Everybody leads with cleric Muqtada Sadr apparently blinking and suggesting he'll accept U.S. and Iraqi demands that he vacate the Imam Ali shrine and disarm his militia. The vague announcement came soon after the interim Iraqi government gave Sadr hours to back down or face an assault. Sadr has made such last-minute feints before, and as the New York Timesputs it, this one comes "hedged with uncertainties." Sadr himself didn't appear; his aides made the announcement, and one of them said any cease-fire would require American troops to pull away from the shrine. Sporadic fighting continued in Najaf overnight.
The declaration also came soon after the U.S. made a big foray into Baghdad's Sadr City; two GIs and reportedly 50 Iraqis were killed. Meanwhile, militants told Al-Jazeera that they'll kill their American hostage, photojournalist Micah Garen, within 48 hours if U.S. troops stay in Najaf.
In Baghdad, a conference meant to elect members of an interim national assembly chose the assembly members but without a vote. A slate with members of the larger political parties won by default after a slate of independents withdrew, complaining that the voting rules were stacked against them. "There was no transparency," one independent told the Washington Post. "The parties didn't give us a chance."
The Los Angeles Times and Post front, and others stuff, a preview of a soon-to-be-released Pentagon report on the Abu Ghraib abuses, which apparently will implicate some middle-management intelligence officers but won't pin anything on higher-ups. "The report is going to say responsibility for Abu Ghraib stops at the brigade level," one "senior official" told the LAT.
The NYT, alone among the papers, emphasizes the report's apparent conclusion that top commanders were lax about oversight: "ABUSE INQUIRY FAULTS OFFICERS ON LEADERSHIP." But the Times doesn't say whether the report will add meat to that and recommend sanctions against top officers. Two other wider-ranging reports are due soon.Meanwhile, guards at Abu Ghraib shot and killed two prisoners yesterday after prisoners attacking another detainee starting throw rocks at guards. Apparently, the guards tried using rubber bullets first.
Most of the papers mention a senior Republican congressman's scathing farewell letter, in which he called the Iraq war "unjustified" and a "mistake." Nebraska Rep. Doug Bereuter, who serves on both the intellingence and foreign policy committees and is retiring, voted for the war. But he blames the administration for using "tenuous or insufficiently corroborated intelligence." He also smacked the administration for ignoring "many warnings" about postwar operations.
The Post gets a hold of combat records that contradict assertions by some veterans who have made an ad accusing Kerry of lying about his service. The Post notes the Bush campaign's statement that they have "no connection" to the commercial. What the paper doesn't say is that Bush has avoided criticizing the ad, despite being repeatedly asked about it. In a Slate discussion yesterday, Jacob Weisberg called the ad part of a "right-wing slime machine" aimed at creating a "phony campaign issue."
Department of deep thoughts ... The WP reveals: "HOW U.S. FARES IN IRAQ MAY SWAY SWING VOTERS."
Tuesday's TP summarized the NYT's lead about a study showing that kids who attend charter schools have lower test scores than do those who go to regular public schools. But as a blog called Eduwonk noticed, the study didn't control for race.
Back to the Abu Ghraib report ... The papers all have the same information on the coming report; most of them have the same quotes—and all from unnamed Pentagon officials. Just a thought: Could this be an officially sanctioned prerelease leak? And wouldn't it be nice if one of the papers explained the likely motivations behind it?