The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with Israel's assassination of new Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi. (It assassinated his predecessor less than a month ago.) The Washington Post leads with a severe assessment of the damage done by the recent uprising in Iraq.
An Israeli helicopter fired a missile at Rantisi's car in Gaza City, killing him and two bodyguards and injuring others. (Al Jazeera's Web site has many photos of the carnage on the street.) All the papers note that four hours before the airstrike, a suicide bomber blew up an Israeli soldier and wounded several others. (It was the first successful Palestinian attack since March 14.) Only the NYT, quoting an Israeli foreign ministry official, reports that the Rantisi hit had been planned for weeks and was not a tit-for-tat retaliation. (Despite this, White House spokesman Scott McClellan linked the two events.) The British foreign secretary called the attack "unlawful, unjustified and counter-productive." The White House urged Israel to exercise restraint but defended its right to fight terrorism. A "senior administration official" in the NYT is more upfront:
Frankly this thing, coming right after [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon was in the United States, looks like an attempt by the Israelis to make us co-conspirators. We have to make it clear that we gave no green light. We can't let the Israelis rope us into their actions.
A news analysis in the NYT (which has the best coverage) notes that Sharon is probably more concerned with appeasing Likud Party hard liners (who will vote on his Gaza withdrawal plan May 2) than with world opinion. Israel has killed three Hamas leaders in the last year; the terrorist group announced that the man replacing Rantisi will remain anonymous.
The Post's lead says that the reconstruction of Iraq has essentially stopped for security reasons. Most private contractors refuse to leave the protected Green Zone in Baghdad, and one reconstruction company has sent almost half of its Western employees to Kuwait. "It's a Catch-22," an anonymous U.S. official tells the paper. "We can't start the work that's supposed to help improve security until security improves." Meanwhile, many Iraqis employed in reconstruction have stopped coming to work. Although the true extent of popular support for Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr is unclear, his poster has begun appearing in Sunni mosques. The Governing Council members most favored by the U.S. for their loyalty are now the least popular.
The NYT fronts word that U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civil defense corps members have closed to public use long stretches of highway north and south of Baghdad. Insurgents have repeatedly ambushed supply convoys and destroyed bridges on these portions of the road; by forcing civilian traffic to take detours, the U.S. hopes to prevent further attacks. Although the U.S. also supplies Baghdad by air, ambushes on road suppliers have precipitated rationing at U.S. bases. In its "A"-section story on the road shutdown, the Post reports progress in the Fallujah negotiations. The last couple days have seen less fighting than any time since April 5.
The Post runs another excerpt from Bob Woodward's forthcoming book. Today's installment details White House war deliberations from about December 2002 to early 2003. Over the holidays, President Bush told Karl Rove to push off campaign fund-raisers by several months because "we got a war coming." After the New Year, he solicited advice from Condi Rice and former communications director Karen Hughes, both of whom supported war with qualifications. He knew Cheney's opinion and elected not to ask Donald Rumsfeld or Colin Powell. Powell was the last to know of Bush's decision: Not until after reviewing attack plans with the Saudi ambassador did the president invite the secretary of state to the Oval Office, where he told him the die had been cast. "Time to put your war uniform on," Bush said.
A Jordanian prison guard working for the U.N. fired on a group of mostly American U.N. guards in Kosovo, the NYT reports below the fold. He killed two and wounded 11 before the other guards killed him. The motive for the attack is unknown, although local news reports speculated that the Jordanian had been arguing with the Americans about Iraq. The Post's inside piece names the Jordanian and notes that explosives may have been used.
A front-page feature in the Post charts the remarkable surge in antidepressant prescriptions for children, despite largely inconclusive data on their efficacy in that population. Antidepressant scripts for kids rose three to 10 times between 1987 and 1996 and by 50 percent between 1998 and 2002. Most studies of their use among children have failed to show a benefit over placebos, and the few that do are disputed. The culprits: insurance companies that favor meds over talk therapy, pharmaceutical companies that market the drugs and spin the studies, and psychiatrists who sincerely believe that possible benefits outweigh possible risks.
The NYT's long off-lead rehashes previous reporting about the 9/11 commission's findings. The Post's editors review some of the pre-9/11 bureaucratic failures that hindered effective investigation of al-Qaida and then propose two solutions: 1) create a domestic intelligence agency, similar to Britain's MI5 *, to take over the FBI's current role, and 2) give the CIA director more control over his agency's spending and more authority over hiring in various divisions.