The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times all lead with news of the formation of a government in Iraq. For the first time since Saddam Hussein was removed from power, Iraq has a full-term government led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a member of the dominant Shiite coalition. Even thought the new government boasts a Sunni Arab vice president and deputy prime minister, 15 Sunni politicians stormed out of the celebrations to protest Maliki’s decision to proceed with a vote even though three key Cabinet positions have yet to be filled—defense, interior, and national security, the three ministries that will share control of the country’s new security forces.
The WP and LAT provide details of the Sunni grumblings. The NYT takes a decidedly indecisive tone. Even though the new government “appeared to lack the cohesion needed to quell the sectarian and guerrilla violence engulfing the country,” the article concluded that: “For all the messiness of Saturday’s ceremony, the formation of the government represented a triumph of democratic politics.” While politicians deliberated in the Green Zone, 20 to 25 people were killed, and 74 were wounded in Sadr City when a homemade bomb exploded. Fifteen bodies, all with bound wrists and signs of torture, were uncovered in Baghdad.
Much more in-depth is a piece the NYT fronts on the Iraqi police force and the failure of the Bush administration to adequately train it. The administration rejected a plan to rebuild the force using thousands of American civilian trainers. Instead, a dozen ill-equipped advisers were initially sent to rebuild the force. Former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik said he was sent to Baghdad with 10 days’ notice and no preparation; he prepared himself by watching A&E Network documentaries on Saddam Hussein. In the two weeks he had to ready himself for his job, L. Paul Bremer wasn’t sure he’d even been briefed on the Iraqi police. Even more troublesome—despite being unable to find foreign field trainers for the force or to trust the Iraqis signing up, American officials never sounded alarm bells. When Kerik returned to the U.S., he said the force had made “tremendous progress.”
The LAT fronts a piece on the high re-enlistment rate of U.S. soldiers—two out of three soldiers eligible to re-enlist do so. The secret—gloomy civilian job prospects and no health care. Many service members have to balance the risk of dying in Iraq (2,400 have been killed so far) against leaving their families uninsured. Even if they find a civilian job, many companies no longer offer health coverage, and if they do, it doesn’t compare with the coverage offered by Uncle Sam, which can include free prescription drugs. Also of note, the Army paid out half a billion dollars last year in re-enlistment bonuses, which almost 75 percent of re-enlisting soldiers receive.
Both the WP and the LAT off-lead with stories on the U.S.-Mexico border. The LAT profiles the Mexican town of Jacume. More drugs are seized in Jacume than just about anywhere else along the California border. Each month last year, agents seized 400 pounds of marijuana and 660 migrants. Because money from smugglers flows into the town, its residents support the illegal activity and are often complicit, storing drugs and harboring migrants for about 10 times the Mexican wage. The WP has a sunnier report on the long, porous border Mexico shares with Texas. Residents of towns along the border go back and forth between the two countries to shop, work, and pray; some families even live divided, with members on each side. Consequently, closing the border would cripple many of the “borderland” businesses that depend on the daily crossings.
The NYT off-leads with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin winning re-election in a tight runoff race against his opponent, Mitch Landrieu. Mr. Nagin raised less money than his challenger but was bolstered by a large number of absentee ballots cast by residents who had been displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
The NYT fronts a story on the GOP’s struggle to maintain control of the House and Senate. With 36 House seats now “in play” and Democrats only needing to capture 15 seats to take control (they need six in the Senate, and seven are possibly up for grabs), Republicans have switched into fund-raising overdrive and have begun campaigning earlier than usual. The article asks but doesn’t really dive into the big unanswered question: Can Democrats really overcome congressional districts that have been redrawn to protect incumbents?
Everyone goes inside with the assassination attempt on the Palestinian intelligence chief who is both a senior Fatah member and an ally of President Abbas. Nobody claimed responsibility, but tension between Fatah and Hamas has been escalating. It was the same intelligence chief whom Abbas sent to Amman last week to investigate charges that Hamas was smuggling explosives into Jordan to carry out attacks there. Also adding to the discord was Friday’s arrest of a Hamas spokesman trying to smuggle more than $800,000 in euros into the Gaza Strip from Egypt.
Of horse and men: In sporting news, Barbaro, the horse that won the Kentucky Derby and was favored to be a Triple Crown winner, sustained serious, life-threatening injuries moments into the Preakness Stakes. Bernardini, a horse that had raced just three times in his career, won the race. In California, Barry Bonds matched Babe Ruth’s career total of 714 home runs. Ruth’s family members declined an invitation to attend the game because of Bond’s alleged steroid use.