Today's Papers

Ready To Rumble

The New York Timesand Los Angeles Timeslead, while the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with Democratic leaders in Congress agreeing to a $124 billion war-funding bill that would require troops to begin withdrawing from Iraq no later than Oct. 1. The legislation also sets a goal, but not a firm deadline, to have most combat troops out of Iraq by the end of March. Democrats are confident they can get the bill through the House and the Senate by the end of the week, at which point it will almost definitely be met by President Bush’s veto pen.

USA Todayleads with word that many Iraqi lawmakers are saying they don’t have confidence in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s ability to lead the country. The paper talked to legislators who said Maliki doesn’t have the necessary support to pass the laws that Iraq needs to move forward. The Washington Postleads with yesterday’s suicide car bombing against a patrol base that killed nine American soldiers in Diyala province. It was one of the deadliest suicide bombings targeting U.S. troops in Iraq since the beginning of the war.

The compromise bill would set benchmarks for the Iraqi government, and Bush would have to determine by July 1 whether progress is being made. If it isn’t, troop withdrawal would begin immediately, with a goal of having most combat troops out of Iraq within 180 days. If there is progress, the Oct. 1 deadline kicks in. The bill also says troops can’t be deployed unless they meet a level of military readiness standards and requires tours in Iraq to be no longer than a year, but Bush could waive these restrictions. Although the bill still includes money for nonwar spending, Democrats removed certain items, such as money for Christmas tree farms, that had come under attack from Republicans. Just in case his intentions weren’t clear, Bush once again emphasized he will veto any bill that includes a timetable. Everyone notes that after the veto Democrats are likely to support a bill without timelines.

For the past few weeks, the papers have been chronicling the rise of Diyala as a hotbed for insurgent operations in Iraq as it has become the third deadliest province for Americans in Iraq. Yesterday’s suicide attack that killed nine U.S. troops emphasized this danger, but also, as the Post deftly notes, it also highlights how the new counterinsurgency strategy of placing American soldiers in outposts and police stations can leave them more vulnerable to attacks.

The NYT fronts, and everyone mentions, that President Bush said he has more confidence in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales after his testimony before Congress last week. In case you need a refresher, Gonzales was almost universally criticized for his appearance before the Senate judiciary committee, where he said some version of “I don’t remember” more than 50 times. Gonzales emphasized he has no plans to resign. Everyone sees this as a sign that, despite what Republican lawmakers may want, the president is prepared to continue standing by Gonzales. Then again, Bush also praised Donald Rumsfeld shortly before he was forced out.

The LAT goes inside with a look at how there’s likely to be more trouble ahead for the Bush administration as the Office of Special Counsel, “an obscure federal investigative unit,” prepares to delve “into one of the most sensitive and potentially explosive issues in Washington.” The office will carry out a broad investigation into political operations at the White House that will look into the firing of at least one U.S. attorney, the infamous missing e-mails, and the way in which officials briefed different agencies about Republican electoral priorities. This means the Office of Special Counsel, in the most “high-profile inquiry in its history,” will be looking directly at operations headed by Karl Rove.

Everyone fronts the death of Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s first freely elected president. He was 76 and died of heart failure. Yeltsin leaves a complicated legacy, which is reflected in the papers as they try to parse out what his life meant and how he should be remembered. The LAT notes he “struck the deathblow that shattered the Soviet Union,” and, as Defense Secretary Robert Gates mentioned yesterday, it is difficult to forget the image of Yeltsin standing on top of a tank in 1991 to defend the country’s young democracy. But while he did succeed in creating a society that was more free and open, by the time he ended his presidency in 1999 (and became the first Russian leader to give up power on his own), millions of Russians had fallen into poverty while a few became extremely wealthy and corruption flourished. When he resigned, Yeltsin apologized to Russians “for not making many of our dreams come true.” As the Post notes up high, by deciding to go to war with Chechnya in 1994, Yeltsin “was responsible for the violent deaths of more Russian citizens than any Kremlin leader since Joseph Stalin.” The WSJ points out President Vladimir Putin, who was handpicked by Yeltsin, is doing his best to emphasize the negative aspects of the 1990s and thus portray himself as Russia’s savior.

The papers front or reefer the death of David Halberstam, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who covered subjects as varied as the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, Sept. 11, and sports. He was 73 and was killed in a car crash in California while on his way to interview a subject for a book about football. Halberstam wrote 21 books and is widely remembered for the stories about Vietnam he wrote for the NYT in which he disputed official optimistic accounts of how the war was progressing. After leaving the Times,Halberstam went on to write The Best and the Brightest, a book about what went wrong in Vietnam that became a classic. “David set the record straight,” writer Gay Talese said. “If Halberstam reported something, you could believe it.”