The Los Angeles Times leads with (and USA Today fronts) a current Iraq tragedy, in which gunmen killed at least 22 Shiite Muslim worshipers in Baghdad. The New York Times leads with—and is alone in fronting—the decision of several Western countries to postpone the decision to commit troops to the troubled, U.N.-brokered cease-fire in Lebanon. The Washington Post marks the first day of the latest Saddam Hussein trial with a feature on its significance in northern Iraq’s Kurdish region, the 1988 poison-gas attack that serves as the basis for Saddam’s current time in the dock. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal looks at more speculative Middle Eastern violence; Iran test-fired 10 short-range missiles, but Tehran noted that “it could respond to Western incentives aimed at persuading it to rein in its nuclear program.” USA Today ramps up Katrina anniversary coverage with a poll that finds that just 16 percent of survivors say their lives “are completely back to normal.”
More than 300 Shiites were injured by gunfire, mortar rounds, or the resulting panic in Sunday’s attack, which centered on a procession marking homage to one of the 12 revered imams of the Shiite sect—the sort of large-scale celebration, the LAT points out, that also marks Shiite ascendancy in the post-Saddam era. USA Today notes, however, that the main ceremony in Imam Moussa Kadhim’s shrine did go off peacefully; unnamed officials cited by the LAT cited the lack of car bombs and suicide strikes as progress, as well as the role of a two-day ban on most vehicular traffic in averting more deaths.
In Lebanon, the latest blow to the cease-fire is the unwillingness of Western countries to commit peacekeeping troops until their responsibilities and limitations are better defined. Wishing to avoid the enforced uselessness that marked peacekeeping troops in the Bosnia conflict, the countries—which, according to the French Foreign Ministry, include Italy, Spain, and Finland—are holding out until terms are met or at least exist. Australia has flat-out refused to commit troops to a cease-fire that does not have the mandate to disarm Hezbollah.
The NYT and Washington Post both devote substantial features to the trial for the 1988 attack on the Kurdish region of northern Iraq, which puts Saddam on trial along with Ali Hassan al-Majeed (more familiarly known as “Chemical Ali”) and promises to be a longer and more complicated case. The Dujail trial, a decision on which is expected in two months, involved charges in the killing of 148 people; the NYT puts the death toll among northern Iraqi Kurds during the months-long campaign as “at least 50,000,” the Post at “as many as 100,000.” The greater scope of the trial worries some international observers, particularly Human Rights Watch, which has criticized Iraqi judges’ understanding of international law, not to mention that three defense lawyers were shot and killed during the Dujail trial.
The one-year anniversary of Katrina’s landfall is Aug. 29, and USA Today breaks out a poll (with Gallup) that finds that half the respondents have returned to their communities and plan to stay, one-fifth have returned but plan or have to move, while a quarter haven’t returned. The LAT focuses on those who are remaining in Houston, as many as 150,000. Since the influx of evacuees, Houston’s homicide rate has gone up 18 percent, and according to police statistics, “one in every five homicides in the city involves a Katrina evacuee as suspect, victim, or both.” This has led to anxiety among residents, but local government is planning ahead and is considering adding two seats to City Council to represent the larger population.
In the midst of chaos in Iraq and the coming Katrina anniversary, the NYT and USA Today look at potential GOP saviors. The NYT provides a scorecard of GOP bigwigs and their presidential-race allies: John McCain has Colin Powell and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage; George Allen has Ed Gillespie, former chairman of the Republican Party, and Mary Matalin; Rudy Giuliani signed up Bush fund-raising machine Anne Dickerson. USA Today focuses on Karl Rove’s as-yet-unknown plans for the fall elections, although it does mention that, for the first time, the GOP’s get-out-the-vote machine is in the hands of the Republican National Committee, which will rely on the intimidatingly named “Voter Vault” to “micro-target” voters.
On the distantly domestic front, the LAT has a feature on high-school football in Alaska, which goes from two-a-day practices in July to a state champion by World Series time, in order to avoid the sort of weather that requires groundskeepers to employ “airport-quality de-icer,” the perils of a season going too far into October. A team from Barrow High, the Whalers, is believed to be the first U.S. high-school football team north of the Arctic Circle; their nearest opponents live more than 500 miles away.