The New York Timesleads with an anonymous “senior American intelligence official” telling the paper Hezbollah has played a role in training some members of Iraq’s Shiite militia groups. According to the official, Hezbollah in Lebanon has trained anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 members of the Mahdi army, the group led by Muqtada Sadr, and some members of Hezbollah have gone into Iraq to help train militia members. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a dispatch from Baghdad that reveals previously unaffiliated Iraqis are joining sectarian militias, as well as increasingly violent neighborhood watch groups, in large numbers after last week’s bombings and ensuing retaliations. The Washington Postleads with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan declaring urgent steps need to be taken in order to prevent a civil war in Iraq, which is very close to breaking out. National security adviser Stephen Hadley said the United States needs to “adapt” to the circumstances in Iraq.
USA Todayleads with a new report by the United Nations and the World Bank that says efforts to curb Afghanistan’s heroin production have been largely unsuccessful. Afghanistan’s poorest have been the main people hurt by the attempts to get rid of the country’s opium. Afgahnistan produces 87 percent of the world’s opium, and a large chunk of the country’s people are dependent on the crop for sustenance. The Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide newsbox with President Bush’s departure for a NATO summit, which marks the beginning of a week that will consist of “crucial diplomacy about Iraq’s future.”
Iran has allegedly played a key role in uniting Hezbollah with the Mahdi army. Syria has also cooperated, but it is not clear whether senior government officials knew of the arrangement. Although Iran wants a stable Iraq, it apparently made a decision it could benefit from short-term instability in its neighboring country to discredit the United States.
Any revelations of links between Iran and the Iraqi insurgency should probably be met with skepticism since it would help the Bush administration for the information to come now, at a time when more people are calling on the United States to meet with Iran. To the Times’ credit, it does treat the information with open skepticism, noting who could benefit from the revelation. Apparently concerned any word about these links could be seen as a (mis)information campaign, the NYT points out the revelation came “in response to questions from a reporter.”
At the same time, though, there is little to counter the official’s statement, besides the doubtful quote from one expert, who is quickly countered by another analyst who says it doesn’t seem far-fetched. For what it’s worth, the Post’s lead story mentions near the end that an intelligence official also told the paper Iran has increased its efforts inside Iraq in the last year.
The LAT interviews several of the new members of the Shiite and Sunni groups, who say they joined the paramilitary groups because they don’t trust the official forces to keep them safe. And everyone feels threatened these days. According to government counts obtained by the LAT, 524 people have been killed since Thursday.
The Post’s lead also has some interesting nuggets of information thrown into the story. According to officials, Vice President Cheney was “basically summoned” by Saudi Arabia to discuss Iraq, and the trip was not the simple meeting of two allies, as was initially portrayed. The paper also talks to an intelligence official who says Sadr’s Mahdi army has grown quickly in the last year and now has anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000 members, which makes it more effective than the official Iraqi army.
Although Annan, along with the Bush administration, isn’t calling the violence in Iraq a civil war, others are not shying away from that claim. Some analysts have used the description in the past, and now everyone notes NBC has become the first television network to officially adopt the term. The LAT says it was the first major news organization to use it as a matter of policy starting from October, “without public fanfare.”
The Post fronts a Marine Corps intelligence report from August that says U.S. troops are no longer able to control the insurgency in Iraq’s Anbar province. Although the WP had already reported on the existence of the report in September, it now was able to get its hands on a copy, which reveals the bleakness of the situation in the western part of Iraq. Sunnis in Anbar are constantly fearful for their lives, as al-Qaeda in Iraq basically runs the province.
Everyone notes Iraqi President Jalal Talabani met with Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, yesterday and they vowed to work together to end the violence in Iraq.
Confirming previous statements, the WP and WSJ report the British defense secretary said many of the country’s troops will be leaving Iraq in the next year.
The LAT is alone in fronting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s speech where he offered several concessions to the Palestinians if they promised to work toward peace. Olmert said Israel would be willing to release prisoners, get rid of checkpoints, and release the money it has kept from the Palestinian government.
The NYT is not impressed: “Those steps, essentially confidence-rebuilding measures, are far short of serious negotiations to end a conflict that is nearly 60 years old.” The LAT’s editorial page, however, sees it differently and says Olmert “unexpectedly extended an olive branch to the Palestinians.”
USAT fronts word that several states and counties are banning people from smoking around children, even if it is in their homes or cars.
The papers note the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to intervene in a dispute over whether a federal prosecutor could review the phone records of two NYT reporters. This means the United States attorney in Chicago, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, could begin looking at the records this week.
Phoning it in … The LAT’s Joel Stein makes the startling discovery that Hannidate, the dating service on conservative Fox News commentator Sean Hannity’s Web site, allows same-sex couples to meet. Shocking! Where on earth does Stein get his ideas?