The New York Times leads with word that American-run prisons in Iraq will remain under U.S. control until Iraqis can meet American standards for detainee care. The U.S. military commander in charge of those prisons told the paper that Iraqi jailers will take over when they "meet the standards we define and that we are using today." No timetable's been set, but tentative estimates predict the detention facilities will be in Iraqi hands by 2006 or 2007. The Washington Post leads with post-election negotiations in Iraq among American officials and the country's three major factions. Leaders are hoping to form a government that represents Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds while stymieing any factional clashes among them. An unofficial preliminary tally indicates that Shiite Muslim parties garnered the most votes in the Dec. 15 vote, giving them a probable 120 of the 275 seats in parliament. Sunnis, many of whom have denounced the elections as rigged, are said to have won fewer votes than expected. The Los Angeles Times leads with an exhaustive account of the 20-year quarrel between the Army Corps of Engineers and New Orleans officials over how to reinforce the city's levees. Turf wars over the usual suspects—money, authority—caused bottlenecks in planning and construction. One former Orleans district president told the paper that he was so convinced the levees wouldn't be ready for an emergency that he "bought an inflatable rubber boat and stored it in the attic of his house."
Severe overcrowding in Iraqi jails has made the turnover date a hot-button issue of late, says the Times. The number of violent detainees in custody has ballooned from 8,000 last January to the current total of 14,000. This influx has caused the jails to top off at 119 percent of their ideal capacity. Backups in the inchoate Iraqi court system are said to be making things worse.
The NYT fronts an in-depth look at how the tsunami-ravaged parts of East Asia are faring one year after the devastating wave killed 181,000 people. (That's the Times' figure: An AP report in the LAT puts the toll between 216,000 and 223,000.) The progress report so far is mixed. Promises of peace in Sri Lanka have given way to clashes between government troops and separatist rebels. And while international aid has been flowing in, officials are having trouble resettling the homeless and displaced.
Also in pressing need of new homes are the evacuees of Hurricane Katrina, reports the Post below the fold. FEMA has been paying for thousands of these evacuees to live in hotels, but has set a Feb. 7 deadline for finding permanent housing. Others at risk of becoming homeless include those 105,000 evacuees who have moved into subsidized Houston apartments as part of a city-sponsored voucher program; on March 1, FEMA will cease to reimburse the city. (A whopping 250,000 displaced Gulf Coast residents relocated to Houston, at least temporarily, last fall.)
The LAT fronts experts speculating that the National Security Administration's domestic spying program may be far greater than the few hundred wiretaps without warrants President Bush has acknowledged. Although federal law prohibits it, current and former intelligence officials think that the government may be using wholesale surveillance methods like satellites to monitor the United States.
The NYT continues its investigation into how South Korean scientist Hwang Woo Suk falsified reports on his cloning research. Seoul National University has set up a panel to look into his fabrications, but the scandal has been a major blow to the prestige of South Korea and the scientific journals that published Hwang's work. The WP weighs in on Hwang as well, noting the case's place in the history of scientific hoaxes.
Above the fold the Post profiles longtime Kentucky Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers, who became the first chair of the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee two years ago. Chronicling the congressman's ties to a company that eventually received a fat contract from the Transportation Security Administration, the piece notes that Rogers' experience "illuminate[s] the intersection of politics, money and homeland security in the rush to make the nation safer since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks." And how has Rogers been so successful earmarking cash for his projects? A companion piece notes his "white hair and smooth-as-bourbon mountain accent."
A committee in Pennsylvania is investigating complaints that the state's public university system has a political climate hostile to conservatives, the NYT reports inside. Lawmakers will consider whether a law is necessary to curb political bias in the 18 state-run schools, but skepticism exists about the endeavor. And, as the Times delicately puts it, "the campaign has produced more debate than action."
O Christmas Tree ... Dan Barry provides your annual dose of ironically winsome Christmas nostalgia in the NYT. As a child in the 1960s, Barry recalls, nothing said holiday spirit like assembling the old fake evergreen, spraying it with faux snow, and trimming it "with silvery garlands that by the third year of use looked like the castoff wraps of a waterfront gun moll."