Adieu, Abu

Adieu, Abu

Adieu, Abu

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 20 2002 4:43 AM

Adieu, Abu

The Washington Post's top non-local story goes with newly released reports that conclude that the New York City fire and police departments' responses to the World Trade Center attacks were marred by communications problems. The New York Times, which has already reported plenty about the problems and had been leaked the reports a while ago, leads with NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg's promise that he'll order major changes in how city units handle emergencies. The Los Angeles Times leads with word that Brazil's outgoing president is trying to convince his possible successors to promise that they'll support the IMF's rescue plan, which includes a $30 billion loan to the country. The two leading candidates, both leftists, were noncommittal and said that the plan, which requires Brazil to run a budget surplus, would exacerbate the country's problems. USA Today leads with word that the military is easily hitting its recruiting goals for this year. Pentagon officials guessed that the enlistment uptick is due to post-9/11 patriotism and the sputtering economy.

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Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with news that in the first stage of a trial security arrangement, Palestinian police moved into Bethlehem and officially took over responsibility for security there. Islamic militant groups said they will continue launching attacks. Everybody mentions that the agreement imposes few restrictions on Israel. Specifically, Palestinians cited in the papers said they were angry that the deal doesn't bar Israel from carrying out "targeted killings" of militants. According to early morning wire reports, Israeli soldiers killed two Palestinian militants in an exchange of fire at a refugee camp near Tulkarm in the West Bank.

Everybody has word of the apparent death of Abu Nidal, a Palestinian radical who masterminded terror attacks that killed and wounded about 900 people from the 1970s-1980s. According to Palestinian officials cited by the papers, Nidal committed suicide. But as everybody points out, the officials also said Nidal had multiple gunshot wounds. Everybody guesses that if indeed Nidal is dead, it was probably a revenge killing. Nidal broke off from the PLO in the early '70s and has been enemies with various Palestinian groups ever since. The papers all note that though Nidal had been living in Baghdad for about four years, he hadn't appeared to be doing much of anything, including terror attacks, during that time.

The WSJ goes high with word from U.S. officials that a Kurdish militant group in Northern Iraq, with possible ties to al-Qaida, appears to be experimenting with crude chemical weapons. The group, Ansar al Islam, has allegedly been making ricin, a toxin that the Journal says can "easily be produced from castor beans." The paper says that CNN has reported that the White House is considering launching a strike against the group while ABC News says that the administration has decided against it. The paper notes that the area where Ansar al Islam operates isn't under Iraqi control and says that U.S. analysts are "unconvinced" by allegations that Saddam supports the group. (Back in April, The New Yorker, in a much-discussed piece, reported that Ansar al Islam was a possible bridge between al-Qaida and Saddam. By the way, the Christian Science Monitor detailed those possible connections shortly before The New Yorker did.)

The papers all note that a giant Russian military helicopter crashed in Chechnya, killing at least 80 soldiers who had been aboard. Chechen rebels claimed that they shot down the helicopter, and according to the LAT, witnesses said they saw a missile hit it, but the Russian military suggested an engine malfunctioned. About 30 soldiers aboard reportedly survived, but rescue efforts were complicated by the fact that the helicopter went down in a minefield. If the copter—an Mi-26 transport nicknamed "The Cow" because it's so huge—was indeed shot down, it would be the deadliest attack by Chechen rebels in at least two years.

The LAT, in its summary of the low-scale war in Chechnya, notes that one of Russia's tactics has been to "roundup Chechen men, hundreds of whom have disappeared."

The WP fronts word that U.S. oil companies have basically stopped buying oil from Iraq. Until a few months ago, U.S. companies were importing 1 million barrels of Iraqi oil per day. Now they're at 100,000 barrels per day. (Iraq is allowed to sell oil to the U.S. via the U.N.'s oil-for-food program.) The Post offers two reasons for the drop: 1) U.S. companies don't want to be caught relying on Iraqi oil, which probably won't be flowing so freely if/when an invasion happens. 2) Iraq has been demanding kickbacks for every barrel sold, and the U.S. government recently warned companies that it's a crime to pay it (literally).

The NYT notes inside that the U.S. military has just completed its largest war-game exercise ever, which cost $250 million. The paper says that the simulated opposition forces caused a lot of damage but that the American units ultimately won. The Times, though, skips a big chunk of the story: According to the Army Times, an industry publication, the commander of the opposition forces complained in an e-mail that the "exercise was almost entirely scripted to ensure a [U.S. military] 'win.' " The commander explained that he was repeatedly ordered to move his units so that they wouldn't endanger U.S. forces. He said he became so convinced that the game was rigged that he quit halfway through.

The NYT goes inside with a report on the White House's recently released list of overnight guests. The paper concludes that like his predecessor, President Bush invited some big donors to hang out for the night. The Times concludes that Clinton was more "energetic and systematic" about it. The paper also says that Bush prefers to hang with close friends and not the kind of big-name folks that 42 loved raiding the fridge with. Still, there are some people whose presence both prezes enjoyed, such as former President George Bush and his wife, Barbara.

Eric Umansky, previously the "Today's Papers" columnist for Slate, is currently a Gordon Grey Fellow at Columbia University's School of Journalism.