Bracing for Disaster

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Aug. 29 2005 3:53 AM

Bracing for Disaster

The Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times lead with Iraqi politicians finally finishing a draft constitution Sunday despite objections from Sunni negotiators, who publicly denounced the document. The national referendum on the constitution takes place Oct. 15, and many fear a new, extended period of political turmoil among Iraqis. Some Sunnis said they expect insurgent violence to swell.

USA Today leads with the mandatory evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people from New Orleans as the city prepares for a "160-mph 'monster' " of a hurricane, Katrina. An advisory issued early Monday reported that conditions on the Gulf Coast were beginning to deteriorate and that in addition to high winds and flooding, scattered tornadoes are possible.

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The papers give a little ink to the content of the draft constitution, mostly focusing on the conflict surrounding it. Shiites and Kurds involved in the writing beseeched the public to vote for the document in the fall referendum, while Sunni politicians said they would gather enough support to vote it down. Among their objections is a provision creating federal regions that they say will divide the country. Some Shiites and Kurds said they might consider other changes to the document before it goes to a vote—the LAT quotes a Sunni negotiator as being hopeful about that possibility, but the NYT calls it "unlikely."

The Wall Street Journal (subscription required) has the translation of Iraq's draft constitution online; TP had trouble finding the text on other papers' sites (the LAT does have a partial breakdown of provisions).

Early-morning reports  that indicate Hurricane Katrina may hit land at around sunrise Monday. The storm, a possible Category 5, looks to be one of the strongest known to strike the United States. A storm surge that may reach three stories tall threatens to topple the levees and canals that normally protect New Orleans from flooding. Some predict that the hurricane could turn New Orleans into a lake of toxic chemicals, human waste, and coffins. Sixty percent to 80 percent of the city's homes could be destroyed.

The city's mayor called it a "once-in-a-lifetime event," and residents who had no place to go fled to the Superdome arena, a makeshift shelter to tens of thousands. The LAT enunciates the difference between those who got out and those who stayed: The latter, for the most part, were the city's poor, while others had the means to escape.

Crude oil futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange reached $70.80 Sunday night, up $4.67 from Friday. Refineries and oil rigs on the Gulf Coast were shut down, and employees evacuated, shrinking oil output and creating more anxiety about fuel. Gasoline prices are expected to climb as the storm limits refinery capacity, what the WSJ says many are calling "a worst case scenario for the U.S. energy industry."

As the Post notes in a front-page analysis, despite all the focus and resources the White House has devoted to the Middle East, the fate of events in two crucial areas is increasingly more immune to Washington and instead is up to local factions. Israel has withdrawn from the Gaza Strip, and a constitution draft has been completed in Iraq—and now the future of Gaza and the implementation of the constitution will have less to do with the Bush administration than before. The NYT focuses on lowered expectations, announcing in a headline, "Smaller Goals for U.S. in Iraq."

A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up outside a bus station in southern Israel Sunday morning, injuring 10. It was the first such attack since Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Also on Sunday, a Reuters Television soundman was killed and a cameraman with him was wounded when the two were hit by gunfire in Iraq. An Iraqi police report indicated that American troops shot the two; U.S. officials said they are investigating.

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