Everybody leads with the murder and mutilation of four American security contractors in Fallujah. The workers, whose company said they were guarding a food shipment, had been driving through the city when they were attacked by guerrillas after which about 300 residents celebrated and mutilated the bodies. The New York Times quotes one boy of about 10 who stepped on a burned head and yelled, "Where is Bush? Let him come here and see this!"
The Washington Post quotes some witnesses saying that at least one of the men survived the initial attack only to be beaten to death and dismembered by the gathering crowd. "The people killed him by throwing bricks on him and jumping on him until they killed him," said one man. "They cut off his arm and his leg and his head, and they were cheering and dancing."
Everybody notes that though there's a base nearby, no U.S. troops were at the scene even hours after the attack.
The Marines recently took responsibility for Fallujah from Army troops and have begun regular foot patrols, reversing the Army's policy of leaving most patrols to Iraqi forces. "The Marines will put those people in their place," said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, one of the top commanders in Iraq. The Post says that by Wednesday night Marines still hadn't re-entered Fallujah to collect the bodies.
In an audio dispatch, the NYT's Jeffrey Gettleman points out that he couldn't go inside Fallujah because it was too dangerous. He says that every Iraqi he interviewed on the outskirts of town said they supported the attack, with most insisting that the contractors were CIA agents. (The agency denied that.) "Everybody here is happy with this," said one taxi driver. "There is no question."
The Post did find some residents of Fallujah who were disturbed by at least part of the scene. "They really shouldn't do this to the bodies," said one student. "It's disgusting."
The NYT's John Burns says that what happened in Fallujah is another bit of evidence undermining the administration and military's argument that the guerrilla movement is mainly fueled by outside agitators. After talking to Iraqis, Burns says what is emerging is a conflict in which "the common bonds of Iraqi nationalism and Arab sensibility have transcended other differences, fostering a war of national resistance that could pose still greater challenges to the Americans in the months, and perhaps years, ahead."
The Wall Street Journal notices with the violence against contractors, the U.S. government is still encouraging companies to invest in Iraq while at the same time issuing increasingly strong warnings about the dangers of coming.
A front-page Post piece finds that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was scheduled to give a speech on Sept. 11, 2001 about "the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday." Citing "U.S. officials who have seen the text," the Post says the speech focused on the need for missile defense and didn't mention al-Qaida or Osama Bin Laden. The White House wouldn't release the text of the speech, but according to the Post the administration did confirm the general thrust. The paper adds that two days before 9/11, Rice said in a TV interview, it is time "to get serious about the business of dealing with this emergent threat. Ballistic missiles are ubiquitous now."
For what it's worth, that simply adds a bit more meat to what has already been well-established. As the Post puts it, "Al-Qaida and Islamic terrorism rated lower on the list of priorities, as outlined by [Bush administration] officials in their own public statements on policy."
A Los Angeles Times poll flagged on Page One found that nearly three-fifths of respondents think that President Bush "was more focused on attacking Iraq than dealing with terrorism" and a slightly smaller majority said that Bush didn't focus sufficiently on AQ before 9/11. Still, those opinions didn't diminish Bush's overall approval rating.
The LAT and NYT front the U.N. International Court's ruling that 51 Mexicans on death rows in the U.S. were illegally deprived of consular assistance, a right guaranteed under a treaty. The court said the cases should be "reviewed and reconsidered." It's not clear whether that's going to happen. As the LAT notes, in the past the U.S. has refused to abide by the court's rulings.
Alone among the papers, USA Today fronts the OPEC cartel's announcement that, despite pressure from the U.S., it will stick by its plan to cut oil production by about 4 percent. There's a good reason most of the papers go inside with the news: As USAT and others note, it's not clear that the decision will pump up prices, at least partly because most members of the price-fixing club cheat anyway.
Following yesterday's killings in Fallujah, the WP browsed the Coalition Provisional Authority's Web site and didn't spot mention of the killings nor any other violence. The site's fourth headline: "IRAQI POLICE EQUAL TO TASK OF PUBLIC SAFETY, KIMMITT SAYS."