The Washington Postleads with word that Kurdish militia in the tinderbox city of Kirkuk have "abducted" hundreds of local Arabs and Turkmen and shipped them off—without charges or judicial process—to Kurdish-run prisons. The men—apparently a mix of suspected insurgents and (increasingly) civilians—were occasionally snatched on joint U.S.-Kurdish patrols and secretly jailed, "sometimes with the knowledge of U.S. forces." The New York Timesleads with a suicide bombing outside a Kirkuk bank that killed 23 and wounded about 80. Most of the casualties were retirees waiting for their pension checks. USA Todayalso leads with violence in Iraq but focuses on a perceived trend: Many commanders and other observers think there are a growing number of foreign jihadists, particularly Saudis. They point to the huge number of suicide bombings, an average of 30 per week. That compares with one a week in January 2004.
The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox (at least online) with the Senate Appropriations Committee taking money from airport-screening and first-responder kitties and plowing it into border control. The committee allocated $2.33 billion for passenger screening, $335 million below the White House's request. Funding for first responders was pegged at $3.49 billion, about $492 million below current levels. The Los Angeles Timesleads with Democratic legislators in Sacramento crying uncle on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed penny-pinching budget; no extra money will be included for schools.
The Post says the Kurdish kidnappings were detailed in what was supposed to be a hush-hush State Department memo, which decried the "concerted and widespread initiative" by Kurdish forces "to exercise authority in Kirkuk in an increasingly provocative manner." The memo, which as usual the Post keeps from readers, goes on to say, "Turkmen in Kirkuk tell us they perceive a U.S. tolerance for the practice while Arabs in Kirkuk believe Coalition Forces are directly responsible."
Read far enough down the Post's kidnapping piece, and the suggestions of U.S. complicity begin to look murky:
The U.S. military acknowledged picking up detainees in joint raids with the Kurdish-led police and handing them over. But military officials said the secret transfers were ordered by individual Iraqi police commanders. ... Last month, U.S. officers took a list of missing Arabs and Turkmens to the Kurdish parties and asked for their release.
Still, the Post says hundreds of the men are still MIA. And the U.S. continues to work with the unit responsible. "That's basically the unit we can trust the most," said one commander.
In other Iraq developments, five policemen were killed northeast of Baghdad. And three GIs were killed, one in Baghdad and two in the Anbar province. The Post adds that a total of 24 bodies were discovered at two sites in the province. Some had been beheaded.
The LAT fronts even more prewar British memos. There are no shockers, but that doesn't mean the docs aren't fun to read. "The U.S. has lost confidence in containment," writes one adviser in March 2002. "Some in government want Saddam removed. The success of [the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan], distrust of U.N. sanctions and inspection regimes, and unfinished business from 1991 are all factors." Two weeks later, another aide wrote, "It sounds like a grudge between Bush and Saddam." The LAT crows it has the "full text of the six new documents"—and then doesn't post them.
The papers allnotice that bank J.P. Morgan Chase has agreed to pay $2.2 billion to Enron investors who allege that the bank aided and abetted their fleecing. The move comes days after Citibank agreed to a $2 billion settlement.
Everybody mentions that an independent panel investigating the U.N. oil-for-food scandal will now take another look at Secretary-General Kofi Annan after an e-mail showed up—in yesterday's NYT—suggesting that Annan knew more than he has said about a U.N. contract awarded to a company Annan's son worked for.
The NYT and WSJ mention that the Bush administration official who tinkered with a global-warming report—and resigned quietly last Friday night—has been hired by ExxonMobil, which has distinguished itself with its hard-line opposition to global-warming initiatives.
A front-page Post piece notices that President Bush has been hanging at the White House with some dissidents, including one from Russia. The WP notes that so far dissidents "from allies such as Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have not won Oval Office invitations." An Uzbek opposition leader is scheduled to be in D.C. in a few weeks; he hasn't heard back yet on his request for QT.
The WSJ notices that for all the administration's talk about how John Bolton, the currently blocked nominee for U.N. ambassador, is needed to reform the institution, neither the White House nor Bolton has offered many details. "The U.S. is essentially playing possum on the entire reform question," said one prof. It's a good piece—except:
"The U.S. agenda on reform is not to constrain the U.N. or put it in a box because of its problems," said a senior State Department official. "Our purpose is to revitalize the U.N. so it can better carry out the missions outlined in its charter."
Such a bold statement. No wonder the official was granted anonymity.