The Los Angeles Times leads with, and the Washington Post and New York Times put above the fold, the continuing battles between U.S. troops and extremist militias across Iraq. The WP leads with a dispatch from a reporter embedded with Marines creeping through Fallujah. The NYT leads with an analysis of White House memos on al-Qaida from the summer of 2001.
There was a brief cease-fire in Fallujah yesterday to allow citizens to bury their dead and Governing Council members to negotiate with insurgents. Thousands fled; according to the U.S. military, 60,000 people—nearly a quarter of the city—have left. Fighting resumed after only 90 minutes. Five U.S. troops have been killed in the last two days and 49 in the last six days, says the LAT. Fallujah hospitals report 450 dead and over 1,000 injured since Tuesday. A Shiite GC member and a Sunni human rights minister both resigned in protest of the American assault on Fallujah, and two other GC members threatened to follow.
U.S. forces won back at least part of Kut from Muqtada Sadr's militia yesterday. Sadr's forces still control Kufa and Najaf, where they surround two small garrisons of Spanish and South American troops. The U.S. helicoptered reinforcements to the garrisons, the NYT reports, but is taking a "passive stance" in the holy city until Islamic holidays end. (The same holds for Karbala.) There is also fighting in Mosul, Baqubah, Muqdadiya, Nasiriyah, and Baghdad. The NYT says that in Baghdad, U.S. troops had to remove a poster of Sadr from the American-installed "liberty" statue in Firdos Square, which replaced the statue of Saddam Hussein famously pulled down exactly one year ago.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw announced that "there is no doubt that the current situation is very serious and it is the most serious that we have faced. It is plainly the fact today that there are larger numbers of people, and they are people on the ground, Iraqis, not foreign fighters, who are engaged in this insurgency." Colin Powell said, "I must say [the resistance] was more than I had expected to see at this time. But nevertheless, I think our commanders have got a handle on it." Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt stressed that the entire country is not at war, adding that "to suggest that 10,000 of [Sadr's] followers carrying guns is representative of 15 million Shiites is a mischaracterization."
In a sermon in Najaf, the Post reports, one of Sadr's deputies addressed President Bush: "If your excuse was that you are fighting Saddam … you are [now] fighting the entire Iraqi people." In another sermon, the LAT reports, a deputy of Ayatollah Ali Sistani said, "Our agenda is in political participation and political resistance and not armed resistance." Both papers go inside with a speech by Vice President Cheney in Alaska, in which he indirectly linked Saddam Hussein with Sept. 11 and declared that U.S. "strength and resolve will not waver." "The terrorists declared war on America," he said, "and war is what they got."
The NYT lead devotes its headline ("August '01 Brief Is Said To Warn of Attack Plans") and first paragraph to news it reported yesterday: that President Bush's Aug. 6, 2001, intelligence briefing warned of al-Qaida attacks within the U.S., possibly involving explosives and hijackings. Five grafs down the article serves up something fresher: a July 4, 2001, memo from Richard Clarke to Condoleezza Rice stating that in June of that year, the White House put 56 FBI field offices on high alert for terrorism. The Times says the White House leaked parts of this memo to distance itself from the FBI; a "senior law enforcement official" tells the paper that the FBI got a terror-alert memo from the White House in April, but not in June, and in any case, the agency was focused on terrorism overseas.
Near the end of the NYT piece, a Democratic 9/11 commission member, Timothy J. Roemer, says his panel has found "nobody at the FBI who knows anything about a tasking of field offices" to identify the domestic terrorism threat, as Rice testified Thursday. An LAT front-pager expands on Roemer's comments: Although the White House told the FBI of the threat, it never got passed down to the field offices. The Post goes inside with a piece on the August memo, summarizing its known contents based on public comments by officials, anonymous sources, and newspaper reports from 2002. The administration has delayed declassification of the August memo until next week.
The Office of Special Counsel has decided to continue enforcing a ban against discrimination of gays in the federal workplace, the Post reports inside. In January, the agency removed all references to homosexuals as a protected class from documents on its Web site, pending a "legal review" of the 30-year prohibition against such discrimination.
The NYT reports that Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies has been bought by Sony Pictures. John Calley, who helped bring All the President's Men to the screen, intends to produce it as a feature film. "If we were able to do President's Men with people meeting in garages and whispering in parks, then certainly with someone sitting at a table in the White House we could have a remarkable event."
The NYT spotlights two boondoggle Alaskan bridges in the House version of the transportation bill. One, a mile-long span nearly as tall as the Golden Gate Bridge, would connect a town of 7,845 people to an island-bound airport, replacing a five-minute ferry ride. Another two-mile span would connect Anchorage to a port with one tenant. The man responsible for this 600-job, several-hundred-million-dollar doozy, Rep. Don Young, is proud of his pork: "I'd like to be [known as] a little oinker."