The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times both lead Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's warning to the Palestinian leadership that if the renewed violence in the Gaza Strip is not brought under control, Israel may take major military action in that territory. Mahmoud Abbas, newly sworn in president of the Palestinian Authority, sought to calm tensions by directing the Palestinian Liberation Organization to release a statement demanding that militant groups halt all further attacks. The Washington Post leads a salutatory to future Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whose confirmation hearings begin tomorrow. The article paints a favorable portrait of Rice, suggesting that she is a both a principled leader and a skilled diplomat (and perhaps even a bit liberal-minded?). Both USA Today and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead U.S. raids against insurgents in Mosul, where the election's viability has fallen into doubt after "mass resignations by frightened poll workers and police."
At least 17 people were killed across central and northern Iraq yesterday, and officials agree that the violence is unlikely to abate before Jan. 30. The insurgents are determined to undermine the elections by intimidating voters, election workers and candidates: one Shiite candidate narrowly survived an armed ambush yesterday in Baghdad—the second attempt on her life. Deputy SecDef Paul Wolfowitz said the security environment is worse than it was before the elections in Afghanistan, and that it would be impossible to provide "absolute security" against the "extraordinary intimidation that the enemy is undertaking."
Both the WP lead and an NYT front explore the big changes Condi Rice is in for. As head of a prominent cabinet department, Rice will no longer be a go-between, but a power player with major autonomy and a much-enhanced ability to influence foreign affairs. She will likely focus on healing the U.S.'s international reputation by boosting diplomacy efforts in Europe (she likes to meet her counterparts in person, notes the WP, whereas Colin Powell—the least traveled SecState in 30 years—preferred the phone). High on her list will also be: Peace in the Middle East, democracy in the Middle East, expanded free trade policy, and fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The NYT fronts an interesting and in-depth account of how the Ukraine's secret intelligence service prevented a bloody confrontation between state troops and many thousands of protesters gathered in Kiev after the first failed presidential election. Many of the agency's highest-level officers took steps to neutralize the powers of then-President Leonid D. Kuchma and his chosen successor Viktor Yanukovich, whose underlings had orchestrated a fraudulent victory for the candidate. By intervening at high levels, and by exposing the fraud to the public, the intelligence officials essentially paved the way for an opposition party victory.
The WP fronts a personal look at a Texas man who worked for a Halliburton subsidiary driving trucks in Iraq. Since his convoy was attacked by militants "on at least five out of every six runs," the man returned from Iraq highly traumatized by the violence. And though he'd expected to be making three times the money he earned driving in the U.S., it turned out that the pay difference was negligible. Sadly, the article stops short of asking why the man—and presumably many others like him—was duped into risking his life (68 of the company's employees were killed) for corporate profit.
The LAT's Column One is an analysis of whether and how much the Iraq elections will improve the situation there. It depends in part on voter turnout: if enough of Iraq's minority Sunnis vote, questions of legitimacy may be avoided. But the article offers little cause for optimism, saying that no one expects Sunni turnout to be above 50 percent, and that one Bush official would consider 25 percent a good showing, while a total of only 5 or 6 percent would be "more worrisome." Another post-election problem will be the issue of U.S. troop withdrawal: most Iraqi candidates have promised to set a rigid timetable for a pullout, while the Bush administration has insisted that withdrawal can only happen when Iraq is able to handle its own security.
Another LAT front reports on the disturbing news that hundreds of thousands of women in poor countries could lose their jobs because an international system of import quotas is expiring—meaning that wealthy countries will not be compelled to buy manufactured products from any specific poor country. In many of these nations, the article says, "women's paychecks have been a driving force behind significant gains in living standards, health indicators and educational levels," and, especially in Africa, they've helped slow the spread of HIV-AIDS.
Cross-Marketing Watch: Universal Studios has announced plans to open a live Fear Factor show at its theme parks. The show, which is based on the popular television program where contestants perform dangerous and/or disconcerting stunts, will run several times a day, recruiting audience members who don't mind being "hung from harnesses and challenged to eat unappetizing concoctions."