Today's Papers

It’s Getting Hot in Here

The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Timeslead, while the Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide newsbox, with a heavy day of fighting in downtown Baghdad, where more than 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops were involved in a daylong battle against Sunni insurgents. The NYT calls the fighting “one of the most dramatic operations in the capital since the invasion nearly four years ago.” Everyone mentions this could be seen as a preview of what awaits the additional troops President Bush wants to send to Iraq. USA Todayleads, and the LAT and WP front, word from federal climate officials who announced 2006 was the hottest year ever recorded.

The fighting in Baghdad’s Haifa Street has particular significance because U.S. troops managed to take control of the area in 2005 after much fighting, and Bush declared it a success story. The WP says this time around the fighting broke out four days ago when Iraqi soldiers killed 30 insurgents who had allegedly set up an unauthorized checkpoint. The Iraqi army then asked for U.S. help when several of its soldiers were killed two days ago. The Americans went in yesterday supported by fighter jets and Apache helicopters. The strong resistance the troops faced came as a surprise because they’re more accustomed to insurgents hitting quickly and then disappearing. There are no reports of casualties among the Iraqi and U.S. forces, although there were injuries. The Iraqi military said they killed at least 50 insurgents, and captured 21, including several foreign fighters. Sunni officials said those killed were civilians and criticized the operation as a way to “clean Baghdad of the remaining Sunni elements.”

The Post has the best quotes from U.S. troops on the ground. A U.S. officer who is on his third tour of Iraq called it “the most intense combat I have ever seen … we were in a fight for 11 straight hours.” Another sees this fight as a sign of how “all sides are getting more desperate to enforce their will and increasingly they are capable of doing that.” The Post quotes a U.S. service member saying that some of the captured insurgents had equipment that belonged to the Iraqi soldiers they had killed two days ago, which was “a big moral victory, and huge for their morale.”

The average national temperature in 2006 was 55 degrees. Officials blamed El Niño climate patterns as well as climate change due partly to “greenhouse gases.” Rather than seeing this as an isolated event, climate experts say the temperatures in 2006 were part of a trend toward hotter weather. On the bright side, the warmer weather meant there was a 13.5 percent decrease in residential energy demand.

The Post says on Page 1 that when President Bush gives his prime-time address tonight he will be ordering top military leaders to do something they, at least initially, opposed. Bush has frequently said commanders on the ground know what is best. Just last month he told the Post that “it’s important to trust the judgment of the military when they’re making military plans.”

Meanwhile, Democrats have to decide how they will answer to Bush’s plans. The NYT fronts word from Democratic leaders that they will hold symbolic votes in both the House and the Senate to try to force Republicans to take a side. This tactic would really have no effect on policy, but Democrats emphasized they are still open to introducing other measures that could, at least in theory, have a bigger impact. For now, Democrats appear to want to isolate the president. “If you really want to change the situation on the ground, demonstrate to the president he’s on his own,” said Sen. Joseph R. Biden of Delaware. 

While trying not to seem like they’re pulling the rug from underneath the troops in Iraq, Democrats also have to worry about angering their party’s liberal base, says the LAT in its inside pages. This conflict has led several party leaders to criticize the president’s plan while at the same time not giving any answers on what should be the alternative. Slate’s John Dickerson says it’s unlikely Democrats will do more than pass a nonbinding resolution. “It is clear Democratic leaders are more worried about being tagged as anti-G.I. than being penalized by liberals for not doing all they can to end the war,” writes Dickerson.

But, as USAT says on Page 1, “neither party is united on how to proceed.” Republicans are also finding themselves in the unenviable position of having to balance several interests, and many are struggling to figure out the correct position to take. The Post’s Dana Milbank said Senate Republicans were “displaying more dance steps than the Joffrey Ballet” yesterday. Several senators insisted they wanted to hear the president’s entire plan before expressing an opinion.

USAT and LAT publish an Associated Press story revealing that Pfc. Steven Green, an Army private who was charged with killing a family in Iraq, had been found to have “homicidal ideations” three months before the slaughter. Green told a military mental-health team that he was angry about the war and wanted to avenge the death of American service members. He was given small doses of a mood regulator and told to get some sleep, but he was back on duty the next day.

All the papers go inside with the latest from Somalia, where U.S. officials still say they do not know whether the airstrike designed to hit al-Qaida targets was successful. The WP says officials think at least one of the targets was hit. Early-morning wire reports quote a Somali official saying he has received confirmation that the airstrike killed Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the al-Qaida militant who allegedly planned the bombings on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Meanwhile, in Somalia, word on the street is that 50 people were killed in the attack, although no official sources could confirm the figure. The LAT reports that the United States vowed to continue the manhunt against al-Qaida members in Somalia. The NYT says the attack “immediately set off new waves of anti-American anger” in Somalia’s capital. For those interested in a general overview of what has been going on in Somalia, USAT’s story includes a good summary.

The NYT, WP, and LAT all carry stories on  vocabulary relating to the troop increase, a subject that has been a regular part of blog discussions in the last few weeks. President Bush has often talked about a “surge” in troops, and some media organizations followed. But opponents of the war prefer to talk about an “escalation.” The LAT takes a hard look at the complaints against the news media for using the president’s language (something most of the papers have been moving away from recently). Tony Snow said the president won’t be using the term surge in his speech tonight.