The Washington Postand Los Angeles Timeslead—and the New York Timesweirdly stuffs—the coordinated series of bloody attacks in the Sunni Triangle that left 52 dead and more than 60 injured. The violence occurred as the U.S. prepared for a major invasion of Fallujah (heavy air strikes have now begun). Samarra was thrown into "turmoil," and security forces closed bridges and enforced a noon curfew in the city of 250,000, which has been under tenuous U.S. control since early last month. The NYT leads instead with a look at Iraq's fractured and worrisome political landscape, in which a large number of mutually antagonistic Shiite, Sunni, Kurdish, and secular parties are jockeying for position in advance of the January elections.
In Ramadi, a suicide bomber rammed his car into a convoy of Marines, injuring 16, while elsewhere in the Triangle insurgents detonated car bombs and stormed police stations with deadly results. The attacks are thought to be the beginning of a widespread campaign of retaliation against the upcoming offensive in Fallujah, outside of which the U.S. has massed 10,000 troops to do battle with between 1,000 and 6,000 insurgents of various allegiances. The forecast is grim: The WP predicts that both sides will suffer "heavy casualties" in the battle, while the LAT quotes an unnamed senior U.S. diplomat who says, "There will be horrific events outside Fallujah ... I would never tell you that violence in Sunni areas won't get worse when you open up a battle."
Iraq's two established Shiite parties—Dawa and Sciri—have formed an uneasy coalition in hopes that the revered Ayatollah Ali Sistani will anoint it the chosen Shiite party. Their major competition is the new (and definitely anti-American) alliance between fallen U.S. favorite Ahmad Chalabi and radical insurgency leader Moqtada Sadr. Meanwhile the minority Sunnis have threatened to boycott the elections if Fallujah is invaded. Without Sunni support, the elections could not be considered legitimate, and absent elections, experts think Iraq could spiral into chaos and civil war (see Lee Smith's recent Slate piece).
The LAT guesses at the aftermath of Yasser Arafat's death, especially about whether the Bush administration will renew its efforts to execute the "road map" now that the Palestinian leadership is expected to be more moderate and open-minded. One gauge of the administration's attitude will be whether they send a representative to Arafat's funeral. After that, there probably won't be much action until Spring—after the Cabinet shakeups determine whether Sec. State Colin Powell will be present for Round 2.
The NYT also fronts an analysis of how Bush took Florida with a GOTV effort that was much stronger than the Democrats', successfully employing 109,000 volunteers to make three million voter contacts in the days before the election (at 400,000 the 2004 margin of victory was up a ways from 537). The Dems also appear to have been badly humbugged—Florida Republicans are now claiming that their well-publicized threats to challenge questionable registrants was a "big head fake," meant to get the Kerry folks to worry about fielding thousands of lawyers instead of getting their base out to vote.
Democratic Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada will replace the ousted Tom Daschle as minority leader, a post he secured only a few hours after Daschle's concession speech. The LAT front calls Reid a "master of parliamentary infighting," smart, quick, and attentive to detail. He's also conservative, having voted for Bush's tax cuts and the Iraq War and against several environment al measures. At his side will be new Democratic whip Richard Durbin * of Illinois, a more liberal lawmaker who Reid favors for his "ability to communicate" (Reid, being a kind of Senate shut-in, is "less accustomed to being a spokesman").
A WP article asserts that Bush will not significantly alter his foreign policy during the second term. The article is not clear about what a "major shift" would entail, although presumably it would include healing relations with Europe. One former high-ranking official predicts that there will be no second Iraq, saying the first one had been "very sobering ... for the administration." Soaring budget deficits and a weary military might also limit options for further Middle East forays.
The LAT offers a look at the flawed military tribunals in Guantanamo Bay, where three months ago prisoners were first given the right to a hearing (by then, some of the 550 enemy combatants there had been imprisoned for nearly three years). The picture painted is outrageous: Of the 104 verdicts handed down by the tribunal, only one resulted in a prisoner's release. Prisoners are in almost every case accused of having close ties to al-Qaida, but the charges are so old, and exculpatory evidence so hard for the accused to access, that prisoners have no real chance to build a successful defense. In addition, the panels appear to give "little or no credence" to detainees' claims of abuse.
Too Rich: Santa Barbara police arrested a man for rape on Thursday after his alleged victim saw him on TV: He was a contestant on the popular reality show Blind Date. Investigators acquired the tape and tracked the man down immediately. ( LAT)