Today's Papers

Retaliation Fears

The Washington Postleads with intelligence officials and experts worrying that Iran may coordinate terrorist attacks in response to any military action that the United States might take against the country’s nuclear program. Besides targeting U.S. interests in Iraq, there seems to be agreement that Iran would also carry out attacks against civilians in Europe and the United States. The Los Angeles Timesleads with top Shiite politicians in Iraq abandoning their support for Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. They are now in search of a less polarizing figure who could help create a unity government. The New York Timesleads with word that the increasing violence in Iraq has led to a migration pattern that shows an increased physical separation of Shiite and Sunni Arabs.

Although officials refuse to tell the Post whether they have detected preparations by Iran to carry out these terrorist attacks, the topic is “consuming a lot of time” in intelligence circles. The fear mainly lies in the fact that the terrorist groups controlled or backed by Iran, including Hezbollah, have a lot of resources and are well organized, so they could cause extensive damage.

Several top Shiite politicians withdrew their support for al-Jaafari after they saw him as the main stumbling block in the formation of a government. Even though the Shiite alliance holds 130 of the 275 seats in parliament, Cabinet members must be approved by a two-thirds margin. There are accounts that the U.S. ambassador to Iraq delivered a message from President Bush to the Shiite alliance leader saying he hoped al-Jaafari would step down. 

As American deaths in Iraq decrease and civilian casualties increase, more people are leaving the mixed regions to settle in areas that are mostly Sunni or Shiite. After the bombing of the shrine in February, 30,000 to 36,000 Iraqis have left their homes. This is raising concerns that Iraq’s regions are being divided among sectarian lines, something the U.S. administration has always wanted to avoid. 

Knight Ridder talked to some U.S. intelligence officials who say that insurgents in Iraq are providing training to Taliban and al-Qaida members from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Some of these militants went to Iraq to fight but after training they were urged to go back to their countries and use what they had been taught.

The NYT and LAT go inside with the latest from freed reporter Jill Carroll, who arrived in Germany yesterday and issued a written statement that was published on the Christian Science Monitor’s Web site. Carroll said the statements she made in the last video while in captivity, where she praised her captors and condemned the invasion of Iraq as well as the continued American presence in the country, do not represent her views—”My captors forced me to participate in a propaganda video”—and emphasized that despite what she said, she was “threatened many times” by her captors. (The video is available here).

In a “Week in Review” piece, the NYT’sIraq bureau chief John F. Burns writes that Carroll’s release will once again renew debates and discussion among editors and reporters on how those on the ground can protect themselves while covering the conflict.

The Bush administration can’t seem to find anyone who is willing to take the job of FEMA director, reports the NYT on Page One. All the top emergency response experts around the country who have been asked have rejected the job, largely because they don’t believe the administration is serious about fixing the agency. This problem goes beyond the job of director, as people who were appointed on an “acting basis” are filling 11 of the 30 top jobs at FEMA.

The NYT’s Carlotta Gall traveled to the remote Baluchistan province of Pakistan and discovered that, even though officials might deny it, there is fighting going on that increasingly looks like the beginnings of a civil war. Leaders of the rebel movement, who say their region is ignored by the central government and are opposed to Prime Minister Pervez Musharraf’s plans to develop the oil and gas fields in the area, say they have thousands of fighters facing 23,000 Pakistani troops.

The WP fronts the story of two British citizens who were detained even though they were never accused of breaking any laws. It seems British and American intelligence officials cooperated to arrest the men in Gambia, and using extraordinary rendition they were then transferred to Guantanamo. At the detention center, the men say that British officials offered them freedom and money if they agreed to become informants for MI5.

The NYT mentions that the Government Accountability Office, which is generally respected as impartial and nonpartisan, is facing accusations from one of its investigators that it covered up fraud among some contractors. The investigator says the agency failed to report evidence that the contractors who were supposed to build a system to protect the country from nuclear attack “doctored data, skewed test results, and made false statements.” The GAO denies the charges.

The papers mention that thousands (the WP puts the number at more than 20,000) marched from Brooklyn to Manhattan to support immigrants’ rights. There was also a protest in Costa Mesa, Calif., that, according to the LAT, drew between 1,500 and 2,000 people. This was much smaller than many expected after the 500,000 demonstrators in Los Angeles last weekend. Regardless, organizers said protests will continue throughout April until the “Day of Action” on May 1, when they are calling on supporters to stay home from school and work.

A great guy … The WP’s “Reliable Source” got hold of the 262 character reference letters written about disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and delivered to the judge who was presiding over his trial. “Whatever it is that Abramoff is guilty of, it certainly wasn’t violent crime,” wrote one. A couple emphasized that the lobbyist and his wife kept their end of agreements: “Despite their political and business commitments, they held up their share of carpool duties.” And, some point out that, in the end, Abramoff was just human: “People make mistakes.”