In early morning news, five U.S. soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb west of Baghdad. And in an apparently separate attack, as many as eight foreigners were killed in Fallujah. Two U.S. soldiers were also killed and at least five another wounded in attacks Tuesday. Lastly, a suicide bomber wounded seven Iraqis yesterday in Baghdad.
Everybody leads with the White House's sudden reversal and announcement that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will in fact give public sworn testimony to the 9/11 commission. President Bush told reporters that Rice's testimony is now "necessary to gaining a complete picture of the months and years that preceded the murder of our fellow citizens on Sept. 11." He did not take questions. Previously, the White House had argued that Condi not testifying was a matter of constitutional principle.
In another about-face, the president also agreed to meet privately with all 10 commissioners. In return, the commission agreed that Bush will not be under oath and can have Vice President Cheney appear at the same time. The New York Times notes, far down, that with the double-billing the two will "presumably be able to correct each other's memories."
The commission also agreed to seek no further public testimony from White House officials and, in what seems to be a symbolic move, promised that Rice's testimony won't set a precedent. (Though the papers don't spend much time on the tag-teaming and other concessions, the New Republicdoes and says the overall agreement is pretty good for the White House and bad for the public.)
As the papers note, the fallback is a setback for Cheney, who has long been pushing for the executive branch to regain power from the legislative branch.
The NYT points out that the Bush White House isn't the first to have retreated from a position that was stated to be based on principle. "Everybody does this sometimes," said one of Clinton's former national security advisers. But as the NYT and Los Angeles Times emphasize, Bush has a habit of digging in his heels until it's no longer tenable. For instance, Bush opposed the creation of the Department of Homeland Security for months as well the creation of the 9/11 commission itself. As one "administration official" (!) told the NYT, "They wait until a gallon of blood has been shed."
The latest late-inning flip-flop has left some Republicans seething. The LAT explains that "less than 24 hours before announcing the decision to let Rice testify, the White House was still asking GOP leaders to go to bat for the president."
A front-page LAT piece notes that Iraqi police are in terrible shape and won't be able to take charge of law and order "for the foreseeable future." In an otherwise fine story, the Times doesn't note that Iraq chief Paul Bremer largely acknowledged that in a speech Monday. Here's a Knight Ridder story on Bremer's talk.
The LAT fronts and others go inside with 700 police in Britain sweeping in and arresting eight men around London suspected of plotting terrorist attacks. They also raided a storage locker and found 1,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate—that is, fertilizer that can be used as an explosive. The NYT emphasizes that police gave out little information about the suspects, their plans, or their links to any militant groups. Just about all we know is that most of the men were British citizens of Pakistani origin and were quite young, aged 17 to 22. The British papers purport to have a bit more detail, with the Independent reporting that a six-week investigation began after police intercepted a phone call and later overheard some of the men discussing targets.
Everybody goes inside with a third day of battles between apparent Islamic militants and Uzbekistan's government, with at least 23 people reported killed Tuesday, most of them jihadists. There were reports of multiple suicide bombings targeting police officers. But it's hard to get details since none of the papers are filing from the country. Nor is the notoriously repressive Uzbek government offering a wealth of information. As the NYTimes notes, one government statement read, "In the process of being detained, 20 terrorists blew themselves up."
In a nice example of the analysis-heavy reporting that the Wall Street Journal encourages, the paper says that Pakistan's recent offensive against militants near the Afghan border has pushed many local tribesmen against the government, with "scores" of local paramilitary fighters having deserted. If the government restarts the offensive, says the Journal, at least some of the tribes may revolt.
Breaking news from USA Today (picture, of course, included): " 'Sun andalcohol 24/7' Cancun draws 75,000 students—and MTV—for spring break antics. Drinking statistics are staggering."