The New York Times leads with an interview with Secretary of State Colin Powell in which he suggested that the U.S. will give Iraq six months to write a constitution after which the U.S. might transfer authority to the new Iraqi entity. "We would like to put a deadline on them," said Powell. "They've got six months. It'll be a difficult deadline to meet, but we've got to get them going." The Los Angeles Times leads with an Iraq wrap-up headlining the U.N.'s decision to pull nearly all its foreign staff from Iraq. The Washington Post's lead notes that a judge again stalled the federal Do Not Call list, ruling that it's a violation of freedom of speech. The move came just hours after Congress passed a bill effectively overturning another judge's ruling that the about to be implemented telemarketing list oversteps federal authority. The upshot: Keep screening your calls. USA Today leads with new Census figures that the U.S. rate of poverty rose for the second year in a row. It was 11.7 percent in 2001 and 12.3 percent in 2002. The poverty line was defined as household income of about $18,000 per year for a family of four. (An op-ed in today's NYT argues that the government's formula for calculating poverty is decades out of date.) USAT notes that for the first time in 15 years the poverty numbers were released on a Friday, considered the best day to dump bad news.
Most of the papers notice the similar position Powell took on David Letterman's talk show last night, during which Powell said he hopes Iraq can have a constitution ready in six months. The fairly short-term range is a move toward the French position. But the NYT says that any Security Council resolution on Iraq probably won't include a fixed deadline, as France and others have wanted. Instead, the U.S. is hoping that the Iraqis will create a self-imposed one.
The LAT plays up word that Secretary-General Kofi Annan is advocating an immediate albeit symbolic transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis while keeping the U.S. in control militarily. That's the same idea floated by French President Jacques Chirac.
The NYT's lead says Powell sat down for "an interview with editorial writers, editors and reporters for The Times." So, why doesn't the paper post a transcript? (If parts of the interview were off-the-record, use ellipses.)
Everybody briefly notes that at least eight Iraqis were killed and about 20 wounded by an explosion, perhaps caused by a mortar, at a market north of Baghdad.
The papers mention inside that the U.S.'s top commander in the Gulf said he doesn't think any significant number of foreign troops will head into Iraq. As the NYT puts it, "The Pentagon will now have almost no choice but to call up additional reservists and deploy marines."
Also speaking during congressional hearings yesterday, Iraq chief Paul Bremer acknowledged something that the White House has long officially denied. "The reality of foreign troops on the streets is starting to chafe," said Bremer, in a bit the NYT catches. "Some Iraqis are beginning to regard us as occupiers and not as liberators."
The WP says above the fold that congressional Republicans are increasingly complaining about the $20 billion the administration has requested for reconstructing Iraq. "The people of eastern Tennessee want to know why the $20.3 billion couldn't be repaid by the Iraqi people from the oil revenues," said one rep. Others pointed to apparent pork, such as $20 million for a four-week business course, at $10,000 per student. One Republican aide said the seemingly bloated numbers shouldn't be taken at face value, "They suggest the administration has inflated costs, in part to avoid having to come back next year for a new emergency spending bill, and in part so they can skim some of the money for classified military efforts."
Post columnist David Ignatius is hanging out in Baghdad and sees improvements: "Electricity in the city remains spotty, but it is now on more than off. There are still lines at gas stations, but they are shorter. Stores are stocked with goods [and] the U.S. military is less visible than six months ago." Nevertheless, Ignatius says, "Catastrophe is still looming just over the horizon." For one thing, Sunni towns north of Baghdad are "slipping toward open revolt."
The Post notices on Page One that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been taking pot-shots at Russia's fledging democracy, strong-arming pollsters and driving opposition politicians from races in Chechnya. "If by democracy one means the dissolution of the state," said Putin recently, "then we do not need such democracy." The Post, citing both American and Russian officials, says President Bush isn't going to bother Putin about this stuff when they hang at Camp David this weekend. Editorials in both the Post and Wall Street Journalsay that's the wrong move: "If their friendship is genuine, Mr. Putin could stand to hear some of Mr. Bush's Texas candor this weekend," says the Journal.
The Post's Al Kamen notices a solid sales pitch recently sent out by a Hummer sales rep. in Alaska:
Allow me to introduce you to a fabulous opportunity. A tax "loophole" so big you could drive a Hummer H2 through it! Imagine being able to purchase the #1 large luxury SUV in America today ... and receive a deduction for the entire purchase amount from your taxes this year!
How is this possible? Thanks to the Bush administration's recent economic stimulus package, small businesses and the self-employed are eligible to deduct the entire purchase cost of new equipment up to $100,000 the year of the purchase. The Hummer H2 qualifies for this deduction by its gross vehicle weight of over 6,000 lbs. Cars and medium sized SUV's don't.