The Washington Postgoes across the top with the president's joint appearance with Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki, during which they unveiled yet another security plan for Baghdad, this one involving some unclear number of additional GIs. The Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal'sworld-wide newsbox, and New York Timeslead with the latest from Lebanon, where four U.N. troops were killed when an Israeli airstrike hit their post. U.N. Chief Kofi Annan asserted the attack was the result of "apparently deliberate targeting." Israel's Foreign Ministry apologized, said Annan's claim was bogus, and promised to investigate. With another dozen Lebanese reported killed—bringing the total to about 400—Israel agreed to let aid in via at least air and sea.
USA Todayfronts both Lebanon and Baghdad but leads with a survey concluding that local emergency preparedness systems are still behind the eight ball. "Most" of the cities in the survey—which was done by the national mayors' lobby—said their firefighters and police still can't communicate with each other, and just 20 percent have gotten federal funding to help with the problem.
President Bush labeled the violence in Baghdad "still terrible" and promised some unspecified number of troops, extra equipment for Iraqi forces, and—the coup de grâce—the creation of the "Joint Committee to Achieve Iraqi Self-Reliance."
Last week, the U.N. said that recently about 100 Iraqis have been killed daily, mostly in Baghdad. One GI was reported killed yesterday in the capital.
About 4,000 GIs overall will be heading to Baghdad, or it "could total in the thousands," or just 800 will be moved. One portion of the plan everybody agrees on is that about 400 military police will assigned to hang with Iraqi forces in Baghdad. With few and perhaps no new troops coming from outside Iraq, the plan is to take the MPs from Anbar province, basically the insurgency's home base (that is, apart from Baghdad).
Of course, Iraq's government announced a security plan six weeks ago to great fanfare. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said the president simply unveiled "Phase II." Except the NYT notes that "other officials said there was no Phase II in the previous plan."
The LAT plays down the new Baghdad plan and instead focuses on the tension coming from Maliki's recent criticism of Israel. Maliki is scheduled to speak today in front of Congress, except some Democrats have decided he first needs to do a row-back. "Unless Mr. Maliki disavows his critical comments of Israel and condemns terrorism, it is inappropriate to honor him with a joint meeting of Congress," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
The NYT's lead announces: "ISRAEL TO OCCUPY AREA OF LEBANON AS SECURITY ZONE." The headline is hung on comments by Israel's defense minister that are mushier than the Times' big play suggests. "You can't draw a single line that will become a permanent line along the entire zone," the minister said on Israeli radio. "Unless there is a multinational force that will enter and take control, we will continue to fire against anyone who enters the designated strip."
This morning, Haaretz put a knife in the Times' lead, noting that the minister's office "said that what he meant was not a permanent Israeli presence, but a kilometer-wide strip north of the border that Hezbollah operatives would be forbidden to enter following the IDF's withdrawal. The ban would be enforced by firing from IDF positions within Israel." Sound like an occupation to you?
About 100 rockets hit Israel, with one killing a 15-year-old Druse girl. Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened missile strikes "beyond Haifa." And another Hezbollah official said the group was surprised by Israel's response to the kidnappings and had only expected "the usual, limited" response.
The NYT, WP, and LAT all file from a hospital near the border with Israel—"a world in which hope is just out of reach"—where about 1,500 refugees are camped out, mostly in the basement and most too poor to get a ride north. With "no doctors, food or clean water," the Post labels it a "Guernica-like tableau of suffering."
The Journal and NYT both have frontpage pieces looking at what seems to be Israel's slow-going ground campaign. The WSJ emphasizes the strategic dangers of broadening the offensive: If Israel wants to clear out a lot more territory, it will have to send in far more troops, which might be exactly the kind of imagery Hezbollah wants.
According to early-morning reports, eight Palestinians, including two militants, were killed in an airstrike in Gaza.
The WP and NYT front the Senate voting 65-to-34 to make it a federal crime to take a pregnant girl across state lines for an abortion without telling her parents. The House passed a similar bill last year. The Times suggests the bill went to a vote now so some anti-abortion senators could "make political amends after voting last week to support expanding federal research using embryonic stem cells."
The NYT's Tom Friedman files from Damascus and says the U.S. should be trying to buy Syria off. "It is the most important strategic play we could make," says Friedman, "because Syria is the bridge between Iran and Hezbollah." Instead, writes Tom:
We've withdrawn our ambassador from Damascus, and the U.S. diplomats left here are allowed to meet only the Foreign Ministry's director of protocol, whose main job is to ask how you like your Turkish coffee.
P.S.: All that might be a surprise to those who glanced at Saturday's NYT, which for some reason gave royal Page One treatment to a halfhearted, third-party attempt at wooing: "U.S. PLAN SEEKS TO WEDGE SYRIA AWAY FROM IRAN."