The Washington Post and New York Times lead with Day 1 of the shaky peace accord forged by Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani in the holy city of Najaf. Insurgents loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr laid down their weapons and U.S. forces withdrew from the center of the city as thousands of Iraqi civilians flooded the battered Imam Ali shrine that had been caught in the crossfire of the bloody, three-week standoff. (The NYT tallies 11 GIs and an estimated 1,000 guerrillas killed since the beginning of August.) The Los Angeles Times, at least online, leads with word that the FBI is probing a midlevel Pentagon official for passing secrets to Israel via lobbying group AIPAC.
All the papers breathe hesitant sighs of relief. But to the WP, it's "not clear whether the weapons being surrendered in Najaf would be turned over to the police, as the government demanded." Fortunately, the NYT seems to have a better sense. "As the Mahdi Army fighters did not surrender themselves, neither did they give up their guns. Instead, they took the assault rifles and rocket launchers with which they had commandeered the shrine and loaded them onto donkey carts, covering them with blankets, grain sacks and television sets, and sending them away."
The NYT notes that Sadr agreed to help prep for the country's first national elections in January, and speculates that the U.S. decision to let him walk away from murder charges was "based on the hope that the young leader, who commands a large following in Iraq's Shiite slums, could be coaxed into the political mainstream." (Just a few weeks ago, Sadr was sour on the idea of joining a national conference.) In any case, look no further than the LAT for the best coverage on the sectarian jockeying and the general struggle for the Shiite majority. Hint: the paper runs the dispiriting headline, "REBEL CLERIC MAY HAVE EMERGED THE WINNER."
All the papers mention Sadr's spotty track record with peace agreements. While Colin Powell basically portrayed the deal as successful political triage, the Post's off-lead quotes various U.S. officials—some of them anonymously—who are less sanguine. "The fear," says the paper, "is that Iraqis now believe they can pick the time and place of their attacks and then beat a safe retreat." An American commander in Najaf chimed in to the LAT, "This is exactly the same position we were in last time around."
The WaPo and NYT go Page One with the DoD spying allegations, and both note that the case is very sensitive because the accused analyst—named by the Post as desk officer Larry Franklin—works for Doug Feith, an Iraq hawk who recently came under fire for creating an in-house intel unit to hype the Saddam/al-Qaida connection. Of all the papers, the NYT weaves the most conspiratorial web, pointing out that Feith's former law partner now practices in Israel and also that Feith signed a paper in 1996 titled "A Clean Break," which was issued by a Jerusalem-based group that supported the ouster of Saddam. (Both AIPAC and Israel vigorously deny any espionage.)
Contrary to initial theories of human or mechanical failure, Russian investigators have found traces of explosives in the wreckage of one of the two airliners that simultaneously crashed this week, which the Post reefers and the Times fronts low. Officials suspect that two Chechen separatist women, one on each plane, detonated synchronized suicide bombs, a tactic that signals a drastic escalation of Russia's war on terror.
The WP rehashes, above-the-fold, the history of bad blood between John Kerry and his loudest detractor, John O'Neill, who made the cable circuit this month to tout his book Unfit for Command. According to archival records, Richard Nixon encouraged O'Neill to debate Kerry in 1971 and discredit him as the poster boy for the antiwar movement. While the nominal purpose of the article is to get at the two veterans' beef, TP wonders why the reporter, Michael Dobbs—like too many other journalists (as this New Republic editorial points out)—completely glosses over the spuriousness of O'Neill's claims. Worse, Dobbs repeatedly refers to O'Neill's shady political outfit, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, with nary a single caveat or footnote.
A meandering, stat-glutted NYT fronter on China's trade partners finds that the communist government has made an unlikely economic friend in Australia. Which, naturally, has political consequences: This month the Australian foreign minister said he'd be hard pressed to support the U.S. in a conflict over Taiwan. Though he was subsequently admonished for his remarks, they raised a few eyebrows, given the U.S.-Australia lockstep on Iraq, not to mention that whole longstanding Anglo-alliance thing.
Who says Republicans don't know how to throw a grand ol' party? According to a reefered NYT article, New York's host committee has raised $64 million for the GOP convention piggy bank, roughly a third more than Dems raised for their Beantown festivities. "Hundreds of companies, trade associations, and other lobbying groups are ... taking advantage of campaign finance and ethics rules that allow almost unlimited spending at conventions and the social events that surround them." To what degree they're doing that, unfortunately, the Grey Lady doesn't say.
Don't look now, but John Wayne Bobbitt is back. The 37-year-old tow-truck driver/former brothel employee, immortalized 11 years ago when his ex-wife cut off a critical part of his anatomy with a kitchen knife, was arrested in Las Vegas on Wednesday for brawling with, um, his teenage stepson. Bobbitt's attorney, Barry Levinson, has released a statement titled "John Bobbitt: Love Hurts," which is probably a first in the annals of jurisprudence. "Mr. Bobbitt's actions were undertaken solely in an attempt to diffuse a violent situation," said Levinson. "John Wayne Bobbitt discovered once again that love can indeed be painful."