The New York Timesleads with the growing debate within the White House over whether President Bush should announce a plan to start gradually withdrawing troops from Iraq in order to avoid more Republicans from speaking up against the war. Although administration officials were hoping to avoid this kind of talk until the much-anticipated progress report in September, waiting no longer seems to be an option. “Sept. 15 now looks like an end point for debate, not a starting point,” one official tells the paper. The Washington Postleads with an early look at a congressional report that says approximately one-quarter of the top positions at the Department of Homeland Security are unfilled. Congressional leaders worry that the vacancies mean the nation is vulnerable to threats, and they see it as another example of the management problems that have been plaguing the department since its inception.
USA Todayleads with the increasing number of attacks against supply convoys in Iraq, which are protected by private contractors. From the beginning of June 2006 until May of this year, there were 869 attacks, a large increase from the 281 in the previous 12 months. Meanwhile, the paper also notes the Pentagon is considering expanding the role of private contractors to include the security of military supply convoys in Iraq, a role currently carried out by U.S. troops. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with word that the Bush administration is looking into ways to formally end “more than 50 years of Cold War hostilities” between the United States and North Korea. U.S. officials have been meeting with regional leaders to try to figure out how a peace accord to officially mark the end of the Korean War could be implemented. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a look at the local police in Mexico’s small towns who are often unprepared to fight the country’s drug traffickers. These “underarmed, under-prepared, and often corrupt” officials “are the Achilles’ heel of President Felipe Calderon’s” war against the traffickers.
As four high-profile Republicans have recently expressed disagreement with the administration’s Iraq policy, some are pressuring President Bush to avoid more public defections by announcing a plan for a gradual withdrawal of troops from some key areas in Iraq. And get ready for the new catchphrase as administration officials are apparently calling this a “post-surge redeployment.” Defense Secretary Robert Gates canceled a planned trip in order to be present at the meetings this week. But as the NYT makes clear near the end of the story, all that Bush might have to do is come up with something that will eat up some time until early August, when Congress closes shop until September.
As of May 1, the Department of Homeland Security had 138 unfilled positions out of its top 575, according to the congressional report. Homeland Security insists the high number of vacant slots has to do with a recent increase in positions, but critics say the department is overly dependent on contractors, and the unfilled jobs are contributing to the decline in morale among employees.
The WP fronts word that several satellite photographs show there has been some digging in a mountainside in central Iran, which some are concerned could be an attempt by the government to move a chunk of its nuclear operations underground. Although no one can really be sure of their purpose, the nonprofit that provided the photos to the Post says the tunnels could provide “excellent protection from an aerial attack.”
The WP fronts, and the NYT goes inside with, a follow-up to the massive bombing in Amerli, which is 50 miles south of Kirkuk. Although no one has exact numbers of casualties, everyone’s estimates are approaching 150, and the NYT has someone who says it was 155, which would officially make it the worst single bombing in the war (the March bombing in Tal Afar killed 152). In Amerli, “almost everyone seemed to have lost relatives or friends, if not entire families,” says the Post. Meanwhile, the NYT notes American commanders admitted most of the insurgent leaders managed to escape Baquba, where U.S. troops have been carrying out operations.
The LAT, NYT, and WP go inside with the continuing standoff at Pakistan’s Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque. Officials have been holding off on raiding the mosque because they don’t really know how many militants are inside or the number of people they are holding hostage. The militants are showing no signs of giving in, and the leader of the mosque made it clear he was prepared to die. Meanwhile, Pakistani officials said those inside the mosque are “terrorists, militants, who are wanted within, and outside, the country” and said they, and not the mosque’s cleric, are in charge.
As some Dow Jones board members continue looking for other potential bidders who could come close to matching Rupert Murdoch’s $5 billion offer, the NYT points out that if the deal falls through, there will be “significant cuts in the [WSJ’s] newsroom staff.” Some executives say that if it weren’t for Murdoch’s bid, the staff would have already been trimmed.
The LAT notes some in the military are concerned soldiers deployed in Iraq are eating too many fattening foods, which is resulting in weight gain and general health problems, such as high cholesterol.
The NYT fronts a look at how a growing number of New York wineries are taking steps to keep away the people who “are looking more for a good time than a good wine.” Many are forbidding tour buses and limos, while some have even started charging for tastings. “You’ll pour a wine for a guy and he’ll say, ‘What, this is all I get? Fill it up,’ ” said a salesman at one of the vineyards. “I’ll tell him, ‘Sir, this is a wine tasting, not a bar.’ “