have crossed the border and have sometimes done so purposefully. After a firefight last summer killed several Syrian troops, the government protested to the United States Embassy. Interestingly, officials are comparing Syria to Cambodia’s role in the Vietnam War as a haven where fighters prepare and hide, as well as raise money. While all this is happening, some are criticizing the administration’s focus on foreign fighters, saying they are a small proportion of the insurgents in Iraq. One source tells the NYT that intelligence reports reveal 95 percent of insurgents are Iraqi.
There were several attacks across Iraq yesterday, but none resulted in huge destruction or a large number of casualties. There was also a blackout for a large part of Friday night, which some speculate could have been the result of an insurgent attack. The WP reports that some branches of the most important Sunni political party, the Iraqi Islamic Party, expressed disagreement with the party’s headquarters and would encourage people to vote against the constitution. Despite widespread Sunni opposition to the constitution, it is still expected to pass, and the LAT notes that Sunnis have turned out in significant numbers to vote in areas that had previously boycotted the January elections. The WP helpfully includes a graphic with some highlights from the constitution, which almost no one has seen in final form. A separate article in the WP says that despite a clause in the Iraqi constitution that declares equality of the sexes, women are worried about its religious provisions and don’t think this new document will improve their lives.
The LAT and the WP front, while the NYT reefers, Karl Rove’s fourth appearance before the grand jury investigating the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s name. His testimony lasted more than four hours, and Rove was allegedly questioned on contradictions between his earlier statements and that of Time reporter Matthew Cooper. Some speculate that Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald might bring forward charges such as obstruction of justice or false statements. The Post mentions that NYT reporter Judith Miller was told by Fitzgerald she will not be charged in the case and is only a witness. Miller is allegedly cooperating with NYT reporters on a full report that will reveal her role in the investigation, which could be published as early as tomorrow.
The LAT fronts United Nations officials saying that the high number of international disasters in the last year are stretching their aid resources thin to help out the victims of last week’s earthquake. In many ways, aiding the victims of this earthquake is more difficult than helping those affected by the tsunami. Not only were more people made homeless, but many of the remote areas that were affected by the earthquake are only reachable by helicopter. The WP and NYT focus on the lack of tents for survivors, which forces many to sleep and live outdoors without shelter almost a week after the earthquake struck.
The NYT fronts, while the LAT goes inside with, Russian authorities putting an end to the fighting in Nalchik and freeing the hostages. In total, the operation resulted in at least 108 deaths. The NYT emphasizes that the response to this surprise attack by Islamic insurgents went better than similar efforts in previous years that resulted in many dead hostages. The LAT says the 108 dead consisted of 72 militants, 24 law enforcement officials, and 12 civilians (the NYT says the civilian casualties could be as high as 20). The WP says the attacks were a result of Nalchik’s Muslim population feeling marginalized by the government’s campaign against Islamic extremism. This is illustrated by the fact that many of the fighters were local and not from Chechnya.
The WP mentions that Louisiana’s attorney general is investigating claims that a New Orleans hospital euthanized some elderly patients during the chaos that reigned after Hurricane Katrina struck. Hospital officials and doctors deny that they euthanized anybody. As more autopsies are ordered, some are complaining about how long it is taking to identify bodies. The NYT details that reporters were taken on a tour of the morgue and were told that volunteers had begun to arrive, so the process was getting faster. The NYT has a separate story that looks into the things that government officials charged to their credit cards during the relief operations. It turns out many government purchasers paid retail price for products, even though they were buying in bulk.
All the papers go inside with news that a strain of the avian influenza virus that is resistant to the Tamiflu drug was detected in a Vietnamese patient. The strain could still be treated by another flu drug called Relenza, but as the WP notes, Tamiflu is the drug that the United States and many other countries are stockpiling.
The WP says the Bush administration is planning on changing its lobbying tactic on Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers. Starting next week, they will move away from talking about her religion as a selling point and instead will focus on her legal expertise. The LAT demonstrates that this strategy may already have started by quoting Scott McClellan saying that Miers “has deep knowledge of the Constitution and constitutional law.”
The WP is the only paper that fronts the announcement that September had the highest monthly consumer price inflation in 25 years, primarily caused by increasing energy prices as a result of the hurricanes. This increase in inflation means that Social Security benefits, which are automatically adjusted for inflation, will increase to a degree unseen since 1991. All the other papers downplay the news, saying that if energy and food prices are removed from the list, inflation has remained constant.
Pink delicacy … Spam is apparently very popular in South Korea, according to the LAT. Even though the canned meat product is more likely to be the punch line of a joke than part of a meal in the United States, in South Korea it is such a luxury (a set of 12 cans costs $44) that it is often given as a gift. South Koreans put Spam in rice, soup, or stew.