The Los Angeles Times leads with its in-house attempt to estimate the number of Iraqis who have died violently since the United States invaded the country three years ago. The result: more than 50,000, “a toll 20,000 higher than previously acknowledged by the Bush administration.” The New York Times discloses the military’s extremely tentative plans to cut the number of combat troops stationed in Iraq by the end of next year. The Washington Post leads with a piece investigating ties between disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and conservative nonprofit organizations, particularly focusing on his relationship with GOP strategist Grover Norquist.
“Proportionately,” the LAT says of its death toll estimate, “it is equivalent to 570,000 Americans being killed nationwide in the last three years.” The paper arrived at the 50,000 figure by obtaining data from Iraq’s national health ministry and the Baghdad morgue, and “checking those numbers against a sampling of local health departments for possible undercounts.” If anything, the story suggests, its estimate is probably low, because few records were kept in the anarchic first year after the invasion, and many deaths continue to go unreported in the more lawless provinces. The pace of killing also seems to be quickening—1,154 Iraqis were killed last month, triple the death toll in May 2004.
All pertinent facts to keep in mind when reading the NYT’s lead story, which reads like a Sunday morning trial balloon. According to the piece, sourced to anonymous “American officials,” the commander of the United States’ forces in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, briefed a number of his higher-ups this week, including President George Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and suggested that the number of combat brigades in Iraq could be more than halved by the end of next year. Several caveats, however: 1) The story says Casey presented only a “concept” as opposed to a “formal plan”; 2) most units in Iraq aren’t combat brigades; 3) it’s all dependent on things going well during the next year, which the Pentagon is referring to as a “period of stabilization.”
The WP’s lead story leaves one with the definite impression that the IRS, which has taken a beating from Norquist over the years, may get its revenge. It appears he was allowing Abramoff to pass huge sums money from Native American gambling interests through his tax-exempt organization so as to disguise its origin, taking a large cut for his troubles. The broad outlines of the arrangement have been known for some time. But a long-awaited report by a Senate committee, released on Thursday, adds a wealth of detail, including embarrassing e-mail exchanges. Legal experts say Norquist may be in serious trouble. “It’s not a tax-exempt activity to act as a bag man for Jack Abramoff,” one says. (As far as TP can see, the story doesn’t link to the actual report, which is available here.)
The LAT off-leads a fine feature on global warming that details the fast pace at which the Greenland ice sheet—”two miles thick and broad enough to blanket an area the size of Mexico”—is melting. The sheet is losing 52 cubic miles of ice a year. Much of the story, however, focuses on the newly sexy discipline of climatology, describing the lives of the plucky scientists who live out on the ice sheet for months at a time: “Their cheeks were coarse with stubble. Their hair rose in waxy spikes. Their eyes had reddened from insomnia and too much midnight sun.” Do they carry bullwhips, too?
The WP fronts a long piece on the further adventures of “Curveball,” the world’s most disastrously unreliable CIA informant. It seems that veteran CIA officer Tyler Drumheller warned his superiors that the informant—an Iraqi refugee who claimed to have worked at a (fictitious) mobile bioweapons plant—was probably full of it, but he was ignored, and Curveball’s bogus story made it into crucial speeches by President Bush and Colin Powell. The LAT has published a series of articles about the Curveball saga, but what’s new here is the on-the-record interview with Drumheller, who retired last year.
The NYT fronts a nuanced—let’s be honest: confusing—piece about the relationship between Iran and Syria. Until recently, the two countries kept their distance, but now, in the face of common pressure from the United States, they are banding together. Except maybe they aren’t, because Syria is also courting Sunni nations around the Persian Gulf in order to keep Iran’s Shiite regime from becoming the region’s dominant power. One thing is certain: Some Syrian market vendor is hawking pictures of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The LAT fronts a piece suggesting that due to a long drought, this summer is going to be a doozy for wildfires across the West and Southwest.
Only the WP picks up (via the Associated Press) a story that could prove to be very big news. The leader of the Islamist militia that recently captured the Somali capital of Mogadishu, who had recently agreed to peace talks with the transitional government, was replaced by a hard-line cleric yesterday. Hassan Dahir Aweys, a onetime associate of Osama Bin Laden’s, went into hiding after the 9/11 attacks and only resurfaced in August 2005.
The NYT’s Sunday Styles section has a long profile of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmental and political activist. The piece is pegged to RFK Jr.’s recent epic piece in Rolling Stone, which suggests that the Republicans stole 2004 presidential election in Ohio. As far as TP can see, this is the first time—outside of the op-ed pages—that any of the major papers have addressed Kennedy’s argument. The story does not even attempt to tell us whether he’s onto to biggest fraud in history or completely out of his mind. But there’s a lot about his cool vacations.
The WP has a fun piece by Christian Davenport about a new trend in medical care—luxury hospital perks. Among the goodies one hospital in Montgomery County, Maryland offers: macchiatos, massages, and free DVDs. He interviews one woman who uses the wireless Internet network (Motto: “Healing Through Connectivity”) to google her condition and treatment. Which thrilled her doctors, no doubt.
Play it again, Don … “In the general’s briefing, the future American role in Iraq is divided into three phases. The next 12 months was described as a period of stabilization.”—Today’s NYT.
“The president said that we have moved from a period of major military conflict to a period of stabilization.”—Donald Rumsfeld, press conference, May 2, 2003.