The Los Angeles Times leads with what it deems the "first clear evidence" that Iraq recently obtained materials that could be used to build weapons of mass destruction. According to court records, an obscure Indian trading company secretly imported nearly $800,000 in raw materials like aluminum powder and titanium pumps to Iraq between 1998 and 2001—material that could be used to build chemical weapons and propellants for long-range missiles. The New York Times' top non-local story says Saudi Arabia is working behind the scenes to overthrow Saddam Hussein by inciting unrest among Iraqi security forces. Meanwhile, the Washington Post leads with—and others front—yesterday's massive antiwar protest in Washington.
According to the LAT, NEC Engineering Private Ltd. used phony customs declarations and other false documents, as well as front companies in three countries, to export 10 consignments of raw materials and equipment to Iraq. The shipments were supposedly sent to Jordan and Dubai, but Indian court records show that U.S. and British intelligence officials ultimately traced the packages to a rocket-fuel production facility near Baghdad. Earlier this month, U.N. weapons inspectors spied at least some of the supplies, including rocket motors, when they visited the facility.
It is unclear whether Iraq used any of the materials to make chemical weapons, but simply acquiring them puts Baghdad in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, the paper says, and that could bolster White House claims that Saddam is a threat. Yet, U.S. officials have avoided publicizing the case because they don't want to criticize the export policies of the Indian government, which has been a key ally since the 9/11 attacks.
Even though they have promised the U.S. extensive use of their military bases and airspace, Saudi officials are hoping to avoid war in Iraq by quietly encouraging Saddam's removal, the NYT says. There are no plans to directly call for his ouster—instead, Saudi leaders plan to push their position through "unofficial statements" they know will be broadcast in Iraq and through private diplomatic and intelligence channels. "The Americans want to get Saddam out by military means, and we want to get him out by psychological intensification," an adviser to the Saudi royal family tells the paper.
While Saudi officials won't comment, the NYT speculates the ouster plan indicates the country's efforts to offer exile to Saddam and his family in exchange for his resignation are going nowhere. Meanwhile, the Saudis seem to be on the brink of pressing the U.N. to support amnesty for Iraqi leaders who contribute to Saddam's ouster.
Everybody notes the massive war demonstrations across the U.S. and the world yesterday. The WP's lead puts the number of protesters in D.C. in the "tens of thousands," and both organizers and the cops note the rally looks to be one of the biggest protests in Washington since the Vietnam War. A sidebar stuffed inside notes that even more people might have turned out had it not been so damn cold. Temperatures in D.C. topped out at a frigid 24 degrees yesterday—a reading that prompts the papers this morning to add in a bit too many clichés about the "warmth" of the crowd.
A front-pager in the LAT says conservative activists are looking forward to several "long-awaited" victories on a flurry of contentious social issues this congressional session, including a ban on late-term abortions and the appointment of federal judges sympathetic to their cause. That has some moderate Republicans concerned that the Bush administration's seeming push to energize their conservative base will alienate moderate swing voters crucial to the party's fortunes in 2004—the same thesis adopted in a very similar WP story today.
On the subject of abortion, the LAT publishes a related story, noting that breakthroughs in medical research might actually be undermining efforts to protect a woman's right to choose. Legal fights over who can claim custody of an embryo developed outside a woman's body and issues like human cloning have prompted many states to adopt laws that redefine when life begins—and that could ultimately jeopardize Roe v. Wade.
An inside story in the WP says President Bush looks to adopt the same strategy in regards to a possible vacancy on the Supreme Court as he has with recent federal judge nominees: Nominate whoever he wants, conservative or moderate, because Democrats will raise objection to anyone he attempts to appoint. A "Week in Review"piece in the NYT examines Texas' policy of automatically admitting high-school students in the top 10 percent of their class to state colleges and universities. The policy replaced affirmative action in Texas higher ed and has been endorsed by Bush as a way to achieve racial diversity in other schools across the nation. There's only one hitch to the plan, the NYT says: Despite claims to the contrary, it has done nothing to boost racial diversity in the classroom. Wire stories in the papers notice a familiar name on the ballot today in Cuba's parliamentary elections: Elián Gonzales' father, Juan. He's running unopposed for one of the assembly's 609 seats. Finally, the NYT notes the unhappiness of the National Park Service with a new Metamucil commercial featuring the famous Yellowstone geyser Old Faithful. In the ad, a park ranger is shown pouring a glass of the laxative down the geyser to keep it "regular"—a depiction the NPS says is damaging to efforts to keep people from throwing items into the geysers. Yet, park officials are most upset with the idea that Old Faithful isn't regular on its own. The response from parent company Proctor & Gamble: You're kidding!