Everybody leads with the tumult in Iraq, where about 140 people have been killed since Wednesday's bombing of a Shiite shrine. In one incident, gunmen at a fake police checkpoint executed 47 people who had just come from a protest against the bombing. Iraq's largest Sunni religious organization said 184 mosques have been attacked, 10 clerics killed, and another 15 abducted. Also, seven GIs were killed in two roadside bombings. Meanwhile, the main Sunni coalition pulled out of political negotiations, complaining that the government and the Shiites now in charge are at the least turning a blind eye to reprisal attacks. The government declared a daytime curfew for central Iraq today.
It's hard to get a handle on where things stand, let alone where they're heading. The Washington Posttalks of "bands of roving gunmen" in some neighborhoods. The New York Timessays "everything felt different on Thursday morning." One Shiite paper gave a flavor of that in a front-page editorial: "It's time to declare war against anyone who tries to conspire against us, who slaughters us every day. It is time to go to the streets and fight those outlaws."
And yet, the Post says that with residents hunkered down, "Baghdad was quiet most of the day." The NYT notes that the "demonstrations were mostly peaceful, and much of the violence seemed to be tapering off Thursday."
As for how the homegrown police and military are responding, the NYT says "Iraqi forces did little to contain the violence. In at least one case in Baghdad, Iraqi witnesses said that policemen joined in attacking a mosque."
Or as U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch told reporters in Baghdad, "We're seeing a confident, capable Iraqi government using their capable Iraqi security forces to calm the storm that was inflamed by a horrendous, horrific terrorist attack yesterday against the Golden Mosque in Samarra." (The Los Angeles Timesflags that bit of hard-nosed analysis.)
Meanwhile, U.S. forces are keeping a low profile and, as the NYT puts it, "watching and waiting to see what the next 48 hours would bring."
That has Sunnis enraged. "The Americans also abandoned us extremely," said one Sunni politician. "They could have put some of their vehicles to protect the mosques—they have the forces to do that. How does a civil war start? It starts like this."
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal focuses on Shiites ticked at the U.S. because of the nudging to form a unity government: "It triggered deep resentment across a broad swath of Shiite society, with many Shiites complaining that they won the election and should be free to form a government without U.S. pressure."
An LAT analysis says it's not really about political leaders anymore. As one Iraqi editor put it, these days "the clerics are the kingmakers, the peacemakers and the war-makers."
The WP off-leads and the NYT fronts the Dubai-owned company that's buying leases to manage a few U.S. ports saying late last night it will "not exercise control" immediately over the ports. The announcement came a few hours after Karl Rove floated a face-saving delay. "What is important is that members of Congress have time to get fully briefed on this," Rove told Fox News.
The WP fronts the White House's "lessons-learned" report on Katrina. It focuses on structural problems, reshuffling responsibility, and it doesn't name names. "Unfortunately, the one thing that the government tends to be the best at is red tape," said homeland security adviser Frances Fragos Townsend. "But what we know is when we're fighting a deadly hurricane or a terrorist threat, red tape can no longer be tolerated or accepted." The NYT quotes a series of independent analysts who were not particularly impressed by the recommendations. Townsend spearheaded the report; she was also one of the federal officials involved in responding to Katrina.