The Washington Post leads with a follow-up on the shootout at a Riyadh roadblock that left four prominent Saudi terrorists dead Friday after the kidnapping and beheading of an American defense contractor. (Contrary to some earlier reports, the American's remains have still not been located, although photographs of his body have appeared on the Internet.) The Los Angeles Times leads with a report based on interviews with U.S. counterterrorism officials and members of the 9/11 commission concluding that U.S. allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia helped fund the Taliban and effectively abetted the growth of al-Qaida in the years leading up to the 9/11 attacks, in exchange for protection from terrorism within their borders. The New York Times leads with Kurdish advances into territory in northern Iraq that had once belonged to Kurds but was forcibly resettled with Arabs during Saddam Hussein's rule.
The Saudi government announced that the four militants' deaths crippled the only known al-Qaida cell in the country while one analyst tells the NYT that the fact that so many of the cell's leaders had been traveling together suggests that it may have been smaller than was previously thought. In the course of the massive man hunt that followed the contractor's kidnapping, 12 other suspected terrorists were arrested, including a man who is believed to have helped plan the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen.
The LAT lead, which treats the 9/11 commission's findings from earlier in the week as merely the tip of the iceberg, says that the Saudis reached out to Osama Bin Laden in 1996, soon after the Khobar Towers bombing, and that Pakistani intelligence officials had helped coordinate Bin Laden's move to Afghanistan earlier that year. These contacts began a relationship in which the two countries aided al-Qaida's rise by turning a blind eye to its fund-raising and training activities and, in the case of Pakistan, providing outright military coordination and intelligence sharing with Bin Laden and his Taliban hosts. In response to the allegations, officials from both countries strongly denied having cut deals with Bin Laden. (Although the LAT story contends that in addition to helping bankroll the Taliban, the Saudis provided funds and equipment "probably directly to Bin Laden," the 9/11 commission reported earlier this week that it had "found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior officials within the Saudi government funded al Qaeda.") Only after Pakistan and Saudi Arabia began to crack down on domestic al-Qaida cells did terrorists strike their countries.
As part of a phenomenon noted in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Saddam and little reported on since, as many as 100,000 Iraqi Arabs have fled their homes for refugee camps as Kurds have (occasionally violently) reclaimed land south of the border separating the autonomous Kurdish region from the rest of Iraq. Kurdish authorities appear to support the effort, with some leaders establishing offices in the newly resettled areas even though they are explicitly forbidden to do so by the temporary Iraqi constitution. U.S. officials are cautioning the Kurds to slow their advance in the interest of stability, but the paper suggests that occupation officials have tacitly permitted Kurdish resettlement in some uncontested areas.
With 10 days left before the official transfer of sovereignty in Iraq, the WP fronts the lengthy first installment of a three-part series meditating on the shortfalls of the U.S. occupation. There's little new news to be had, but the piece recaps the well-known logistical, ideological, and cultural stumbling blocks that have kept Iraq from becoming the stable model state promised on the eve of war. Attacks on foreigners now average 40 a day, and the Iraqi army is only one-third the size planners projected it would be by now, and with rebuilding efforts stalled in part by the withdrawal of private contractors fearing for their employees' safety, 80 percent of the nearly $19 billion budgeted for reconstruction remained unspent at the start of June. Unnamed occupation officials voice the familiar view that CPA employees, hired largely through partisan channels and separated from the rest of the country by the fortified walls and bacon cheeseburgers of the Green Zone, have been terminally unable to engage with ordinary Iraqis. (The WP's "Outlook" section offers five expert opinions on where to go from here.)
The papers all note that around 20 Iraqis were killed in a U.S. missile attack on a suspected hideout of supporters of the Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi in Falluja. The attack, which marked the first American offensive in Falluja since late April, was carried out while apparently bypassing the home-grown militia that has assumed security duties in the city, leading the NYT to suggest that the already-murky U.S.-Iraqi command structure will likely become only more so after the transfer of authority.
Elsewhere in Iraq, an American GI died of wounds sustained in a Friday firefight in Baquba, and three Iraqis and one Portuguese contractor were killed by a roadside bomb in Basra. Some 500 women also staged a march in the Shiite enclave of Sadr City in Baghdad, although the papers seem to disagree about exactly why. The WP characterized it as a " demonstration against violence," while an NYT reporter on the scene quoted the crowd as chanting, "Blow them up! Oh Mahdi Army … All of us will sacrifice ourselves for Moktada Sadr."
The papers run wire reports inside announcing the Sudanese president's call for disbanding all illegal armed groups in the western Darfur region, where hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by Arab militias. The president's order came a day after the U.S. had threatened to impose sanctions unless the government took action.
The NYT's Michiko Kakutani weighs in on Bill Clinton's memoir in advance of its Tuesday release, delivering what will likely not be the last comparison of the sprawling, impulsive volume to the mercurial appetites of its author. While impressed by the emotional honesty of the sections devoted to Clinton's childhood, Kakutani deems the overall effort "a hodgepodge of jottings: part policy primer, part 12-step confessional, part stump speech and part presidential archive, all, it seems, hurriedly written and even more hurriedly edited." (The NYT's "Sunday Styles" section consults four literary power couples for advice on how Bill and Hillary should approach life in a dual-byline household. And with Clinton having cornered the market on political prose, the WP's "Style" section takes a look at two political poets—Calvin Trillin, of The Nation, and William von Dreele of National Review—each of whom churn out bits of partisan doggerel for $100 a pop.)
The "Style" section also stops in at the archives of the University of Maryland to peek at some treasured keepsakes of former Vice President Spiro Agnew, many of which he received from foreign heads of state. Although best known for his alliterative assaults on alienated elites, Agnew is here memorialized by, among other items, a monkey-skin cape, a portrait of himself rendered entirely in bird feathers, and a painting depicting the ex-veep "as a circus clown with orange hair and a cocked top hat."