The Washington Postleads with word of an intense debate brewing within the Bush administration over whether there should be a surge of troops in Iraq. Some officials at the White House are promoting the idea of an increase, while the Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously disagree with that strategy. The New York Timesand Los Angeles Timeslead with the latest quarterly report on Iraq by the Pentagon that said violence in the country reached its highest level on record. It also concluded the biggest threat to progress in Iraq is the Shiite militia loyal to cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and not al-Qaida. The Wall Street Journal includes news of the report in the top spot of its worldwide newsbox but focuses on how it was released on the same day as Robert M. Gates was sworn in as the country’s defense secretary.
USA Todayleads with news that officials from the United States, Germany, and Russia successfully secured and moved almost 600 pounds of Soviet-made material from a former East German lab to Russia. There was concern the highly enriched uranium could be a target for terrorists. The effort was part of an initiative to help Russia recover nuclear material that was left scattered around the world after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Under the agreement, Russia can use the uranium for power reactors but not for military purposes. Officials expect to finish emptying out nuclear material from all the sites in 2007.
According to the Post’s sources, the joint chiefs think the White House is pursuing the idea of a surge because there are few other possible options. Meanwhile, they are adamant that increasing the number of troops in the country would create more problems than it solves for the U.S. troops in Iraq. The only real option on the table regarding any kind of surge, would have to involve a specific timeline and mission, which military leaders worry could be exploited by insurgents. The chiefs are allegedly taking a firm stance because they believe the current review of the Iraq situation will lead to the most important decisions since the invasion. Meanwhile, the Post talks to an unnamed senior administration official who insists the question hasn’t really started a fight between the White House and the Pentagon. The same source contends military officers have not directly opposed a surge and have merely asked questions about it. It is still unclear which way Bush is leaning.
The Pentagon report found there were an average of 959 attacks against Americans and Iraqis every week from August until November, which amounts to a 22 percent increase. “The violence has escalated at an unbelievably rapid pace,” the director of strategic plans and policy for the joint chiefs told reporters. The report goes on to say one of the main reasons why Shiite militias have become so deadly is they have received help from some inside Iraq’s security services. While confidence in the Iraqi government is decreasing, Sunni and Shiite militias have gained legitimacy among the people by protecting neighborhoods and providing relief supplies.
Gates vowed to travel to Iraq soon and said he will provide his honest opinion on issues after urging commanders to give him “unvarnished” advice. He also warned the United States can’t afford to lose in Iraq. “Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility, and endanger Americans for decades to come,” Gates said.
The NYT fronts a dispatch from Baghdad that says the city has been pretty much isolated from all outside electricity supplies for the past six months. The towers that support many of the lines are frequently bombed, and when crews go to carry out repairs, they are often attacked and sometimes killed. Baghdad is now mostly dependent on a few power plants that are inside the city. The Iraqi electricity minister says he has asked for help from American and Iraqi troops to protect the electricity lines but they have mostly ignored his pleas. According to recent U.S. figures, which many characterize as optimistic, Baghdad has an average of 6.6 hours of electricity per day, while nationwide the figure is 8.9 hours.
Everybody goes inside with news that Iraq’s former electricity minister, who is a citizen of both the United States and Iraq, escaped from Baghdad’s Green Zone on Sunday. He was being held on corruption charges. The LAT gives big play to Iraqi officials who say U.S. security contractors helped Ayham Samaeraei escape, but the NYT is more skeptical and cites the denial of U.S. officials. It is unclear exactly how he managed to escape the most heavily fortified area of Baghdad, but the NYT makes clear Samaeraei wasn’t exactly kept in tight security and the paper describes how he wasn’t even locked up in a cell. Police officers meant to keep an eye on him didn’t inform anybody he was missing until several hours later.
The WP fronts the results of a new FBI report that shows the number of robberies and murders in the United States continues to increase. This new data further illustrate violent crime is once again growing after going through periods of historic decreases. Violent crime increased nearly 4 percent in the first six months of the year, while the number of robberies increased almost 10 percent. Criminologists often see the rate of robberies as an indicator of what is to come. Last year, violent crime increased 2.5 percent, which at the time was the largest surge in 15 years. The Post emphasizes many state and local law enforcement officials have criticized the federal government for focusing too much on fighting terrorism and ignoring day-to-day crime.
The NYT fronts word from sources who say the team in the Justice Department that was put in charge of investigating accusations that civilian employees abused detainees has decided not to prosecute most of the 20 cases that have been referred to them. The group was established in June 2004 in the aftermath of Abu Ghraib. Since then, it has been overwhelmed with problems, from missing information in referral forms to a difficulty in finding witnesses and nonexistent forensic evidence, so they have been unable to bring a single indictment.
The NYT and WP go inside with federal prosecutors yesterday withdrawing a subpoena to the American Civil Liberties Union that demanded it hand over all copies of a “secret” document the group received. Many had criticized the government for improperly using a grand jury subpoena in order to get the document, which the ACLU characterized as “mildly embarrassing.”
The LAT points out on Page One that for Hollywood, there is no business like repeat business. Six of the 12 biggest movies of the year were sequels and in the coming months studios are coming out with a barrage of new versions of their blockbusters. The paper says the money made from sequels this year “is all but erasing the angst of last year” when Hollywood executives worried about the biggest drop in attendance in 20 years.
Everybody notes the death of Joseph Barbera, who, along with William Hanna, created some of the most famous cartoon characters, including Tom and Jerry, the Flintstones, and Yogi Bear, to name a few. He was 95 and died of natural causes.