Open Hawza

Open Hawza

Open Hawza

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
July 19 2004 5:50 AM

Open Hawza

The New York Times and Washington Post lead with the Iraqi government's move to allow Moqtada Sadr's newspaper Al Hawza to reopen nearly four months after it was closed by the U.S. occupation for inciting violence. USA Today leads with the interim CIA director's confirmation on Fox News Sunday that Iran allowed several Sept. 11 hijackers to cross its borders in the year before the attacks—a revelation that Time magazine broke on Friday. The information is apparently part of the 9/11 commission's final report, the advance dribblings of which top the Wall Street Journal's world-wide news box. The Los Angeles Times leads with the difficulty President Bush has had pushing his legislative agenda this year because of Democrats' hardball tactics and the divisions among Republicans on a variety of issues, from the budget deficit to civil liberties.

"Because of his belief in freedom of the press, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has ordered the reopening of the Al Hawza newspaper," the Iraqi government said in a statement, according to the NYT. The statement says the purpose of the move is "to open the way to all Iraqis' activities, including the trend this newspaper represents, to participate" in democracy, according to the WP. In any case, it's a major concession to Sadr, who was seen publicly, at evening services last night, for the first time in nearly two months.

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The WP's and NYT's leads, and a story inside USAT, all juxtapose the reopening of Al Hawza with Allawi's stated approval for an air strike a few hours earlier against what the U.S. military said was a stronghold of fighters loyal to Abu Musab Zarqawi. Only the NYT, to its credit, draws a direct, if equivocal, line between the two events: "It was unclear if Dr. Allawi timed his concession to a Shiite branch of the insurgency to soften any public-relations blow among Iraqis—many skeptical of Dr. Allawi's real power—from the airstrike against Sunni Muslim militants and foreign fighters in Falluja."

Another, darker connection that could be drawn a day later: Wires are reporting this morning that a fuel tanker truck barreled into a police station in Baghdad early Monday, exploding and killing nine people and wounding more than 50.

The LAT off-leads word that secret information from the Los Alamos National Laboratory was transmitted in recent weeks over unclassified e-mail networks, which the government assumes are accessible to hackers. The paper says Energy Department officials also plan to investigate reports that 19 electronic storage devices with classified data are missing. Buried near the bottom of the story, the paper hints at what might be in the e-mails: "Speculation has grown that the flurry of security breakdowns may involve a problem with U.S. warheads, although Los Alamos officials strongly disputed recent allegations by a former scientist at the lab who said there were defects in one bomb design."

Disorder continued to spread in Gaza yesterday, fueled by Yasser Arafat's appointment of his own widely disliked cousin as chief of security, according to the LAT and a news brief inside the WP. Masked gunmen set fire to two of the cousin's offices and exchanged gunfire with guards at the headquarters of Palestinian military intelligence; meanwhile, Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei met with Arafat, who refused to accept his resignation. In Israel, the NYT reports that Ariel Sharon is trying to stave off a political crisis as well, meeting with Labor Party leader Shimon Peres in one of several efforts he's making to cobble together a parliamentary majority that will support his withdrawal plan for Gaza.

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USAT does its lead story a disservice by topping it with the most sensational claim; as the paper slugs, there's no evidence that Iran actually had anything to do with Sept. 11 itself. The more intriguing angle—also highlighted in inside the WSJ and WP—is how general chumminess between al-Qaida and Iran, as described by the 9/11 commission's forthcoming report, may force Bush to a reckoning on Washington's ambivalent relationship with Tehran. According to the Post, a senior U.S. official, when pushed to explain U.S. policy on Iran, said, "Oh, do we have one?"

Speaking of the 9/11 commission, it's planning an aggressive push for its recommendations, according to a piece inside the NYT. In addition to lobbying on Capitol Hill through the fall and making the full report available on its Web site when it's released on Thursday, the commission has signed a deal with W.W. Norton to have the 500-page tome on sale for $10 (or, apparently, $8 on Amazon) ASAP. "If it's not in stores the minute that it's released in Washington, it will certainly be there very soon, within hours, not days," said the commission's spokesman.

With regard one of the commission's already highly publicized recommendations—the creation of a Cabinet-level intelligence czar—the interim CIA director, whose position is perhaps most directly threatened by the recommendation, went on the defensive yesterday, according to separate stories in the LAT, WP, and USAT. Not that his points are without merit. If the new czar is to have actual budgetary control of over all intel agencies, "it would be hard to do … without adding an additional layer of bureaucracy," the interim director said.

The NYT off-leads Sen. John Kerry's creation of a network of legal SWAT teams under its own umbrella, rather than the Democratic Party's, to prepare for any legal battles that may crop up before, during, and after election day. "We want to be able to fight five statewide recounts and still have resources available to the campaign," said the Kerry's general counsel.

Missouri has become the "Show Me Campaign Ads" state, according to stories inside the WP, LAT, and WSJ, which play catch-up on yesterday's NYT story previewing what it called "one of the most extensive reports on presidential campaign advertising ever produced."

Memo to the Baghdad bureau: TP has been noticing an intriguing credit at the bottom—and sometimes within the body—of NYT stories reported from dangerous areas of Iraq, like today's lead: "An Iraqi employee of The New York Times contributed reporting from Najaf for this article." Some variant of the "Iraqi employee" credit has appeared on at least 11 Iraq pieces since April, raising a few questions: First, are we talking about one or several employees? One credit says an employee "contributed reporting from Mosul," which is more than 300 miles from Najaf, where most of the credits originate. Second, why is his or her nationality worthy of mention? Presumably it's an effort to explain or at least mitigate the anonymity, which does not appear (judging by named contributing credits from areas like the Gaza strip) to be obligatory. Nevertheless, TP wishes someone at the Times, or somewhere else, would tell us more about these mystery credits.