Mortar Kombat

Mortar Kombat

Mortar Kombat

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 22 2003 6:53 AM

Mortar Kombat

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead with—and everybody else fronts—the intensified fighting in Liberia yesterday. At least 90 people were killed and hundreds more injured as mortar blasts rocked residential neighborhoods near the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia, where tens of thousands of refugees have sought shelter from the conflict. USA Today leads with the arrest of a former Baylor basketball player for the murder of missing teammate Patrick Dennehy. The Wall Street Journal tops its online world-wide newsbox with a smackdown among the world's biggest investment banks over who will control the soon-to-be-created Trade Bank of Iraq. The bank will handle credit for Iraq's oil industry, and whoever wins the contract stands to cash in, big time. The New York Times leads with word of an with an all-out lobbying campaign by the pharmaceutical industry to kill congressional legislation aimed at importing cheaper drugs.

Everybody this morning devotes lots of space to the increasing chaos in Monrovia—and all the stories essentially say the same thing. At the U.S. Embassy, a target that had so far eluded attack, a deluge of gunfire and mortar shells rained over the compound yesterday, striking the embassy's commissary and killing several refugees holed up in an American housing complex just outside the compound's main gates.

After the attack, the bodies of at least 18 people killed in the fighting were dragged into the street in front of the embassy as a crowd of Liberian civilians protested, blaming Americans for "dithering" on whether to send peacekeeping troops into the region. According to the NYT, one man brandished a cardboard sign: "G. Bush Killer Liberia," it said.

Meanwhile, the White House continued to waffle on whether to send troops into the region, despite increased pressure from the United Nations and other West African counties to intercede. A few dozen Marines were deployed to the embassy to beef up security and to help evacuate the 100 or so Americans still in the country. Yet, the Bush administration remains largely "ambivalent" about sending a larger force, the NYT reports. Among the reasons cited by the administration: The U.S. has no vital interest in Liberia, the military is overextended in Iraq and the last African intervention, in Somalia, ended in a debacle. Ultimately, it might just come down to a familiar conflict. The Pentagon is not so eager to intervene, the paper notes, while the State Department wants to help.

The longer the U.S. waits, the worse it's going to get, the LAT notes. Military experts tell the paper that even now, a larger military force, one more appropriate for combat situation, might be required. Meanwhile, the paper, citing regional experts, says it might even be too late to "oversee a peaceful transition" to a new democratic government. "This could end up as Bush's Rwanda, in the sense that once again we have an opportunity to stop a human emergency and failed to do it either due to delay or deliberate avoidance of the issues," one expert tells the LAT.

Keeping tabs on the manpower, the WSJ notes that even if the orders were signed immediately, troops probably wouldn't get to the region for at least two weeks.

In other diplomatic news, the WP off-leads word that U.S. officials are mulling the idea of offering North Korea a "no-attack pledge" in exchange for dismantling its nuclear weapons facilities. Administration officials have passed on the word via the Chinese that the U.S. might be willing to meet with North Korea to hammer out a deal in coming months, as long as they would be willing to agree to engage in multilateral talks at a later time with South Korea, Japan, and possibly Russia.

The story (as well as an LAT report) poo-poohs a NYT report from Sunday, which suggested that North Korea might have a second, secret nuclear facility, noting that U.S. officials think it's just not true. For its part, the NYT doesn't back away from the story this morning, noting that President Bush, when asked about the issue yesterday, appeared to "shrug off evidence" of a second plant. Instead, they attribute Bush's "softer stance" toward North Korea— comments that are in "sharp contrast to his words and actions regarding Iraq," the paper notes—to increased diplomacy.

The NYT goes inside with word that the U.S. may be looking to resurrect parts of the Iraqi Intelligence Service, particularly the branch that monitors Iran. The Iraqi National Congress, an exile group headed up by Ahmad Chalabi, started approaching former spies weeks ago. A member of the group tells the paper that they have been sharing information with the Defense Department. Meanwhile, an "American official" says talk of recruiting spies "extended to the highest levels of the administration" and that the CIA is heading up such efforts.

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Finally, everybody fronts the arrest of Carlton Dotson, a one-time roommate and former teammate of Dennehy, the missing Baylor basketball player who is believed to be dead. Several weeks ago, Dotson was identified as a "person of interest" in the case after a Delaware police informant said Dotson had told a family member that he shot Dennehy in self-defense. Dotson was arrested last night after he spoke with FBI agents in relation to the case. Dennehy disappeared June 12.