Just about everybody leads with Iraq and the follow-up on the suicide car bombing that killed at least 47 police applicants and wounded about 100. (The Los Angeles Times is the exception, making it the top non-local story.) Hours after that attack, guerrillas fired on a bus carrying police, killing 11 of them and one civilian. Also: Insurgents blew up a pipeline causing cascading blackouts that cut off power to most of the country for part of the day; eight civilians were reported killed in fighting in Ramadi; yesterday afternoon, another car bomb exploded in Baghdad, killing only the attacker; and according to the Wall Street Journal, which says the various insurgent groups appear to be cooperating, a gun battle in one part of downtown Baghdad "continued for a fourth day." The paper says "insurgents have been able to move freely" in the neighborhood. The LAT and Washington Postmention—and as far as TP sees, the New York Timesskips—one GI was killed in an attack in Mosul.
The Post focuses on the guerrillas' habit of targeting police recruits, who the police often force to wait outside, where they're easy targets. Still, there's no shortage of applicants. "There are no other jobs," said one cop.
The NYT's Edward Wong says "perhaps as disturbing as the attack itself" was the reaction of a crowd afterward. (Really?) "Bush is a dog, Bush is a dog!" many chanted; and rumors spread that it wasn't a car bomb but a U.S. missile strike. "I saw American helicopters bomb one of the cars," said one police officer. As Wong was visiting the hospital, a woman threw a shoe at his car. "Kill the Americans," she said. "Slaughter them one by one!"
The Journal and NYT both raise flags about the White House and Iraqi interim government's insistence that elections will be held by the end of January. The NYT says the "disintegrating state of security raises doubts."
An Iraqi reporter for the NYT * also tried to report from the northern town of Tal Afar, where there has been little reporting and where the military says there are 50,000 to 100,000 refugees. While GIs have "partly lifted a siege," the reporter was turned back. Speaking to residents on the phone, he was told that there are indeed foreign fighters in the city, as the military has claimed.
The Post's Steve Fainaru—usually on the sports biz beat—actually did enter Tal Afar, but as an embed. He skips the larger situation and focuses on how the unit used a sketchy informer—codenamed "The Source"—to detain about 50 Iraqis. "All of the village, they are terrorists," said The Source. "They all have the long beard. They had the beard, but some of them they shaved." Then he asked, "Is the commander going to pay me any money?" (For the record, the headline is a mystery: "IN RETAKEN IRAQI CITY, PERILS LURK.")
The LAT fronts and NYT stuffs the former secretary of the National Guard commander who purportedly penned the 60 Minutes Bush memos saying that she believes the memos on the president's slack service are forged but said real memos said essentially the same thing. "We did discuss Bush's conduct and it was a problem [the commander] was concerned about," she said. "It looks like someone may have read the originals and put that together." The former secretary, who says the commander never typed himself, told the Dallas Morning News the same thing. (The secretary also said she's not a fan of the president.)
What the NYT's memo story doesn't say: Other, undisputed documents seem to indicate Bush shirked on his service. Times columnist Nicholas Kristof points that out and says the real problem is that Bush "still refuses to come clean."
The NYT and Post add that two document experts said they talked to CBS News before the broadcast and expressed concerns that the docs weren't real.
The Post details the mass casualty catastrophe that could happen if Hurricane Ivan hits New Orleans. It's currently expected to hit 70 miles east of the city but has been veering westward. The problem is that New Orleans is below sea level and sinking because levees along the Mississippi keep sediment from spreading. "You're talking about the potential loss of a major metropolitan area," said the city's emergency manager. Experts said if it doesn't happen this time, it will one day. The city is considered so high-risk that the Red Cross refuses to set up storm shelters there, citing danger to its staff.
The Post's Ivan piece adds a political angle: Louisiana had proposed a $14 billion effort to rebuild the disappearing marshes and ultimately help protect the city, but "the Bush administration forced the state to scale down its request to $1.2 billion last year, and a Senate committee authorized $375 million of that request." One quibble: The WP cheapens—and hides—its impressive coverage with a cutesy headline, "IVAN AND THE BIG UNEASY." (And yes, those in glass houses ...)
The NYT reports somewhere in the bowels of the A-section: "C.I.A. UNIT ON BIN LADEN IS UNDERSTAFFED, A SENIOR OFFICIAL TELLS LAWMAKERS." The official detailing the charge is the CIA staffer who wrote Imperial Hubris. He said the unit is so stretched that it essentially uses temp-agents, who rotate in for 60 or 90 days. An unnamed CIA official disputed the charges—and the Times leaves it at that.
A news "analysis" inside the Post point out that Bush's rhetoric on democracy is often just that. "On the one hand, the U.S. is pulling back from democracy with needed security allies who are less than democratic," said one analyst, "while simultaneously calling for the U.S. to push for democratic transformations in other parts of the world."
And then there's Russia. As the NYT notes, Secretary of State Powell complained that President Putin's recent moves are "pulling back on some of the democratic reforms." The Times gives ample space to an anono-SOA, who agreed with Powell but added, "Our policy is not to overreact." What the Times doesn't do is mention that one sort of important official hasn't commented: President Bush.
Writing a Post op-ed, Robert Kagan wonders whether Bush will speak out and maybe even then try to do something about Putin's moves. "The question now is: Does President Bush care about the fate of democracy in Russia?"