Today's Papers

Hearing Voices

The Washington Postleads with President Bush’s meeting with a group of military experts, who told him they disagreed with two of the main recommendations put forward by the Iraq Study Group. The experts, consisting of three retired generals and two academics, expressed particular disagreement with the committee’s suggestions to decrease U.S. combat troops and to ask for Iran and Syria’s help. Although these are views shared by the Bush administration, the American people have a different opinion, says USA Todayin its lead story. According to a new poll, the majority of Americans want U.S. troops to leave Iraq within the next year, although only 18 percent believe that will actually happen.

The New York Timesleads with discussions currently under way among several of Iraq’s major political parties to create a coalition that could rival the influence of Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr. The Los Angeles Timesleads, and everyone else goes inside, with gunmen shooting and killing the three young sons of a Fatah party intelligence officer in Gaza City. The Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide newsbox with President Bush’s efforts to gather advice on Iraq, and also mentions the work under way in Iraq to form a new political coalition, which it describes as “anti-Maliki.”

The meeting with the military experts is part of a listening tour the White House is undertaking before it is set to announce its new plans for Iraq before Christmas. The views of these military experts were not particularly surprising, since four of them had already questioned parts of the ISG’s report. Regardless, the fact that the White House asked for their opinion is seen as one more sign the president is gathering support for a new plan that ignores several of the bipartisan committee’s recommendations. In addition to expressing skepticism over the report, the group of experts also recommended the president make some changes in his national security team. The Post says this suggestion “is likely to fuel Pentagon rumors” that Marine Gen. Peter Pace will be removed as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Today, Bush will meet with Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hasemi at the White House.

Although most Americans admit they don’t know enough about the ISG’s recommendations to say whether the White House should adopt them, those who claimed familiarity with the report said they agreed with its suggestions. But most said the administration wouldn’t implement the proposals. President Bush’s job-approval rating is 38 percent, which is five percentage points higher than when a poll was taken right after the midterm elections.

Two Kurdish groups, a Sunni party and a Shiite party backed by Iran, are currently discussing the creation of some sort of coalition. They invited Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to join the discussions but he hasn’t out of fear the group intends to push him out of power. U.S. officials, who have long been eager to decrease Sadr’s power seem to be pushing for the coalition. The NYT notes that although a new partnership across sectarian lines could advance U.S. goals, it also carries the risk of Sadr feeling threatened and pushing for more violent uprisings  as a result.

As the three children were leaving for school yesterday morning, men wearing black masks riddled their car with bullets, killing the kids and their driver. The father, who was not in the car, had escaped an attempt on his life in September. Fatah party officials are accusing militants of deliberately targeting children and the episode risks increasing the already-high tensions between different political factions. Hamas officials denied any involvement in the attack, and condemned the murders.

The LAT catches late-breaking news out of Baghdad, where two car bombs exploded early this morning, killing at least 54 people and wounding 148. The U.S. military announced a bomb killed three American soldiers yesterday.

The Post off-leads word that a small Pentagon task force has been going to dangerous areas of Iraq for the last six months to try to revive factories that were abandoned by the Coalition Provisional Authority. The idea is to create employment for Iraqis in order to discourage them from joining the insurgency. Officials believe high unemployment rates are pushing people to do anything they can for money, including placing bombs or attacking U.S. troops. When the U.S. invaded Iraq, officials hoped private companies would take control of the previously state-run factories but the heavy fighting has kept would-be investors away. 

The Post goes inside with Democratic leaders in Congress announcing they will put a stop to all earmarks until they enact changes to lobbying rules. At the same time, the incoming chairmen of the House and Senate appropriations committees said they would extend current funding levels until the 2008 fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1. The outgoing Congress left most of the spending bills incomplete when it adjourned on Saturday morning, but it extended funding until Feb. 15.

The re-election of Rep. William J. Jefferson of Louisiana, who had $90,000 in his freezer, has complicated things for the Democratic leaders in the House, says the Post. Democrats are trying to figure out how they should treat the congressman, especially since talk of ethics was a central campaign theme. A source said that although Nancy Pelosi has considered not placing him on a committee, she is likely to assign him one that has a low profile. Jefferson was removed from the powerful Ways and Means Committee in June, after the bribery allegations surfaced. Although Jefferson has not been indicted, sources said he probably will be in the first six months of 2007.

The LAT fronts the various ways in which Republican Rep. Gary Miller of California has used his position as a member of Congress for personal gain. The paper talked to some of his staffers and got a hold of correspondence, which all adds up to several questionable practices. Among other things, the congressman is said to use his staff for personal purposes, pay for rent in his real-estate firm using campaign money by claiming it is also his campaign office, and use his position to get concert tickets, as well as to pressure city council members to purchase his land. The claims add up to an impressive description of abuse of power by one of the richest members of Congress.

The Post goes inside with word out of the National Security Agency, which announced yesterday that it never monitored the telephone communications of the late Princess Diana. The NSA admitted it had 39 documents with references to Diana, but these were not the results of monitoring her calls. The denials come as British media have reported that unspecified intelligence agencies were listening to her conversations on the day she died. A CIA spokesman said any implications that the agency had tapped Diana’s phone were “rubbish.” The British newspapers that published the reports said they got the information from leaks of a Scotland Yard report on Princess Diana’s death due to be released on Thursday. Slate’s Mickey Kaus isn’t convinced by the denials.

Osama bin-who? … The WP carries a wire story that reports the incoming Democratic chairman of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Silvestre Reyes, pretty much failed a pop quiz he got from a Congressional Quarterly reporter. Worst part is, the questions weren’t even that difficult. When asked whether al-Qaeda is Sunni or Shiite, Reyes answered, “Predominantly – probably Shiite.” When he was asked to describe Hezbollah, he didn’t even give an answer and merely said, “Hezbolllah. Uh, Hezbollah … why do you ask me these questions at 5 o’clock?” Reyes’ office issued a statement yesterday: “As a member of the intelligence committee since before 9/11, I’m acutely aware of al-Qaeda’s desire to harm Americans.” Well, guess that covers it then.