Violence in Iraq leads most of the papers today, but they mostly choose to focus on slightly different angles. The New York Timesleads with a new U.N. report that says 34,452 Iraqi civilians were violently killed last year. That’s about 94 deaths a day, half of which occurred in Baghdad. The paper emphasizes the toll is probably higher because the December count doesn’t include data from several provinces and some deaths are never reported. The Washington Postgoes high with the U.N. report in its lead story but emphasizes the two bombs that were detonated yesterday outside a largely Shiite university in Baghdad, which killed at least 60 people (most of the other papers say 70). The Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide newsbox with a combination of yesterday’s violence and the U.N. report. According to the paper, the death toll across Iraq on Tuesday was “near 150.”
USATmentions all the violence in Iraq in its lead story, but focuses on President Bush criticizing the way in which the execution of Saddam Hussein was carried out. The president said the execution looked like “kind of a revenge killing” and said this shows how the Iraqi government “still has some maturation to do.” The Los Angeles Timesleads with Sen. Barack Obama announcing he has formed a presidential exploratory committee, thus ending the seemingly never-ending speculation about whether he would actually run. He is scheduled to make a formal announcement on Feb. 10.
An Iraqi government spokesman quickly said the number listed in the report is too high, but the U.N. emphasized it used official figures to compile its final tally. The NYT says the spokesman insisted the government doesn’t have a way to compile death statistics, although the WP reminds its readers that in early January, the ministries of defense, health, and the interior said there had been 12,357 violent deaths in 2006. For some reason the Post doesn’t mention that a few weeks ago it got some numbers from the Iraqi Health Ministry that put the death toll at 22,950. The U.N. report also cites some Interior Ministry numbers that say 12,000 Iraqi security forces have been killed since 2003. To its credit, the NYT prominently posts a link to the full U.N. report.
The university bombings weren’t the only cause of violent deaths in Baghdad, and the LAT saysat least 69 more Iraqis were killed yesterday. The Post mentions that in early December an insurgent group warned students and professors they should cancel classes because there were plans in place to rid universities of Shiite militias. At the time, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki insisted students keep attending classes. Interestingly, the LAT notes there is a large presence of militia members who are loyal to Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr at the university. They apparently enforce dress codes, carry out rallies, and sometimes ask for identification cards. Some Sunni students have complained they are frequently targeted and that’s why many have stopped attending the university.
While the NYTillustrates the bombings with a Page One picture that shows mangled cars, the Postdecided to go more graphic and emotional by fronting a picture of a woman waiting to be treated at a hospital.
Everybody notes the U.S. military announced that four more American servicemembers were killed on Monday.
In its cover story, USAT asks whether Obama has enough experience to become president, which the paper headlines as “The Big Question About Barack Obama.” But as all the papers point out, Obama made clear yesterday in a Web video that he is planning to pitch his inexperience as an asset. “I am struck by how hungry we all are for a different kind of politics,” Obama said.
The WSJsays Obama “will test just how eager voters are … to further shake up Washington.” The LAT notes Obama’s announcement officially marks the beginning of “a high-stakes competition” for money and staff, particularly with Sen. Hillary Clinton, who still hasn’t announced she will run. USAT goes inside with a story about campaign money, saying the competition to gain the backing of the party’s most influential donors has grown more intense now that Obama is in the race. Yesterday, Obama became the sixth Democrat to announce he will be running for president.
In what has become sort of a habit for some of the papers, the NYT reports on what happened in the Senate floor between Obama and Clinton after the announcement. Answer: nothing, as usual. The paper describes how the two senators were, at one point, “barely a foot apart, but carried on conversations as though the other was not there.”
The WP notes on Page One that at least half a dozen members of Congress have spouses who are registered lobbyists and most lawmakers aren’t really interesting in ending the practice, which, at the very least, creates a perceived conflict of interest. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., has proposed banning spouses of senators from lobbying in the chamber, but it doesn’t look like it’ll go anywhere.
The NYT fronts the results of an Interior Department investigation revealing a top official was told almost three years ago of a legal slip-up that allowed drilling companies to get around paying billions of dollars in taxes for oil and gas they pumped from public waters. The report says the mistake could have been fixed more easily if officials had acted quickly. These latest revelations contradict what the official told a House hearing last year when she claimed the first time she heard about the mishap was in January 2006.
Without mentioning Iran by name, eight Arab countries warned against foreign interference in Iraq, the WP and LAT report. The predominantly Sunni countries issued the statement during a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Charles D. “Cully” Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, writes a letter to the Post today in which he apologizes for criticizing the U.S. law firms that are representing prisoners in Guantanamo. On Thursday, Stimson suggested that corporate clients should question being represented by law firms that are working to defend suspected terrorists. But today he writes that “those comments do not reflect my core belief” and added: “I believe firmly that a foundational principle of our legal system is that the system works best when both sides are represented by competent legal counsel.”