Prime Time

Prime Time

Prime Time

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 29 2004 6:26 AM

Prime Time

Everyone leads with the Iraqi Governing Council's unanimous nomination of secular Shiite Iyad Allawi as interim prime minister. Related by marriage to Ahmad Chalabi, Allawi heads the former exile group Iraqi National Accord—a longtime rival of the Iraqi National Congress—and has long enjoyed the support of the CIA and the State Department, participating in a U.S.-endorsed coup attempt against Saddam in 1996.

Naturally, versions of Allawi's coronation differ. According to the Washington Post's "senior Bush administration official," U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi recommended Allawi after Brahimi conferred with local political, tribal, and religious leaders. A U.N. official tells the Post that the 58-year-old Allawi, a neurologist who holds the top security post on the GC, had lobbied other council members so much that when his name came up in the meeting yesterday, the typically fractious group united behind him "within minutes." The New York Times' "senior American official" agrees that Allawi campaigned fiercely for the job but that he emerged as a compromise candidate between Iraq's two most prominent Shiite political parties. Although all the papers hint that his ties to the West could undermine his candidacy, the Post is the sunniest about his future, pointing out that he's backed by Shiite and Sunni Muslims, as well as ethnic Kurds, and that he's tried to bring ex-Baathists into the fold, too. As one analyst who consults with the White House on Iraq put it to the Los Angeles Times, "I had to laugh when I heard. This guy is the quintessential politician." Interestingly, the WP gave Allawi props in its initial online piece for his opposition to disbanding the Iraqi army—in hindsight, a catastrophic U.S. decision—but excised that line from its final print version. It's seemingly a strong part of Allawi's résumé, yet the LAT is alone in mentioning it.

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In its analysis inside, the NYT polls some unnamed U.N. officials and concludes that Allawi is "certain to be seen more as an American candidate than one of the United Nations' or the Iraqis themselves." However, the piece cites no polls, nor even deigns to investigate local public opinion. In any case, L. Paul Bremer seems to be the only American official openly riding the Allawi wagon so far. The rest of Washington demurred: The LAT, for example, includes Colin Powell's non-statement, "I am pleased that Mr. Allawi has that kind of support," and the White House is similarly cautious.

The LAT includes in its Allawi fronter word that the U.S. freed 600 of the 3,000 prisoners at Abu Ghraib, which the NYT and WP stuff. "They cut off the food for two days because I did not want the sandbags to cover my face," one prisoner told the Post. "They made my friend naked and get in a big hole in the yard not far from the tents. But after the pictures were published, the treatment really changed."

According to a troubling NYT off-lead citing "senior military officials" (everyone's sources seem extra squeamish today), 15 or so interrogation experts from Guantanamo Bay were sent to Iraq last fall and "played a major role" in training U.S. military intelligence teams at Abu Ghraib. The interrogators were apparently dispatched at Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller's bidding, and though the Pentagon recently denied that Miller, well, let the dogs out at Abu Ghraib, he may have a tougher time ducking this: The Times says the Gitmo teams' involvement will be detailed in an upcoming DoD report.

The NYT reefers word that despite Libya's pledge to scrap its atomic program, it received in March a gift of black-market parts for enriching uranium. And that's actually the good news, says the WP, which off-leads with the bad news: Investigators are struggling to account for a whole bunch of sensitive components Libya had ordered for its uranium enrichment plant. Worst case scenario, natch, is that the technology "could be diverted to unfriendly governments or terrorist groups." Curiously, the Post may have buried the lede in the penultimate paragraph: Even with the cooperation of chief nuclear architect Abdul Qadeer Khan, "[I]nvestigators have discovered discrepancies between the numbers of centrifuge parts requested by Libya and the quantities the Khan network made. In some cases the production exceeded the demand by a considerable margin, fueling concerns that the smuggling ring had other customers that have not come to light."

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The Times' Elisabeth Bumiller goes below the fold with the tale of Richard Perle, James Woolsey, and other angry Chalabites barnstorming the West Wing to confront Condi Rice about what they considered a "smear campaign" against their pol of choice, whose Baghdad home and offices were recently raided. Perle singled out Bremer, who quickly denied any involvement. For his part, Chalabi chum Paul Wolfowitz seems eager to stay out of the flap, sending only this rather oblique message through his spokesman: "[Chalabi and the INC] have provided valuable operational intelligence to our military forces in Iraq, which has helped save American lives. Secretary Wolfowitz hopes that the events of the last few weeks haven't undermined that." TP deeply hopes that American lives do not actually depend on "valuable operational intelligence" provided by Ahmad Chalabi.

The NYT and LAT go high with large, dire photos of Caribbean flood victims, and both go inside with updates of the ruin along the Haiti-Dominican Republic border. The WP reefers its coverage but doesn't mince words, beginning the article, "Corpses were hanging from palm trees." Between 1,000 and 2,000 people are dead or missing.

Having lost the legal battle to restrict liberal advocacy groups, Republicans are now rushing to create their own, says a Page One NYT piece. Unsurprisingly, GOP workhouse C. Boyden Gray is among the first to jump into the 527 fray from the right. And just in case you were craving a bit of election year hyperbole, here's what Ellen Malcolm, a top Democratic fund-raiser had to say: "[Republicans] can raise an infinite amount of money."

From the WP's "Names and Faces" column (and Slate's "Bushisms"):

"Karyn is with us. A West Texas girl, just like me"—President Bush, disclosing an unexpected similarity between himself and Sen. Bill Frist's wife in Nashville on Thursday.