The New York Times and USA Today lead with Iraq Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's "final call" to cleric Muqtada Sadr to fulfill his promise to leave the Imam Ali shrine and disarm his militia. American forces launched new attacks on Najaf's Old City that rained bombs and artillery fire onto the area surrounding the shrine late into the night. The Washington Post leads with Sen. John Kerry's attack on Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and President Bush, calling the Republican-funded veterans a front group for the president, doing the "dirty work" of lying about the senator's Vietnam service. Kerry defended his record in Boston while speaking to the International Association of Fire Fighters. The Los Angeles Times leads with a federal appeals court ruling that software used for online file-sharing doesn't violate copyright law. This is the same court that shut down Napster in 2001, but unlike that service the new networks used to trade music and movies are "peer to peer" and don't have central computers.
A "Western official" told reporters in Baghdad that the decision to storm the shrine is up to Dr. Allawi, not the Americans. Aides to the prime minister said a strike by Iraqi troops and backed by American soldiers could come within days if the cleric does not comply. Meanwhile, American troops attacked the Baghdad slum of Sadr City. A mortar attack by militants on Najaf's police station left seven officers dead and 31 others wounded. Also on Thursday mortar fire struck the Republican Palace in Baghdad's Green Zone, which now houses most of the U.S. Embassy's staff, including U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte. At least one American was wounded; the origins of the mortar are unknown.
In a commercial shown in swing states, the anti-Kerry group charges the candidate lied about his experiences, didn't deserve his medals, and betrayed fellow veterans by protesting the war after his return from Vietnam. The NYT finds "a web of connections" linking the group to the Bush family, Karl Rove, and other Bush associates. And in addition being contradicted by Navy records, the group's accusations are also inconsistent with statements some of its members have made in recent years, the paper says. An unfavorable portrait of some of the veterans in Douglas Brinkley's biography of Kerry in addition to the senator's antiwar position after his tour of duty caused the men to turn against Kerry, according to the NYT. The television attacks have caused Kerry to spend precious campaign dollars (resources he had hoped to conserve) on TV ads to defend his record.
The Christian Science Monitor's Scott Baldauf recounts a harrowing journey into the Imam Ali shrine in Najaf he made with several other reporters to interview leaders of Sadr's militia and help two freelance journalists leave the holy site, where fighting has raged for weeks. Baldauf describes the peril they faced on the way ("two US military checkpoints, countless snipers, and hundreds of Mahdi Army fighters"); the hundreds of militiamen in the Old City ("Kalashnikovs and RPGs held aloft, stamping their feet, and chanting their devotion to Sadr"); and contradictory statements from Sadr aides, who said the cleric rejected the Iraqi government's demands, yet "everything will be solved peacefully." After an hour and a half, the journalists left with their colleagues.
The LAT previews a CIA report due to be released next month that will speculate on what Saddam Hussein's weapons capabilities might have looked like in 2008 had the United States not invaded Iraq last year. Some officials, including Congressional Democrats, have charged that the report is merely a politically motivated attempt to confuse the fact that no WMDs have been found. Former weapons inspector David Kay, who resigned in January, told the Times he wasn't sure how such an evaluation is even possible. "No one ever suggested to me in any of the discussions before I took the job, afterward, or even when I left, that [assessing Iraq's future capabilities] was a thing that should have been done."
The Post fronts a preview of the forthcoming Pentagon report on the Abu Ghraib abuses: "Abu Ghraib Probe Points to Top Brass." NoArmy officers are expected to face criminal charges, but like stories in yesterday's papers previewing this report, the WP fails tosay whether the report will recommend sanctions of any kind against top officers.
The Post also runs a profile of a former reservist who witnessed abuse at Iraq prison and has been ignored by Army superiors and members of Congress. He says military intelligence and other intelligence operatives were directing the abuse of the prisoners, and he has a pile of paperwork he says supports his claims. Included in the documents is a form from a superior commending Cpl. Charles Graner (infamous for appearing in so many of the gruesome photos) for "a fine job. ... [Y]ou have received many accolades from the [military intelligence] units here."
The papers report that the current issue of Britain's leading medical journal condemns U.S. military doctors for their role in military prisoner abuse. Steven Miles, a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota's Center for Bioethics, writes in Lancet that "government documents show that the U.S. military medical system failed to protect detainees' rights, sometimes collaborated with interrogators or abusive guards, and failed to properly report injuries or deaths caused by beatings." While a DOD spokesman tells The Wall Street Journal there is no evidence to support claims of doctors collaborating with or condoning abusers, the NYT has reported that the soon-to-be-released Abu Ghraib report will cite medical personnel who witnessed abuse or evidence of abuse and did not report it.
Apparently even 42 years in the Senate doesn't exempt airline passengers from rigorous security checks. Sen. Edward Kennedy, arguably one of the country's most recognizable politicians, told colleagues at a Congressional hearing that airline agents tried to stop him from boarding an airplane on five occasions because his name resembled an alias used by a suspected terrorist appearing on a watch list. He was finally allowed to board in each instance, and the Department of Homeland Security—after several weeks—fixed the problem. He told legislators, "I went up to the desk and said, 'I've been getting on this plane, you know, for 42 years. Why can't I get on the plane?' "