The New York Timesleads, and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with a look at how some military officials worry that all the recent helicopter crashes in Baghdad suggest insurgents are changing tactics, becoming more savvy, and concentrating more of their energy on shooting down U.S. aircraft. Almost everyone fronts the crash of a U.S. Marine transport helicopter yesterday, which killed all seven crew members and passengers. The Washington Postleads with news that seven Republican senators distributed a letter yesterday saying they will use every measure at their disposal to ensure a resolution objecting to President Bush’s new Iraq plan is debated.
The Los Angeles Timesleads with a report by the Department of Transportation that says 2006 was one of the worst years for airline travelers in recent years. Approximately 75 percent of domestic flights arrived on time last year, the worst rate since 2000. Also, the report said there were 6.7 reports of mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers, which is the highest rate since 1990. Airlines say most of the problems were because of bad weather and strict security measures. USA Todayleads with word that the U.S. government is asking foreign countries to allow airline pilots to carry guns in the cockpit when they fly internationally. There is currently a program that allows airline pilots to carry a gun on domestic flights but international ones are a little bit trickier since the other countries also have to approve, and several don’t really like the idea.
The NYT gets word from officials of a previously unreported crash of a helicopter owned by a private security firm on Jan. 31. Nearby aircraft came to the rescue of the crew and passengers. So, yesterday’s deadly crash was the sixth in three weeks. Although there is no proof that insurgents are actually targeting helicopters more, several military officials basically tell the paper it appears that’s the case. Some military officials have suggested Wednesday’s deadly crash might have been caused by a mechanical failure, but some witnesses say it was shot down. The WSJ reports that an Iraqi official says a missile shot down the helicopter.
In its Page One story about the crash, the Post emphasizes it took place on the same day as U.S. forces announced they had begun implementing the new security plan in Baghdad and Anbar province. Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell emphasized “not all aspects are in place at this point.” The LAT points out that only 3,000 of the 21,500 additional U.S. troops have arrived.
The letter signed by the seven senators came after Democrats and Republicans spent the day blaming each other for failing to proceed with the Iraq debate. “The current stalemate is unacceptable to us and to the people of this country,” says the letter signed by Sen. John Warner of Virginia and six others. Although Warner sided with most members of his party in voting to block debate on Monday, he is the author of a resolution that opposes the president’s plan. The senators did not specify what they might do in order to ensure the debate takes place, but there are several measures at their disposal to basically slow down Senate business until they get what they want.
The WSJ goes inside with word that U.S. officials are trying to prevent the execution of Saddam Hussein’s former vice president fearing that it will “damage the credibility” of the Iraqi government. At first, he was sentenced to life in prison, but the appeals court ordered his execution. Several legal experts say the change violated due process. “We’ve had two botched executions … we would like to prevent additional debacles,” said one U.S. official in Washington.
Everybody notes a military judge declared a mistrial in the court-martial of the Army officer who refused to go to Iraq. The judge said there was confusion as to what exactly First Lt. Ehren K. Watada was admitting to in a pretrial deal. He is the first commissioned officer to be court-martialed for refusing to go to Iraq.
The NYT fronts, and the rest of the papers go inside with, Tim Russert’s testimony at the trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. The Washington bureau chief for NBC News denied he spoke with Libby about Valerie Plame during a conversation they had in 2003. Libby has repeatedly said he shared the information about Plame with other reporters only after he heard it from Russert. But Russert testified that he remembers being surprised by the infamous Robert Novak column, which means he couldn’t have known the information before. (Slate’s Seth Stevenson was impressed by Russert’s performance: “I’ve never seen a better witness at a trial. He never gets flustered, always stays on message.”)
The papersmention three Army Reserve officers and two civilians were indicted for allegedly participating in a scheme to rig the bids of $8.6 million worth of contracts for Iraqi reconstruction projects in exchange for money and a wide array of goodies, including cars, jewelry, and airline tickets. Philip Bloom, who pleaded guilty last year to a number of charges, including bribery, owned the companies that won the contracts.
USAT fronts, and everybody mentions, the FDA is making a prescription diet drug available over the counter. Officials warn the pill, known as alli, isn’t a “magic bullet” and it must be accompanied by diet and exercise to be effective.
The NYT publishes an op-ed by the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, Javad Zarif, who says the United States is “fanning the flames of sectarianism just when they most need to be quelled” by trying to create a coalition against Iran. “Forging imaginary new threats, as the United States administration is now doing with Iran, may provide some temporary domestic cover for the failure of the administration’s Iraq policy, but it can hardly resolve problems,” writes Zarif.