The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with a spate of insurgent attacks yesterday in Iraq, where at least 35 people died, most when a suicide bomber plowed his vehicle into a funeral tent packed with mourners for a Kurdish politician in Tal Afar. Since Thursday, more than 100 Iraqis and 11 U.S. troops have been killed in at least 20 bombings—what the NYT terms "a surge in insurgent mayhem." The Washington Post stuffs the bombings and leads with big-time posturing in advance of this week's long-planned United Nations conference to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: Specifically, Iran is planning a diplomatic counteroffensive to match U.S. broadsides about its nuclear program. USA Today leads with a variety of measures states are considering to restrict and, in some cases, expand the rights of some 11 million illegal immigrants who live in the U.S. Related: the rising tide of "Mexicanized" jobs discussed in today's Wall Street Journal (subscription required).
The NYT's Iraq piece plays up one of the more gruesome of yesterday's bombings: At least three children were killed when insurgents rammed a U.S. convoy near where they were playing. The paper says the soldiers had been handing out candy, but, according to the WP, the camaraderie soured when troops then attempted to keep a crowd from gathering for fear of a second bomb. "No, you go!" youths yelled. "The suiciders are after you!"
In all, four suicide bombs exploded in Baghdad, and earlier in the day six Iraqi police officers were slain by more than a dozen gunmen who ambushed their checkpoint. But just as harrowing, perhaps, is a Baghdad suicide mission (mentioned in the WP and LAT) that failed because the car bomb malfunctioned: After being rescued from his burning vehicle, the would-be assassin told the U.S. military that his family had been kidnapped and that he had been forced to attempt the attack to save their lives.
The papers note that the wave of violence began after Thursday's approval of the Shiite-majority government, which has attempted to woo Sunni politicians to join its Cabinet before tomorrow's swearing-in. According to the NYT, the government plans to proceed with or without all the Sunnis and has made matters more difficult by refusing to consider appointing anyone with a Baathist past to a position of power. Two vacant ministries: Oil and Defense, which for the time being are being run, respectively, by Ahmed Chalabi and Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim Jaafari.
Better Iraq news from inside USAT: In the absence of elected Sunni leaders, the U.S. military is engaging long-sidelined tribal sheiks by funneling reconstruction patronage through them in return for their help dulling the insurgency in the Sunni heartland.
The NPT conference, which is still without an agenda, even after a year of planning, appears likely to be mired in diplomatic brinkmanship over Iran and North Korea, which, as everyone notes, heralded the opening of the talks by apparently launching a short-range missile into the ocean yesterday and calling President Bush a "half-baked man" on Saturday. Not to be outdone, the U.S., which is sending only a mid-level delegation, plans to deliver a speech today that deals with Pyongyang and Tehran in what an "official" calls "very tough language." That annoys Europeans. "The last thing we want is an inflammatory speech from either side," an unnamed senior diplomat told the WP.
USAT flags another possible nuclear flashpoint: the U.S. Senate. Majority Leader Bill Frist tells the paper that he's aiming for a "nuclear option" vote on banning judicial filibusters in time for Memorial Day: "There are times in history where you have to change either the rules or the precedent based on external behavior."
Meanwhile, the WP fronts an analysis that asks, amid chilly poll numbers for President Bush and his plan to carve out private Social Security accounts, whether the once-in-generation conservative realignment supposedly augured by November's election results is, perhaps, "a happens-all-the-time phenomenon—the mistaken assumption by politicians that an election won on narrow grounds is a mandate for something broad."
The NYT and LAT run short dispatches saying Egypt has rounded up some 200 people from a working-class Cairo neighborhood in connection with the terrorist attacks on Saturday that left seven people wounded and three attackers dead in the city. Unexplained inconsistency: According to the NYT, the Egyptian government also says Saturday's incidents were committed by a small cell of only eight people, seven of whom have already been killed or captured. Meanwhile, the LAT fronts some 1,200 prominent Egyptian judges who are demanding autonomy from Hosni Mubarak, the country's autocratic president. "It's not easy because Mubarak is ruling Egypt with martial law, and he can put anybody into jail in minutes," one judge said. "I don't say hours. Minutes."
The NYT goes inside with a story about a secret message to China's leaders that Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian, who has favored autonomy, has sent to a pro-reunification opposition party leader who's set to visit Beijing at the end of the week. The message is so secret that the Cabinet minister in charge of relations with the mainland has no idea what it contains. "He wouldn't tell me," the minister said.
Mentioned briefly in this wire piece in USAT: A day after the Pentagon released its controversial and heavily redacted report on the shooting of Italian intel agent Nicola Calipari, people discovered that the blacked-out portions were not scrubbed from the underlying text in the doc's PDF file. TP wonders how many other Pentagon recent docs may be readable this way.
Because bestiality is always funny … We know we mentioned it yesterday, but the papers all play catch-up to yesterday's WP, noting how Laura Bush stole the mic from her husband at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner on Saturday—and really killed. Online, USAT offers a much-needed transcript and the others tip their caps to the most bizarre, pandemonium-inducing bit, about the Bushes' Crawford retreat: "George didn't know much about ranches when we bought the place. Andover and Yale don't have a real strong ranching program. But I'm proud of George. He's learned a lot about ranching since that first year when he tried to milk the horse." She paused. "What's worse, it was a male horse."