The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox, and Los Angeles Times alllead with U.S. and Saudi officials blaming al-Qaida for Saturday's suicide bombing that left 17 people dead and about 120 wounded. Four Americans were wounded, says the NYT, which alone among the major papers has a story filed from Riyadh. USA Today leads with Democratic presidential contenders' reactions to Howard Dean's decision to opt out of public financing. While some candidates criticized Dean, Sen. John Kerry said he is "prepared" to do it as well, and an aide to former Gen. Wesley Clark said his man is "going to keep all options on the table."
Officials said the attackers' tactics—volleys of gunfire followed by a bomb-laden car ramming through compound gates—were very similar to the Riyadh bombings in May that have been linked to AQ. But one analyst told the WP that he suspects AQ wasn't behind the latest attack. "The coordination and the targeting is pretty poor by al-Qaida standards," he said, referring to the attackers targeting what the NYT calls a "slightly down-at-the-heels compound, inhabited mostly by Arabs." The analyst continued, "We may be going through a period in which local groups that have not historically had close ties, or any ties, to al-Qaida are adopting the al-Qaida agenda without having the al-Qaida expertise."
A NYT news analysis focuses on the obvious (surprise): This attack was meant to destabilize the Saudi monarchy. But the piece does do a good job scrutinizing the kingdom's response, saying that the monarchy's offers of reforms and local elections are "far less than even the most centrist opponents demand."
The WSJ mentions that since the attacks in May, Saudi Arabia has launched a broad crackdown on suspected AQ sympathizers that has "included the detention of about 1,500 government opponents and the tightening of censorship over the kingdom's media."
USAT, alone among the papers, fronts what it calls the "ratcheting up" of U.S. firepower in Iraq: U.S. warplanes dropped (precision-guided) bombs near both Fallujah and Tikrit on Friday and Saturday. An unnamed defense official called the air attacks "the strongest use of power by any one type of unit since May 1."
According to early-morning reports, one U.S. soldier was killed in a RPG attack last night 40 miles south of Baghdad.
The WP fronts a fascinating piece about the reconstruction of an Iraqi cement plant. U.S. officials estimated that rebuilding the plant would cost $23 million. Iraqis got it back up—admittedly in a band-aid fix fashion—for $250,000. As the Post mentions in passing, the 101st Airborne Division, headed by the much celebrated Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, gave Iraqis seed money for the project.
A piece inside the NYT says that the Bush administration is lobbying other countries to exempt a popular pesticide from a coming ban on various ozone-depleting chemicals.
The NYT notes inside that the Bush administration has appealed a recent court decision that ordered "hundreds of millions of dollars" (article's first paragraph) in frozen Iraqi funds to be paid out to 17 American soldiers held as POWs by Iraq during the first Gulf War. The White House is arguing that the funds are needed for reconstruction. The story, which clearly sympathizes with the POWs, doesn't mention the actual total awarded, $953 million, until the 16th paragraph.
The WP says inside that an official on the Iraqi Governing Council warned that since the security situation is so bad, the GC might not make its Dec. 15 deadline for presenting a timetable for writing a constitution. Given recent questions about the GC's work ethic, that isn't surprising. More interesting is the trash talking. "Elections put the council out of a job. So, in their view, what's the hurry?" said an unnamed "senior coalition official." Asked about the possibility that the GC could be turned into something closer to a real government, the official said, "It is unlikely that we will want to make a provisional government out of a council that has been feckless."