The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and Washington Postall lead with the bombing of one of Iraq’s holiest Shiite shrines, which set off mobs, sectarian retribution, and protests across the country. According to a late report by the LAT, at least 60 Iraqis have now been killed in the follow-up violence. “This is as 9/11 in the United States,” said one of Iraq’s vice presidents. USA Today leads, for some reason, with the White House saying President Bush wasn’t told about a United Arab Emirates company’s purchase of a U.S.-ports operator until a big stink about the deal erupted last weekend. USAT relegates the shrine attack to inside, though thankfully it has a space on Page One for an important piece profiling the U.S.’s latest big lotto winners.
After the Shiite mosque was destroyed, mobs attacked at least 90 Sunni mosques. Three Sunni imams were killed and a fourth was kidnapped. According to early-morning reports, three journalists for Al Arabiya were kidnapped and murdered. The headquarters of Iraq’s top political Sunni party was also attacked, with one man killed in the ensuing firefight. In the southern city of Basra, about 10 foreign Arab prisoners were dragged out of jail by militia/police and executed.
Much of the action was carried out by the thousands of well-armed average Joes who are loyal to bad-boy cleric Moqtada al Sadr. Many of them said the U.S. was ultimately responsible for the bombing. “Occupiers and Zionists,” were behind it, one Sadr-supporting cleric told the Post.
For what it’s worth, Sadr himself appealed for calm. According to an Arab paper, he issued a statement calling for “unity and solidarity so as to deny any opportunity to those who wish to ignite public turmoil.” As the LAT notes in a nice overview, one Sadr-affiliated cleric echoed that call, telling those gathered at a protest, “They want to drive us to civil war; we will not let them.” In response, the crowd chanted, “We are not satisfied.”
Iraq’s top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani, who usually tries to tamp down tensions, called for peaceful protests. Then he warned, “If the government’s security forces cannot provide the necessary protection, the believers will do it.”
Nobody was killed in the bombing itself, since gunmen somehow overpowered guards and then planted the bombs. As to how they got in so easily, they were apparently dressed as police, and the guards were sleeping. The WP quotes an official saying it looks to be a case of “infiltration” of security forces.
The mosque housed the tombs of two Shiite leaders. To understand how completely destroyed it was, check out the NYT’s slideshow.
Finally, an LAT analysis raises the possibility that the Shiite-Sunni fighting might not be limited to Iraq. In Lebanon, for instance, the Shiite militia-cum-party Hezbollah “warned of fitna, a term for drastic sectarian strife or civil war.”
The WP and LAT front the White House’s port rift with fellow Republicans. Spokesman Scott McClellan played nice: “We probably should have briefed Congress about it sooner.” But Republicans didn’t exactly seem to be backing down. Rep. Sue Myrick wrote a polite note to Bush that read in full, “Dear Mr President: In regards to selling American ports to the United Arab Emirates, not just NO but HELL NO!”
The Post points out what a perfect issue this is for Republicans locked in tight races. They’ve been looking to push away from the prez “without appearing to be soft on terrorism.”
As TP flagged yesterday—and many of this morning’s papers note in detail—experts say there’s little substance to the qualms over the sale. The LAT has a particularly good piece offering facts to counter the fears: “Trade and security specialists said U.S. criticism was unjustified, given Dubai’s support for the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism campaign and its close connections to the U.S. military. Dubai is a primary staging base for the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf.” Said a spokeswoman for L.A.’s port, which is already managed by fer’ners, “Who’s leasing the terminals on paper is one thing, but it doesn’t have much to do with who controls the day-to-day operations.”
Everybody mentions Saudi Arabia showing Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice the hand and refusing the U.S.’s request to end aid to the now-Hamas-led Palestinian government. Egypt also rejected the same request earlier this week.
The WP fronts lawmakers in South Dakota approving a near total ban on abortion. The only exemption is to save the life of a woman. With the bill, says the NYT, South Dakota becomes the “first state in 14 years to start a direct legal attack on Roe v. Wade.”
The papers have passing word of a new report from a human rights group showing there have been about 50 deaths of detainees in U.S. custody where the cause of death was, as the AP puts it, “never announced or was reported as undetermined.” Another 34 deaths were “confirmed or suspected” homicides. Soldiers in only 12 of the cases have faced punishment.