The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and USA Todayalllead with President Bush playing down talk of a draw-down next year in Iraq, calling it, interestingly, "speculation based upon progress that some are seeing in Iraq." The president made the comments while responding to an anti-war protester who has been camping outside his ranch demanding a meeting. Her son died fighting in Iraq. The Washington Poststuffs the president's comments—it led with similar play-down talk yesterday. Instead, the paper leads with Republican super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff's indictment for fraud. Abramoff and some partners bought a Florida casino cruise line with loans backed by an apparently bogus wire transfer. The case isn't connected to Abramoff's work with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, nor to the other federal investigation into the lobbyist's work. But the Post does say that court documents suggest "Abramoff leveraged his connections with members of Congress to advance" the deal. The Wall Street Journal adds that Republican Rep. Bob Ney "twice spoke on the House floor to express support for the sale."
TP has been wondering if the papers are taking the talk of reductions a parse too far. But the LAT in particular makes a fairly strong case that administration players are at least changing their emphasis. As that Times notes, one of the top commanders in Iraq recently told the paper that his recommendation for a draw-down of troops could "conceivably be as much as 20 percent to 25 percent following the elections."
Yesterday President Bush said, "I think [talk of troop reductions] were rumors. I think they're speculation."
The above commander seems to have been dealing in something more than rumors. A front-page analysis in the Post mentions that "Pentagon plans call for increasing the 17-brigade U.S. troop presence this fall by a brigade or two, or about 10,000 troops, before bringing it down to about 15 brigades next spring and possibly to about 12 brigades by the end of 2006."
One possible explanation for the seeming White House-Pentagon tension: The military is so stretched it feels it has to draw down forces. "By the end of this coming summer we can no longer sustain the presence we have now," one retired general told the Post. (Slatecontributor Philip Carter, who has returned to active duty and is heading to Iraq himself, also recently asserted the logistical inevitability of a draw-down.)
Everybody mentions but nobody fronts a top Shiite leader saying that the Shiite, oil-rich south should be granted autonomy. Such a move wouldn't thrill Sunnis—who live mostly in oil-poor central Iraq. As the Post notes, the call was followed by rallies of a few thousand of the leader's supporters. Iraq's current prime minister, a Shiite, rejected the call. One Marine was killed in fighting, as were a half-dozen Iraqis.
Knight Ridder comes across an Iraqi internal audit concluding that as much as $1 billion appears to have been skimmed off the top from the Iraqi Defense Ministry. Of the ministry's $1.3 billion budget, the audit found suspicious contracts adding up to $1.27 billion. Apparently half went to just one guy, a currency trader. "There's no rebuilding, no weapons, nothing," said one general who worked in the ministry. "There are no real contracts, even."
KR's piece says some "U.S. military officials" blamed the former CPA for forcing the Iraqi government to hire unknowns, particularly exiles. The NYT recently had a piece on the Defense Ministry's general ineffectiveness but didn't get into corruption. TP will be curious to see if the top papers follow up on KR's scoop.
Speaking of follow-up, TP hasn't seen much on the purported sacking of the former mayor of Baghdad. Why? Do the papers not think a mini-putsch is newsworthy? Or was the situation more complex the Times originally suggested?
A stuffed Post piece says the U.S. is likely to give Iran's new president a visa to visit the U.N. But the paper buries the lead: The reason he's getting the visa is that, as one "U.S. official" put it, "there is relative certainty" he was not one of the captors in the U.S. Embassy hostage-taking.
The LAT fronts word that just days after Gov. Arnold announced his candidacy for California's top office, Schwarzenegger's tabloid publisher buddy and business partner agreed to pay a woman $20,000 in return for her not talking to anybody else about her apparent affair with Schwarzenegger. One of the tabloids the publisher owned, the National Enquirer, ran a story back in 2001 alleging a seven-year affair with the woman. After Schwarzenegger entered the race and the deal was signed, the publisher never ran any stories about her. In other words, some skeptical types might conclude that the $20k effectively operated as hush money.
However you want to interpret that ...
Of course, none of that means there was really an affair. Long ago, the woman in question told a Schwarzenegger biographer the quality time she and Arnold spent together wasn't adultery, it just consisted of ..."outercourse." Or as the woman's lawyer tells the Times: "She maintained it was more of a massage situation—however you want to interpret that."