Everybody continues to lead with Fallujah, where troops have pushed into the center of the city and as of yesterday 10 American service members and two Iraqi soldiers had been killed.
Much of the overview material comes courtesy of a press conference in which a top U.S. commander said the operation is "on or ahead of schedule." The Los Angeles Timesrelies on Marines, presumably closer to the fight, to say there's less resistance than expected.
The embed reports from Fallujah paint a more mixed picture. The Washington Postsays one neighborhood was unexpectedly quiet, except some "units reported being fired on by women and children armed with assault rifles." One sergeant told the LAT, "We've seen fire every step of the way." The New York Times' Dexter Filkins says the Marines he's with were pinned down for hours—"insurgents were firing from an entire row of buildings"—but eventually moved on and deep into town.
The WP says airstrikes and artillery in two neighborhoods appear to have "destroyed more than half of the houses." Explaining the use of heavier bombs, one Army captain said, "Usually we keep the gloves on. For this operation, we took the gloves off."
Everybody notes the above top commander's speculation that insurgent leaders skedaddled before the assault. The NYT actually talks to one Iraqi who ID'd himself as a midlevel rebel fighter and said it's more than leaders who've left. "From a military point of view, if a city is surrounded and bombarded, then the result of the battle is preordained," said the former major in the Iraqi army. "So we told half of our fighters to leave the city and the other half to stay and defend it."
A quasi-spokesman for the guerrillas told the Post, "The foreign fighters won't stay here and die. They lost the battle. They spread in other places."
The papers all stuff word that in response to the Fallujah offensive, the largest Sunni political party quit the interim government, and top Sunni clerics urged a boycott of the coming elections. The industry minister was a member of that party, but he quit it rather than resign his job, explaining, "Iraq is larger than any party."
Elsewhere in Iraq: Two GIs were killed in the northern city of Mosul, where the NYT says "government authority appears to be ebbing." In the once "pacified" city of Ramadi, the Wall StreetJournal says "hundreds of fighters took to the streets," and the U.S. responded with airstrikes. Three Iraqis were killed by a car bomb in Kirkuk. And a top government official was assassinated in Baghdad. The NYT says the military reported 130 attacks Monday, well above the purported average of 80.
The Post, alone,fronts a peace agreement on Darfur, in which Sudan promised to disarm the rampaging Janjaweed militia and to allow aid in. It's not clear Sudan will stick to the deal.
Everybody fronts the resignations of Attorney General John Ashcroft and Commerce Secretary Don Evans.Ashcroft has some health problems and Evans might run for governor in his home state, Texas. Bush praised both men. But one "longtime friend" of Ashcroft didn't buy the group hug. Ashcroft "was something to offer to evangelicals," the friend told the Post. The White House "used him, and now they're done with him and he's being tossed aside."
The papers point to former Deputy AG Larry Thompson as the leading contender to replace Ashcroft. At a recent ceremony celebrating the Patriot Act, the president told Thompson, who's now at Pepsi: "Larry, we miss you over there. Don't get too comfortable." If Thompson is appointed, he'd be the first African-American AG. The Post cites "officials" saying Thompson isn't interested.
A really ... knowledgeable chart in the Journal lists Cabinet members, putting them into such informative categories as "may stay," "may leave," "not known," and "up to Bush."
Next! In his letter of resignation, Ashcroft explained his work is done, "The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved."