The New York Times leads, and the Wall Street Journal tops its newsbox with the release of an official Pentagon report that documents a 51 percent rise in civilian casualties in Iraq over the past few months. The Los Angeles Times'stop nonlocal lead is also the report. The Washington Post leads with a test of the U.S. military's long-range missile defense system, in which a rocket successfully intercepted a rudimentary mock enemy warhead.
The report, (full text here) which was issued to Congress yesterday and covered the period from May 20 to Aug. 11, noted that attacks were 15 percent more frequent than before—an average of nearly 800 a week—and that "the proportion of those attacks directed against civilians increased substantially." It also warned that "conditions that could lead to civil war exist in Iraq, especially in and around Baghdad, and concern about civil war within the Iraqi population has increased in recent months." In April, according to the Pentagon, 80 percent of Iraqis thought the situation would improve within the next year—by June, the number was down to less than 50 percent.
The report also notes that it's not just "sectarian strife" responsible for the violence; the Sunni insurgency is still alive and kicking. The WP points out an especially grim stat: The Baghdad coroner's office received 1,600 bodies in June and more than 1,800 in July, of which 90 percent were assessed to be the result of executions. Spin was hard to find—the senior Pentagon official tasked with selling the news to reporters could only say, "It's a pretty sober report this time." (TP is not surprised the report was issued on a Friday.) The NYT notes that even President Bush has been toning down the optimism.
In other Iraq news, the NYT reports that thousands Iraqi Arabs are now trying to emigrate to the more stable Kurdish north (and the Kurds are getting very nervous). The LAT does an excellent job recapping the human and psychological toll of the past week's bloodshed, which included a bomb in Baghdad that killed 63 people on Thursday.
Yesterday, a "missile" ( WP) or a "rocket" ( NYT) launched from California knocked out a missile launched from Alaska. The invading missile was a simplified simulation of a North Korean warhead that lacked even the most basic countermeasures. The NYT and LAT flag the Air Force general in charge of the test saying, "What we are trying to do [with the tests] is under-promise and over-deliver." (See Slate's take on previous missile defense tests.)
Protests by supporters of presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador prevented outgoing Mexican President Vincente Fox from giving his final state of the nation speech. More than 150 legislators—who support López Obrador's call for a full recount of the July 2 election, which he lost by a thin margin to Felipe Calderón—stormed the dais and forced Fox, who backed Calderón, to leave without delivering his speech. Obrador, who rejected the results of a partial recount last month, is refusing to recognize a Calderón presidency and plans to form a parallel government.
The NYT flags a Labor Department report touting a small increase in employment this past month but also delivers the bad news that wages are trailing inflation.
Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz called for an independent investigation into the military's performance during the recent skirmish with Hezbollah, going against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plans for a state-run commission. Peretz, the leader of the Labor Party (Olmert heads the Kadima Party), was widely seen as caving to intraparty pressure. There are concerns that the Labor Party, a key member of in Olmert's tenuous coalition government, could bolt and spur early elections. The LAT reports that, on the other side of the fence, Palestinians are also unhappy with their government.
According to the NYT, Russia is indicating that it will fight any punitive measures taken by the U.N. Security Council in response to Iran's refusal to suspend its nuclear program, potentially throwing off U.S. plans to pursue sanctions.
In northeastern Iran, a passenger jet caught fire while landing, killing 29 of the 147 aboard.