The New York Times and Los Angeles Times leads round up Iraq developments. The NYT emphasizes that U.S. officials have identified nine senior Iraqi officials, including Saddam and his two sons, who should leave the country if they want to avoid a war. Alternatively, they could stay and face trial for war crimes. The LAT lead slugs the British foreign minister's comment that war is now "much more probable" and leads off the piece by noting that hundreds of thousands protested for peace in cities around the world yesterday. The Washington Post leads with the upbeat assessment of a dozen mostly anonymous U.S. officials that the U.S. is on the verge of taking down the top al-Qaida leadership. The piece is short on any major specific revelations to back this claim, however. Officials are optimistic, it says, because Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the al-Qaida operational leader snared on March 1, is talking and, as anticipated, he and his personal effects offer a lot of useful information. Also, compared with a year ago, the U.S. is more familiar with al-Qaida and can put leads generated by captured terrorists to better use. The piece makes room for only one skeptical voice: The ranking Democrat on the House intel committee thinks it's too early to say.
Meanwhile, the NYT front reports that anger with U.S. plans for Iraq has been serving as a powerful recruitment tool for al-Qaida in recent weeks. A senior American official noted that from what officials have seen, "it is a very effective tool."
The papers announce that Pakistani authorities have arrested a suspected second-tier al-Qaida operative in Pakistan.
The NYT lead says that the list of most-wanted Iraqis was released for the first time to encourage them to go into exile. It includes a previous governor of Iraqi-occupied Kuwait and the man the U.S. says is in charge of hiding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The WP buries news of the list near the end of its Iraq round-up, most likely because the paper says the list was disclosed in October. How the new version of the list differs from the October version is unclear.
At today's Azores summit, the WP says, President Bush plans to tell Blair and Aznar that it's time to end the diplomacy that began at the U.N. in September. He will then likely address the nation as early as Monday night to give Saddam a few days to avert war, which would amount to a window for foreigners to leave Iraq. War would begin when Saddam's deadline passes.
France, Russia, and Germany called for an emergency meeting of foreign ministers for Tuesday at the Security Council, the papers report, in what the LAT calls a "last-ditch effort to forestall U.S. action." The U.S. had no comment on the proposal.
The papers note that Iraq has invited weapons inspectors Blix and ElBaradei to come to Baghdad as soon as possible to figure out to how to speed up what the invite termed "joint cooperation." Blix is thinking it over.
The WP titles a piece, ambiguously, "Bush Bets Future on Success in Iraq," and no, it's not Bush's political future the piece suggests he's betting. Rather, it's the future of the United States and of the world. The paper sums up what's at stake here: A bad outcome in Iraq could "inflame terror, weaken our alliances, diminish the United States and collapse confidence in our economy." In Bush's mind, a good outcome, to paraphrase the paper, would liberate a strategic country from a despot, begin to move the Middle East toward modernity, and would impose a severe price on a state that nurtures terrorists and produces banned weapons.
The NYT and WP front news that the World Health Organization issued an unusual emergency global health alert after an unidentified pneumonialike illness that doesn't respond to antibiotics or antivirals sickened 400 people and killed a handful in Canada and Asia in the last several weeks. No cases have been reported in the United States, but two infected people had recently traveled through New York and Atlanta.
The NYT front reports that the Bush administration wants to change Medicare to make it harder for its beneficiaries to appeal when they are denied benefits such as home health care and skilled nursing home care.
Your tax dollars at work … A NYT Week in Review piece on anti-French sentiment in American legislatures notes that House cafeteria workers are busy covering French dressing packets with red, white, and blue stickers. ... According to an AP dispatch on the NYT Web site last night, a judge has denied Washington state voters the chance to vote on an initiative that was to have allowed them to decide whether a well-known local supporter of several tax initiatives named Tim Eyman, is "a horse's ass."