The Los Angeles Times leads with an analysis of the Iraqi insurgency, which this week killed more than 100 people and seems to be gathering steam as the June 30 transfer of power approaches. In its top non-local story, the Washington Post focuses on objections to the rebellion from anti-American Shiite and Sunni Muslim leaders, including rabid cleric Muqtada Sadr. The New York Times leads with the news that, contrary to FBI Director Robert Mueller's assurances to a congressional committee last month, the bureau will not be able to complete a long-anticipated computer system to manage case files.
Of the three papers, the WP seems to have the inside track on the radical zeitgeist and even quotes from yesterday's sermons. "We do not need anyone from outside the borders to stand with us and spill the blood of our sons in Iraq," lectured one prominent Sunni cleric, thus discouraging foreigners' attempts at co-opting the homegrown revolt. "It is a conspiracy to defame the reputation of the Iraqi resistance by wearing its dress and using its name falsely. These people hurt the Iraqis and Iraq, giving the occupier an excuse to stay longer." The LAT glosses over the fact that these non-native rebels, among them Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab Zarqawi, seem to be increasingly unpopular with Iraqi nationalists and instead sounds a note of alarm: "Just days before an Iraqi government takes control of the country, experts and some commanders fear it may be too late to turn back the militant tide." To which the WP counters, "Friday's show of disgust expressed in mosques … marked the first time anti-occupation clerics and fighters sided against violence associated with the insurgency."
Called the Virtual Case File, the FBI's new computer system was supposed to fix the intelligence lapses that preceded 9/11, i.e., agents had been unable to search files for any combinations of words, such as "flight" and "schools." One anonymous bureau official suggested that the upgrade might have to be abandoned altogether, and the paper goes so far as to call the delay "an embarrassment" for Mueller.
The NYT goes above the fold with the quiet cross-pollination between North and South Korea, which is on the rise despite Bush's attempts at isolating Kim Jong-il. For the first time in 50 years, South Korea is not broadcasting propaganda at the border; bilateral trade jumped from $400 million in 2000 to $724 million last year; tourist visits from the South to the North are increasingly common; and the two Koreas are marching under a "Unification" flag at the Athens Olympics this summer. "There is no fear here—that is the striking change," said one American academic in Seoul.
Which is all well and good, but unfortunately there were no striking changes in the nuclear standoff after this week's negotiations in Beijing, according to a senior administration official. The only development was the White House's decision to replace its hard-line stance with a proposal for a "step-by-step dismantling" of North Korea's atomic programs in return for aid and security guarantees. Easier said than done, notes the administration official: "It is still not clear if they are ready to discuss giving up their nuclear program on a serious basis." Everyone stuffs the story, but the WP's piece is the sunniest, leading with the fact that the North Korean delegation said it would "show flexibility" if the U.S. sweetened its offer.
In anticipation of next week's transfer of sovereignty, the papers all seem to be amping up their Iraq coverage, and today the NYT and WP go head-to-head with lengthy off-leads about the Hunt for Sadr, both of which quote American GIs involved. Round one goes to the Post, which lays out the more riveting and graphic narrative of the Army's 1st Armored Division's pitched, 60-day campaign through Kut, Karbala, Najaf, and Kufa that ended in a precarious cease-fire. "Our effort here has been semi-wasted," said one staff sergeant. "[Sadr's militiamen] have lived to fight again, and that's exactly what they'll do." The NYT disagrees and approximates the number of remaining Sadr loyalists in Iraq's holy cities to be only 200 or so, down from 3,000 at the beginning of the uprising.
A Page One Post story, "AN OUTSIDER TRIES TO SHAKE THE 'SPOILER' LABEL" follows Ralph Nader to New Hampshire, where, it seems, he's not doing a very good job of shaking it. Sitting in on a meeting with campaign aides, Shankar Vedantam discovers, "In private, four of Nader's five supporters around the table said they will vote for Democrat John F. Kerry if polls in late October show Nader tipping the state to President Bush."
The NYT and LAT tease, and the WP stuffs, Bush's chilly reception in Ireland, where thousands of antiwar demonstrators took to the streets in a show of uncharacteristic contempt for an American president.
Vice President Cheney isn't sorry for the F-bomb he lobbed at Sen. Pat Leahy on the Senate floor earlier this week in response to the liberal law-maker's accusations of cronyism. "I didn't like the fact that after he had done so, then he wanted to act like, you know, everything's peaches and cream," Cheney said. "And I informed him of my view of his conduct in no uncertain terms. And as I say, I felt better afterwards." Leahy's spokesman retorted: "It appears the vice president's previous calls for civility are now inoperative." Yikes. TP can't help but think that were it not for Cheney's delicate health, the playa-hatin' might have been much worse. As Ann Gerhart chronicles in the WP:
[In 1902], jockeying between the distinguished gentlemen from South Carolina resulted in their censure. The junior senator, John McLaurin, proclaimed the senior senator, Ben Tillman, guilty of "a willful, malicious and deliberate lie." Tillman promptly responded with a square punch in the jaw. The ensuing Senate-floor brawl looked like a modern bench-clearing fracas in major league baseball. Nearly 50 years before, a Massachusetts senator had been beaten unconscious, three days after he took to the floor to denounce two Democratic senators he believed to be pro-slavery. Illinois's Stephen Douglas, Charles Sumner had said, was a "noise-some, squat and nameless animal." He then accused South Carolina's Andrew Butler of taking "a mistress . . . who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight. I mean," he added, "the harlot, Slavery." That brought House member Preston Brooks in to defend Butler, striking Sumner about the head so furiously with a cane that the senator was carried bloody and unconscious from the chamber.