Today's Papers

Ground Control

The New York Timesleads with two unreleased reports that criticize the way the State Department oversees private security contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq. One report, ordered by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, says the department hasn’t done enough to keep track of security contractors in Iraq and make them accountable for their actions. The other is a government audit that says a review of the department’s $1.2 billion contract to train Iraqi police officers couldn’t be completed because the documents are a mess. The Washington Postleads with administration officials pressuring Iraqi leaders to crack down on the Kurdish group that has been carrying out cross-border raids and killing Turkish soldiers. President Bush talked to leaders of Turkey and Iraq yesterday to try to prevent the conflict from escalating. The Wall Street Journal also leads its world-wide newsbox with the escalating tensions between both countries and notes that Turkey sent more troops to the border after Kurdish guerillas, known as the PKK, killed 12 Turkish soldiers and captured eight Sunday.

USA Todayleads with word that Countrywide Financial will announce it is ready to “restructure or refinance” adjustable-rate mortgages worth more than $16 billion. The company hopes that by carrying out this program, which it estimates will help about 82,000 people, it can avoid a large number of foreclosures. The Los Angeles Timesbanners the continuing fires in Southern California, which the WP and USAT also front, that have so far destroyed 700 homes as officials urged more than 500,000 people in San Diego County to evacuate. The fast-moving fires had burned through 269,000 acres as of Monday night but “remarkably” only one person has been reported killed by the blazes. 

The panel reviewing the State Department’s security contractors “found serious fault with virtually every aspect of the department’s security practices,” says the NYT. The panel said the department needs to start keeping close track of contractors and their movements throughout Iraq, particularly in areas where the U.S. military is present. The report recommends setting up a unified control over all private security guards that would include creating a system to deal with civilians who are killed or wounded by contractors. Meanwhile, the special inspector general who is looking into Iraq reconstruction said the documents relating to the $1.2-billion DynCorp contract “were in such disarray that it prevented us from reaching any meaningful conclusions,” reports the Post, which carries the story in its business pages. The inspector general says the State Department failed to provide sufficient oversight and can’t even say what it received for all the payments it made to DynCorp. The department said it could take “three to five years” to fully sort out all the documents.

While all eyes are on the Iraq-Turkish border, the NYT fronts an interesting look at how a similar situation is taking place at the Iranian border. Kurdish guerillas from the PJAK are frequently crossing the border and say they’ve killed 150 Iranian soldiers and officials since August before quickly going back “to their hide-outs in Iraq.” The NYT carries out quite an impressive piece of reporting as it spent some time with the Iranian Kurdish guerrillas and even interviewed an Iranian soldier they had captured. The United States isn’t rushing to condemn these attacks, and Iran claims the group receives aid from the Bush adminsitration. The United States classifies the PKK as a terrorist group, but the same isn’t true for the PJAK, even though they appear to be pretty much the same. And it seems the group’s leader traveled to Washington last summer, although a diplomat denied that he met with any administration officials.

The only non-fire-related story that makes the LAT’s front page is news that a judge declared a mistrial in a high-profile terrorism-financing case that involved what was once the largest Islamic charity in the country. The NYT off-leads the development, which is seen as an embarrassment to the Bush administration since it froze the assets of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development shortly after 9/11. The government accused the foundation of sending $12 million to support the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, but the jury failed to find any of the five defendants guilty and were deadlocked on several of the almost 200 charges against them. Both the LAT and NYT talk to a juror who described the case as “pretty weak” and makes it clear the jury wasn’t even close to convicting anyone.

Everyone notes President Bush asked Congress for an extra $46 billion to fund military operations around the world. The extra money brings the total request for Iraq, Afghanistan, and other operations to more than $196 billion this year. The new request, which the Post says would bring the total appropriated since 2001 to more than $800 billion, was met with anger by Democratic lawmakers who characterized the request as incredible considering the president vetoed the $35 billion expansion of a children’s health-care program. In fact, congressional leaders say the request won’t be considered until after they resolve differences with the White House on several spending bills that Bush has vowed to veto because of extra spending that amounts to $22 billion. The Pentagon emphasized the biggest item in the request is for new armored vehicles.

USAT fronts a new study that reveals young married couples gain weight at a faster pace than their peers. Although young people are all likely to gain weight, men and women who have recently married gain six to nine pounds more than those who are single.

The NYT publishes the incredible story of a woman who found a painting worth $1 million on a curb in Manhattan, waiting to be picked up by the garbage truck. She had no idea that the painting was valuable, but later found out it was a Rufino Tamayo canvas that had been stolen 20 years ago. The painting will be put up for auction next month, and the lucky woman will receive a nice reward.