According to early morning reports, a car bomb outside the U.S.'s Green Zone in Baghdad killed the president of the Iraqi Governing Council. Ezzedine Salim had held the position on a rotating basis. At least four other Iraqis were killed in the blast. Six Iraqis and two GIs were also wounded.
The New York Times leads with the administration's announcement that it will expedite the approval process for generic and combination antiretroviral drugs, a big shift in HIV policy. Previously, the administration had been against such single pills and generics, a stance that had benefited U.S. pharmaceutical companies. The Washington Post leads with Israel's decision to demolish a few hundred Palestinian homes in Gaza in order to expand a security strip near the Egyptian border. The border area has long been used to smuggle weapons, but the U.S. and other countries condemned the demolitions, which a U.N. refugee agency termed "collective punishment" and "illegal." The NYT, which teases the demolitions on Page One, notes that the Israeli army hasn't decided yet whether families will get compensation. The Los Angeles Times leads with members of Congress from both parties calling for wider investigations into the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. There's growing evidence—from The New Yorker, Newsweek, and elsewhere—that the administration moved to loosen interrogation rules. A front-page LAT analysis notes that the Republican-controlled Senate Armed Services Committee, unlike its counterparts in the House, has decided to keep holding hearings on the abuse and will call top officials to testify. USA Today leads with Massachusetts becoming the first state to legalize gay marriage. The state's legislature has voted to ban gay marriage (though not civil unions), but the change can't take effect until it goes to voters in 2006.
The NYT sees the new HIV drugs policy as a big step forward and a boon for public health. "It will help AIDS treatment programs everywhere," said the U.N.'s chief HIV doc. The Wall Street Journal has the opposite take, emphasizing that some HIV advocacy groups say the combo single pills shouldn't need any FDA approval at all. "It sets a dangerous precedent, in our estimation," said the head of one advocacy group. "While this sounds like a fast-track, it's a delay."
The NYT's off-lead says that the top U.S. commander seems to have no real say in the treatment of about 100 Iraqi big-shots being held incommunicado at Baghdad's airport. Current regulations require the commander's approval if any Iraqi prisoner is going to be held in solitary for more than 30 days. The "high-level detainees" are being held in isolation indefinitely, but the commander hasn't approved that. A military spokesman explained, "We were not the authority." And who is in charge? The Times says it's not clear.
Pulling back the veil on the murky deal that ended the fighting in Fallujah, the LAT says the generals to whom the U.S. handed power were in fact guerrillas, which the Marines knew. "Today, Fallujah is for all intents and purposes a rebel town," says the LAT. Not that there was a better outcome. "In the end, the Americans left themselves with only bad options," said one British analyst. "They could either destroy the city, causing heavy loss of life. Or they could walk away. Both are a disaster, but the Americans chose the less disastrous of the two."
In other Iraq news, one GI was killed by a bomb, three Iraqi women working for the U.S. were killed by gunmen, and in a development that none of the papers give significant attention to, Moqtada Sadr's militia forced Italian troops to abandon their base in Nasiriyah. One Italian soldier was killed and about 10 wounded. Italy has asked the U.S. to stop its offensive against Sadr's men.
The papers mention inside that one U.S. soldier was killed and two slightly wounded in southern Afghanistan when their convoy was attacked.
Diving into federal records, the WP concludes on Page One that two-thirds of federal workers received "merit bonuses" in 2002, with the median bump being $811.
In the second part of its series, the Post looks at how the EPA loosened regulations on industrial towels (classifying them as laundry and not hazardous waste), which happened to have benefited a big Bush donor. Nothing to see here, insists the donor: "FUNDRAISER DENIES LINK BETWEEN MONEY, ACCESS." He says he never asked the administration for changes, he just asked his congressman to ask. And as it turns out, everybody came out happy. The EPA, says the Post, "provided industrial-laundry lobbyists with an advance copy of a portion of the proposed rule, which the lobbyists edited and the agency adopted."