Today's Papers

Falling Awake

The New York Timesleads with the increasing fears that persistent attacks against Sunni militia groups could unravel one of the key components of the American plan to decrease violence in Iraq. In the last month at least 100 members of the Awakening Council, as the predominantly Sunni militias that are backed by the U.S. government are known, have been killed. The Los Angeles Timesleads with its latest nationwide poll on the presidential race, which shows Sen. Hillary Clinton still holds a significant lead over Sen. Barack Obama. On the Republican side, the race remains up in the air as Sen. John McCain, Mike Huckabee, and Mitt Romney are battling for the lead spot. Although McCain did get slightly more support at 22 percent, the paper makes clear the differences between the three candidates aren’t statistically meaningful. Support for Rudy Giuliani has plummeted to 12 percent.

The Wall Street Journal leads its world-wide newsbox with, and the rest of the papers front, the tens of thousands of Gaza residents that poured into Egypt yesterday morning after militants blew up a border fence. Gazans went on a shopping spree and picked up all kinds of supplies that are unavailable due to Israel’s blockades, which had grown even more intense than usual last week. Israeli officials raised concerns that Palestinians could return with weapons. The Washington Postleads with, and the WSJ fronts, the incredibly swinging stock market. The market took a dive in the morning, and after a few ups and downs ended the day with a rally that left the Dow Jones Industrial average up 2.5 percent. USA Todayleads with word that there are now 76 colleges and universities with endowments of $1 billion or more. Schools generally spend very little of this money, which has angered critics, including some lawmakers, who say they should be using a bigger percentage of the money to make education more affordable.

The Awakening movement, which started out with a few Sunni tribes determined to attack extremists, has flourished and now contains 80,000 members, but there are fears that the increase in violence against them could lead many to leave and potentially rejoin the insurgency. Iraqi and U.S. officials say al-Qaida in Iraq is responsible for most of the attacks as it carries out a sophisticated strategy that involves not only killing but also infiltrating the groups to gain intelligence.

There are claims that Iranians are involved in the attacks, and officials also recognize that government-backed Shiite militia groups, which have close ties to Iran, are also responsible for some of the violence. But movement members blame the Shiite groups for most of the killings, and the increased attacks aren’t the only problem. The movement members, many of whom are former insurgents, are also frustrated by the failure of the Shiite government to give them jobs as promised. Add all this together and it’s not difficult to conclude that militia members could decide to retaliate against the Shiite groups, which would bring about “catastrophic” consequences.

The LAT poll shows that while support for Clinton has  remained constant at 42 percent, the percentage of Democrats who say they’ll choose Obama rose from 21 percent a month ago to 33 percent. In the wishful-thinking category, most of those who support Clinton said they would want her to choose Obama as her running mate, and vice versa. There’s a clear racial divide in the Democratic race, as about 75 percent of black voters support Obama, while only one-fourth of white respondents said he is their first choice. The poll suggests Clinton and Romney could most benefit from the increasing concerns about the economy. In terms of the general election, it seems McCain is the only Republican who stands a chance of beating the Democratic candidate.

Much of the turnaround in the markets yesterday was the result of news that regulators are working with financial firms to try to pump money into big bond insurers, which is “a crucial and troubled part of the world financial infrastructure,” says the WP. The NYT fronts a careful look at these bond insurers and notes they could be the next “time bomb in the markets.” There are talks of raising as much as $15 billion for these insurers to prevent “a chain reaction of losses across the financial world.”

In other election news, the Post fronts, and the NYT goes inside with, Clinton’s latest radio ad that targets Obama’s statement that the “Republicans were the party of ideas … over the last 10, 15 years.” The ad makes it seem like Obama supported some specific GOP ideas, but he never said anything of the sort. The WP sees this as another example of the intense battle playing out on the Democratic side that includes former President Clinton, which some Democratic leaders worry could create a rift in the party. For those keeping track at home, this is the third day in a row that the Post fronts a piece that includes questions about the involvement of the former president in his wife’s campaign.

On the Republican side, the LAT, NYT, and WP all go inside with a look at the rapidly vanishing Giuliani. His poll numbers are not only plunging nationally, but they’ve also dipped in Florida, where he’s been campaigning for weeks. “It really is one of the most amazing collapses,” a political science professor tells the LAT. The NYT notes inside that Romney has become the candidate that the rest of the Republican contenders dislike the most. The paper points to several reasons for this, including resentment for the way he uses his personal fortune in the campaign and the feeling that he’ll say anything to get elected.

The NYT notes that an Afghan court has sentenced a local journalism student to death for blasphemy. The 23-year-old student was arrested after he distributed an Internet article that was deemed insulting toward the Prophet Mohammed.

The papers note that it could take two weeks to know the cause of Heath Ledger’s death because an autopsy was inconclusive. New details were revealed yesterday, including the fact that the masseuse who called 911 only did so after she made two calls to actress Mary-Kate Olsen. The WSJ and LAT note that it’s unclear whether Warner Bros. will now change the publicity campaign for The Dark Knight. Initial campaigns for the Batman sequel focused heavily on Ledger as the Joker.

In a front-page analysis, the LAT points out that when Asian and Latin American countries were facing financial crises in the 1990s, Washington officials were adamant that governments shouldn’t intervene. “We told them, ‘You have to face the pain,’ ” economist Joseph Stiglitz said. ” ‘You can’t bail out people.’ “