The Washington Postleads with Fallujah, where U.S. commanders said troops are advancing but also acknowledged that guerrillas are counterattacking. "We've got chunks of territory," a lieutenant told the Los Angeles Times, which also fronts the offensive. "But these guys are all over the place. They just keep coming at us." Troops in town came across an abandoned Iraqi hostage, who said he had been beaten daily. The military said 18 U.S. troops have been killed in the assault and 178 wounded. Another five Iraqi troops have been killed and 24 wounded. Two helicopter gunships were brought down by enemy fire; the crews survived. The LAT and New York Times lead with word, as expected, that former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, a moderate, was named head of the PLO. Despite the NYT's near-banner play, Abbas will probably be sharing power, at least in the short term—the Post counts a total of "four new leaders." Citing "administration officials," the Post says the White House is "prepared to consider" appointing a Mideast peace envoy, per Tony Blair's pleas. The NYT says Bush might call for a "major European role" in the talks. USA Today leads with breaking news on Arafat's passing: Many Palestinians are sad.
The Post's focus on Fallujah ends up obscuring the larger story: Insurgents launched major attacks elsewhere, especially in the northern city of Mosul, where they overran about a half-dozen police stations and other government buildings. The NYT says "carloads of guerrillas roamed the streets freely." The LAT calls the once-quiet city "now mostly controlled by insurgents." The U.S. is apparently launching a counter-offensive, and a third of the forces that had been cordoning off Fallujah are now on their way to Mosul.
There aren't actually many details coming from the city, no doubt a reflection of reporters' limited abilities to travel nowadays. Nobody has a story filed from Mosul.
The Post's Fallujah lead mentions in passing that since Monday, 227 U.S. troops have been seriously wounded and evacuated to Germany—102 on Thursday alone. (The military doesn't break down the numbers, but it doesn't seem like a majority are from Fallujah.)
Everybody mentions that 17 Iraqis were killed by a car bomb in Baghdad.
As for Fallujah itself, USAT, citing the Christian Science Monitor, says Marines have found "guerrilla sleepers" who were trying to pose as civilians until the heavy fighting was over. The Post offers evidence of serious squabbles between foreign and domestic insurgents in town. According to residents, 20 of the foreigners were found executed, apparently after they tried to abandon their posts.
The LAT argues on Page One that guerrillas control such a significant swath of the country that "it's unlikely the United States can establish the stability needed for credible elections in January." One defense analyst said, "There are large areas of countryside that are controlled 24 hours a day by the mujahedeen, where people do not see U.S. forces." He added, "You need to be able to replicate the density of troops now in Fallujah right across the Sunni Triangle at least and in Baghdad and we don't have enough soldiers to do that."
One Marine translator had a similar analysis, with a slightly different spin. "The enemy is like camel spiders," he told the LAT. "You try to squash 'em and they crawl to the next spot."