The New York Timesand Los Angeles Timeslead with the Sunday talk-show rounds in which Democratic leaders said they would push to begin phasing out U.S. military presence in Iraq within four to six months. In their view, this will serve as a signal to Iraqis that they need to start taking care of their own security. The Wall Street Journal also tops its world-wide newsbox with the Iraq statements and mentions that Congress comes back to session today.
The Washington Post’s lead, on the other hand, serves to illustrate exactly how difficult it is for Iraqis to build a security force, as two suicide bombers killed at least 35 people outside a police recruiting center in Baghdad. Later in the day, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced he has plans to make some major changes in his Cabinet. USA Todayleads with a new report that says only about one-third of hospitals react quickly enough with heart attack patients to maximize their chances of survival. If all the hospitals met the time-specific guidelines, approximately 1,000 lives could be saved every year.
The Sunday talk shows highlighted how important Iraq is going to be in the first weeks of the new Congress. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, who will be the new Armed Services Committee chairman, and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, who is slated to become the Foreign Relations Committee chairman, both said a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops should begin within four to six months. The incoming majority leader, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, emphasized troop redeployment should begin within months but said the particular decisions about troop levels should be made by those on the ground. Bush administration officials countered that they are willing to discuss new ideas but are unlikely to accept anything that includes specific deadlines for withdrawal.
The bombing outside of the police recruiting station was only one event in a particularly violent day in Iraq, upon which at least 75 bodies were found. In addition, four British and three American soldiers died in attacks. In a closed session, Maliki announced he is planning important changes in his Cabinet to deal with the seemingly unstoppable corruption and violence. In the meeting, Maliki said he was forced to accept his Cabinet by the country’s political blocs but emphasized that some of his ministers are incompetent. There were no details provided as to how or when this theoretical reorganization would take place.
The WP fronts soon-to-be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsing Rep. John P. Murtha from Pennsylvania for the post of House majority leader. This has put Pelosi right in the middle of a fight within the Democratic Party, as both Murtha and Maryland’s Steny H. Hoyer want the position. The Post sees this as a sign of the “sizable value Pelosi gives to personal loyalty and personality preferences,” particularly since some expected Pelosi to stay out of this fight.
On the other side of the aisle, Robert D. Novak says that although Republican members of Congress privately place a lot of the blame for the election losses on Majority Leader John Boehner and Majority Whip Roy Blunt, either one or both are likely to get re-elected to their leadership posts.
Meanwhile, the papers mention, members of the 109th Congress go back to Capitol Hill today for their lame-duck session. Republicans and President Bush have worked up a list of issues they want to take up before they lose the majority, but everyone emphasizes getting anything done will be more than a little difficult. First order of business will be to pass a spending bill so the government can keep on functioning.
USAT fronts word from new Democratic leaders that they will make it a priority to pass a rule that bars the use of anonymous earmarks in congressional legislation. The LAT has two stories on earmarks, focusing on how Reid and Pelosi have used them in the past. The Page 1 story focuses on Reid’s use of an earmark to get money for a bridge over the Colorado River, which could help increase the value of a property he owns in Arizona (the story waits until the end to say some proposed sites could reduce its value). Inside, the paper mentions Pelosi is no stranger to earmarks, and over the last two fiscal years, her district received almost $31.3 million through earmarks, which is allegedly far more than a typical district. Although these stories seem to miss the crucial point that Reid and Pelosi spend a lot more time criticizing anonymous earmarks rather than ones politicians announce in news releases, they could still be interesting angles (and the stories are definitely not ”beat sweeteners“). But TP would have liked to see some comparison data, particularly to put Pelosi’s $31.3 million in perspective.
The LAT fronts another look into Afghanistan’s institutions and this time focuses on the attempts to build an Afghan national army, something the country has never had. The U.S. military and the Afghan government are trying to build a force that incorporates all the country’s ethnic groups. The force was built from scratch, and it now has 36,000 members, but is still almost completely reliant on U.S. and NATO forces, as the national troops lack experience and equipment. The U.S. military denied a request for Times journalists to be embedded with an Afghan unit, even though the Afghan Defense Ministry had approved it.
Both USAT and NYT front stories on the cleric Moktada al-Sadr, but the papers differ on their interpretation of his significance for the future of Iraq. While USAT says he is “one of the most powerful forces in Iraq” with his militia and political organization, the NYT suggests that while Sadr’s political power has grown, he is also losing control over the regular fighters on the street. An Iraqi politician tells the NYT Sadr and his followers are facing a problem because “they formed a militia. It expanded. Now each one is a cell. This is a dangerous thing.”
The Post is alone in reporting that Vietnam has released the U.S. citizen who was convicted of terrorism. This case was threatening the ability of President Bush to pass a trade bill with Vietnam, where he is scheduled to arrive on Friday.
This too shall pass … The Post publishes encouraging words from a Harvard psychologist, Daniel Gilbert, for all the Republicans who are devastated their party lost last week. Even though it may seem like the feeling will last at least two more years, Gilbert found people are seldom as upset as they think they will be. “When partisans imagine being devastated when their candidate loses, they focus on how they will feel when they think about it,” Gilbert said. “What they fail to realize is how seldom they think about it.” Presumably, this doesn’t apply to Karl Rove.