The New York Times leads with the increasing likelihood that the Pentagon will reduce U.S. troop levels in Iraq by the beginning of next year. Fewer troops will be necessary as the security situation continues to stabilize—U.S. commanders have already shifted their focus from battling insurgents to training Iraqi police forces, with whom the Iraqi population is much more comfortable and willing to cooperate. The Washington Post leads with the recommendation by Jalal Talabani, Iraq's newly elected president, that to end the insurgency more quickly, amnesty should be given to Iraqi insurgents who killed opposing troops during the U.S.-led campaign. Talabani made clear that anyone involved in the deaths of innocent people would not be covered by the measures, nor would any so-called foreign fighters.
The Los Angeles Times leads with the quality-of-life decrease that has been affecting U.S. workers since early 2004, the first period in 14 years in which inflation has risen faster than wages. Because employers are not raising wages, workers—especially the working poor—can't keep up with the skyrocketing costs of gas and health care. USA Today leads with the Bush administration's plans to give $3M to pro-democracy groups in Iran, the first time the U.S. has sent public money there in 25 years. The funds may be intended to help foster a discontent that Iranians have already begun to feel about their theocratic government, in which a Supreme Leader has veto power over the elected parliament. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the oath of silence taken by the Vatican cardinals charged with choosing the next pope. The rule is meant to preserve the integrity of the selection process; anyone who broke the vow would face excommunication.
Initially about a quarter of U.S. forces in Iraq may be brought back, according to the NYT's senior military sources—meaning the number of troops would be reduced to about 105,000 from the current 142,000. The rest of the timeline is not clear, though no one is expecting a complete pullout anytime soon. "We're there militarily for the long haul," says Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, a Democrat and former Army officer. The insurgency is still estimated to have between 12,000 and 20,000 "hard-core fighters," despite the hundreds or even thousands of fighters killed or taken prisoner in the last year, and U.S. officials remain wary that a high-profile attack—on the National Assembly, for instance—could erase the modest progress made in recent months.
The NYT fronts a creampuff about how the Catholic Church's policies have fallen out of step with the social mores of its American members, who tend to be more tolerant about birth control, homosexuality, and the ordination of women. To support such a sweeping claim, you'd expect the reporters to interview Catholics nationwide. Instead we get quotes from three people in Massachusetts, three in Baltimore, and a mother and daughter in Los Angeles. The quotes themselves add little to the article's main idea: "Rome is important," says one Baltimorean, "but I don't think the typical American Catholic leans on that alone." The reader is told that "polls show" American Catholics to be softer on social issues, but the polls are not named, nor are their specific findings mentioned, leaving the impression that the article was slapped together in a couple of hours so the NYT could make its pope-coverage quota.
The WP lead doubles as an interview with President Talabani, who said he opposes those who would substitute Islamic law for existing civil codes covering family matters like marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Talabani also said that new efforts to expunge all former Baathists from Iraq's government should concentrate on punishing those who actually committed crimes during Saddam's reign. As for the U.S. invasion, Talabani said memorably: "The war was not the best way, but it was the only way to liberate Iraq."
USA Today goes front and center with a critical look at the COPS program, which in the 1990's famously aimed to put 100,000 more officers on U.S. streets—and then met that goal, at least officially. But according to recent audits by the Justice Department, as well as several university studies, the number of new officers hired by the $10B grant program fell short of its goal by 30 percent and hired only 82,000 new cops. Meanwhile, much of the money intended for new hires was badly misspent by police departments around the country.
Meanwhile, back in Washington, the LAT observes that the Republican leadership has begun to distance itself from Tom DeLay, who is accused of several ethical breaches, including taking money and plane tickets from lobbyists. Sen. Rick Santorum said DeLay should "come forward and lay out what he did and why he did it," while Rep. Chris Shays of Connecticut simply called for his resignation as majority leader: "Tom's conduct is hurting the Republican Party, is hurting this Republican majority, and it is hurting any Republican who is up for reelection."