The New York Timesleads, and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with the thousands of Iraqis who answered Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr’s calls for a protest to oppose the presence of U.S. troops on the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad. The peaceful protesters gathered in the southern city of Najaf, where they chanted anti-occupation slogans and burned American flags. The Los Angeles Timesleads with more evidence of how the U.S. military is struggling to find the necessary troops for Iraq. Approximately 13,000 National Guard troops were told that they should expect to be sent to Iraq late this year. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is also considering issuing four-month extensions for approximately 15,000 soldiers currently in Iraq.
USA Todayleads with Iran’s announcement that it is now able to produce nuclear fuel on an industrial scale, which would signify a major development in the country’s nuclear program. But no one seems to actually believe Iran’s claims and most experts seem to agree the announcement was more about politics than actual capabilities. The Washington Postleads locally and off-leads a look at the role mortgage fraud played in creating the real estate boom.
Estimates on how many people were present at the demonstrations yesterday in Najaf varied widely, but, as everyone notes, it once again served to demonstrate Sadr’s power. Conveniently, this comes after there was some speculation that Sadr was losing power over his militia, the Mahdi Army. Sadr didn’t attend the protest, and, in fact, he hasn’t been seen for weeks, but he did put forward a message that was meant to appeal to all Iraqis. The NYT has the best story on the protests and says that the only cleric who has ever been able to call for a demonstration this large is Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. But just because Sadr can gather large crowds doesn’t necessarily mean he can still control the Mahdi Army.
On Sunday, Sadr had called on the Mahdi Army and Iraqi forces to stop fighting each other in the southern city of Diwaniya to unite against the United States. Were his calls answered? Depends on whom you believe. The NYT says the fighting continued, while the LAT says the fighting “subsided” after Sadr’s plea. But what does all this mean? No one is exactly sure, and as the LAT helpfully notes, “[T]he next move of Sadr’s supporters is a riddle.” It is still unclear whether Sadr is calling on his supporters to fight the Americans or if he just wants to show the Iraqi government (not to mention U.S. officials) that he can’t be ignored.
The announcement that National Guard troops will be deployed didn’t exactly come as a surprise, but it’s significant largely because many of those called have already served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Their deployment, however, would not come until December and is unrelated to the increase in troops that is part of the new security crackdown. That means the Pentagon has to find other troops for that purpose, and that is why the Pentagon is currently considering the four-month extensions for five brigades.
While everyone goes inside with President Bush officially announcing his latest push to change the country’s immigration policies, the Postfronts an interesting look at what it says is the “fast-growing” number of cities and towns that are trying to embrace illegal immigrants. Much attention has been paid to places that are trying to push out illegal immigrants with local laws, but some communities are doing the opposite. In order to encourage illegal immigrants to come out of hiding, some are providing more services and forbidding police officers from asking about immigration status.
Everyone goes inside with word that Britain’s Defense Ministry has changed its mind and now says the troops that were held captive in Iran are not allowed to sell their stories to the media. The initial decision to allow it was widely criticized by politicians and families of soldiers who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two of the 15 service members already told their stories in exchange for payment. Meanwhile, Iranian television broadcast images that show the detained sailors and marines playing pingpong and watching soccer to counter the claims that they were treated poorly while in captivity.
The NYT reefers, and everyone mentions, the decision by CBS Radio and MSNBC to suspend Don Imus’ radio show for two weeks starting Monday. The decision came after Imus spent most of the day yesterday trying to somehow explain why he called the Rutgers University women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos.” As part of showing just how sorry he is (or as the WP’s Lisa de Moraes calls it, “his Walk of Shame”), Imus appeared on the Rev. Al Sharpton’s radio show to apologize.
In an editorial, the Post says its up to Imus’ employers to decide whether to keep the show but wonders why anyone would want to be a guest and be associated with his remarks. USAT’s editorial doesn’t call for the radio host’s ouster but does provide a succinct paragraph that goes through some of the more offensive statements Imus has uttered throughout the years. And the NYT publishes an op-ed by journalist Gwen Ifill, whom Imus famously called a “cleaning lady” in the early ‘90s.
Today’s must-read is the first-person account by the LAT’s former Baghdad bureau chief, Borzou Daragahi, which the paper publishes on Page One. Daragahi first arrived in Iraq more than four years ago and now, as he gets ready for a new assignment, he writes about how during his time in Iraq he often had to pretend to be someone else in order to survive. But the piece is more than just an account of how difficult it is to report in Iraq, as Daragahi talks about how Iraq became his life, an obsession he couldn’t stop thinking about even when he was not in the country. Despite all the carnage (“I even got used to the smell of burnt flesh”), the dead friends, and the risks, Daragahi is honest: “I miss the action.”