The Washington Postleads a development that's been percolating for a few weeks: There's increasingly bad blood in Fallujah between local insurgents and foreign fighters, which has apparently escalated into a few gunfights. USA Today leads with flu vaccine makers and regulators agreeing to reallocate millions of doses of the vaccine and save it for people and areas that really need it. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a semi-local story: Under the No Child Left Behind law, 1,200 schools in the state, 13 percent of the total, are likely to get failing grades and will face penalties. The New York Timesleads with a mostly throw-away campaign check-in: "TIGHTENING RACE INCREASES STAKES OF FINAL DEBATE." But it does have a few named Republicans putting on a sad face about Bush's recent performance. "I don't mean to be disloyal to my friends, but I think the Kerry people are feeling pretty good about things," said conservative activist Gary Bauer.
The Post's lead on Fallujah is based on interviews with residents, and not just on the military's take. Many locals view the foreigners as too fundamentalist and blame them for the U.S. airstrikes. Many also oppose the foreigners targeting of civilians. Locals have been in negotiations with the Iraqi government, while the foreign fighters have opposed the talks. Speaking about Abu Musab Zarqawi, one guerrilla leader said, "He is mentally deranged, has distorted the image of the resistance and defamed it. I believe his end is near." An airstrike in Fallujah yesterday struck a popular restaurant, while it was closed, killing two night guardsmen. The military said it had intel that insurgents linked to Zarqawi were meeting there.
The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox (online) with the U.S.'s stepping-up counter-insurgency operations, including raiding seven mosques in Ramadi and arresting a top Sunni cleric and his son. As the NYT notices, accompanying the GIs were Iraqi troops from Kurdish and Shiite militias. That didn't go over well with locals. "There is a sense of sectarianism in this," said a spokesman for the jailed cleric. "The Americans are just arresting whomever is in front of them at the mosques," said another cleric. "They're behaving in a strange manner."
The NYT teases interim Prime Minister Allawi pushing to let more former Baathists, who are primarily Sunni, back into government. Shiite and Kurdish leaders are apparently opposed to the move. Allawi had wanted to actually close the de-Baathification commission outright, but instead settled on kicking the staffers out of their office and refusing to give most of them passes to enter the Green Zone.
Some good news is buried in the 13th paragraph of the NYT's Iraq wrap-up: Top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is urging a get-out-the-vote drive for all Iraqis. A statement from his office said leaders throughout Iraq should organize committees to get their neighbors registered.
The Financial Times interviews Germany's defense minister who said his country might actually send troops to Iraq if some unstated circumstances change—presumably including Sen. Kerry's job.
The Journal reiterates a report in yesterday's NYT in which the White House signaled that it mightbe willing to offer some carrots to Iran—or have European allies do so—if Teheran abandons its nukes program. Actually agreeing on specific incentives "will be a battle" inside the administration, said one official. But "we're in listening mode."
The Post fronts African American leaders in one county of Florida complaining that people registering to vote are being unfairly rejected. But the Post buries the lead. This is from the 12th paragraph: "A Washington Post analysis found nearly three times the number of flagged Democratic registrations as Republican. Broken down by race, no group had more flagged registrations than blacks. This, in a heavily GOP county where records show that the numbers of blacks added to the rolls since 2000 approximately equals the number of non-Hispanic whites." (Slate's Ann Louise Bardach recently detailed the Sunshine state's history of fraud and disenfranchisement.)
A modest comparison ... From the NYT's campaign wrap-up:
Some Democrats argued that this contest was comparable to the election of 1980, when former President Jimmy Carter saw his standing plummet after a debate in which Ronald Reagan, who had been belittled by Mr. Carter throughout the fall, was widely viewed as winning simply by exceeding the low expectations Mr. Carter had established for him. Mr. Bush's aides have resisted that historical parallel, saying a more apt comparison was Franklin D. Roosevelt's re-election campaigns in World War II.