The Los Angeles Timesleads with word that U.S. troops will be focusing on rooting out al-Qaida in Iraq during their upcoming offensive operations this summer. U.S. commanders say this shift in strategy, which takes emphasis away from the initial stated goal of targeting Shiite militias and death squads in Baghdad, is in preparation for the withdrawal timeline that they see coming from Congress in the next few months. The New York Timesand Washington Postlead with the Senate judiciary committee issuing subpoenas to the White House, Vice President Cheney’s office, the Justice Department, and the National Security Council for documents relating to the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. Lawmakers said they want to figure out what kind of internal disputes existed about the legality of the eavesdropping efforts.
The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with a look at the challenges that await Tony Blair in his new role as special envoy for the Middle East. The Arab world is largely skeptical about the appointment because of Blair’s close relationship with President Bush and his support for the war in Iraq and his position on the war between Israel and Lebanon. USA Todayleads with new Census Bureau population estimates for 2006 that show big increases in Sun Belt cities. The exception to the trend is New York City, which saw the country’s largest growth in population since 2000. Other interesting facts: Phoenix took Philadelphia’s place as the fifth-largest city and New Orleans lost 261,286 people from 2005 to 2006.
U.S. officials in Iraq are increasingly becoming convinced that militias are likely to reduce their attacks once a withdrawal timeline is established, but the opposite will be true for al-Qaida in Iraq. So, while insisting that Shiite militias are still a priority, U.S. troops will focus more on al-Qaida in Iraq and other Sunni militias. Notably, officials don’t seem to be expecting any miracles, and instead say their goal is to create enough stability so that Iraqi forces can have some hope of success once the number of U.S. troops begins to decrease. The LAT gets extra credit today for noting something that might be obvious but is often lost in the coverage: “Despite its name, the extent of [al-Qaida in Iraq’s] link to Osama bin Laden is unclear.”
By issuing the subpoenas, lawmakers also want to find out what kinds of agreements were made with telecommunications companies that participated in the eavesdropping program. The move promises to result in another Congress-White House showdown but Senate Democrats were quick to emphasize that they issued the subpoenas only after several requests were ignored. “It is stonewalling of the worst kind,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the judiciary committee, said.
The Post toots its own horn a little and notes that Leahy cited the paper when he formally asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to investigate whether Brett Kavanaugh lied during a confirmation hearing last year. Kavanaugh testified that, as a White House lawyer, he wasn’t involved in discussions relating to enemy combatants, but this week’s WP series on Cheney told a different story.
While on the topic of the attorney general, the Post goes inside with yesterday’s testimony by Paul Charlton, one of the fired U.S. attorneys, who told senators that Gonzales was often overeager to seek the death penalty. Charlton told senators Gonzales pushed for the death penalty in a case where the victim’s body hadn’t been recovered, and that Charlton’s resistance seems to be at least part of the reason why he was fired. The testimony “was one of the most pointed critiques of Gonzales by any of the fired federal prosecutors,” says the WP.
In his new role, Blair will “focus on narrow and technical topics” (LAT) and won’t be working on trying to figure out a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians. As the NYT emphasizes, that will still be Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s responsibility. Several analysts say Blair has little chance of success unless he’s given authority to negotiate with Israel.
Everyone goes inside with news that Israeli forces killed at least 11 Palestinian militants and two civilians in Gaza yesterday. The military incursion is seen as a sign of how Israel intends to continue targeting Hamas militants while it cooperates with the Fatah government in the West Bank.
Meanwhile, the NYT notes on Page One that while Hamas sympathizers have largely gone underground in the West Bank, there are still plenty of anti-Fatah feelings to go around. Many don’t believe that talks with Israel will go anywhere, a point that was emphasized when Israel agreed to release “only a portion” of the $600 million of Palestinian tax money and 250 prisoners out of approximately 11,000.
Senators rejected a series of amendments to the immigration bill, which faces a crucial vote today on whether to cut off debate that is likely to decide its fate.
The LAT goes above-the-fold with a picture of Iranians setting a gas station on fire after the government announced a plan for rationing subsidized gasoline. At least 12 (and probably many more) gas stations were set on fire yesterday after the government gave only a few hours’ notice that the plan would be implemented. The NYT cites officials saying the rationing was because of an increased threat of economic sanctions. Because of low refining capabilities, Iran has to import more than half of its gasoline.
Everyone notes the death of Liz Claiborne, a fashion designer who became a household name by catering to working women, an extremely underserved market when she founded her company in the late 1970s. She quickly became successful by focusing on stylish but practical clothing.
The WP and LAT front, and USAT reefers, word that the American bald eagle is being taken off the endangered species list. The bird’s population has seen a huge increase, from about 400 pairs in 1963 to more than 10,000 today. But don’t expect eagle-hunting season to start any time soon as it will still be protected by a 1940 law.