Sectarian violence racks Iraq; Bush reassures Maliki.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Oct. 17 2006 4:29 AM

Murder Balad

The Washington Post leads locally, with Virginia voters supporting a ban on gay marriage. But it goes big above the fold with an update on the bloody sectarian violence north of Baghdad. The New York Times leads with Wal-Mart agreeing to a $1 billion deal to buy a retailer in China; the transaction would make Wal-Mart the largest foreign chain in that country. The Wall Street Journal stuffs the Wal-Mart story and tops its world-wide newsbox with a political catchall. The Los Angeles Times front page is all either local or a feature; it reefers the Iraq story. USA Today leads with in-house number-crunching that shows a 20 percent increase in hit-and-run deaths in the U.S. since 2006.

Dozens of people were killed over the weekend in Balad, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, but the situation appeared to have calmed slightly Monday. The NYT and LAT report that the town was quiet save for some mortars falling; the Post says Shiite militia members went door-to-door, telling Sunni residents they had two hours to leave town.

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Each of the papers takes a different tack with the story. The NYT leads with people in Balad criticizing the U.S. military for not doing enough to stop the bloodshed; apparently the GIs in that area have stood down, and the Iraqi police are not really standing up. The problem is that Shiites dominate the police, a fact that the NYT does not mention. The Post does, and it  quotes a Sunni police official in the area accusing the Shiite-dominated police of complicity in the attacks on Sunni citizens.

The Post (which illustrates its story, misleadingly, with a photo of a burning British military vehicle in Basra, in Iraq's far south) works in President Bush making a friendly call to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki telling him to not believe "rumors" (in spokesman Tony Snow's words) that the U.S. had privately given him a two-month timetable to shape up. Only the LAT mentions that this two-month deadline is not just a rumor; the U.S. ambassador to Iraq mentioned it a couple of weeks ago on CNN.

The LAT also stuffs the story but takes a broader look and links the violence in Balad with political tensions over legislation that could lead to the fracturing of the country along ethnic lines and a general ratcheting up of ethnic political rhetoric in Iraq.

The NYT inexplicably decides that the situation in Balad is less worthy of front-page space than the plight of Christians in Iraq. The latter is a story that has been reported for years, in this case only slightly updated with flimsy evidence that the pope's recent comments on Islam have made the situation even worse.

The NYT also visits a Republican fund-raiser in Kansas and finds, lo and behold, that people like Dick Cheney. And then puts it on the front page. This patronizing thumbsucker of a story is somewhat redeemed, however, by the inclusion of a 6-year-old girl who is obsessed with Cheney. Kids these days  ...

Wal-Mart already has 66 stores in China, and the purchase of Taiwanese-based Trust-Mart would give it more than 100 more. Interesting tidbit: In July Wal-Mart allowed employees in China to form a union; it's fought hard to keep that from happening in its U.S. stores.

U.S. intelligence officials believe that North Korea's nuclear test involved a plutonium bomb rather than a uranium one, the NYT reports. That's good news, the paper says, because it suggests that Pyongyang is not ready to test a uranium bomb, and the amount of plutonium it has is known not to be very great, enough for maybe six to 10 bombs. The bad news is that it looks like North Korea might be getting ready for a second test.

The Post fronts, and other papers stuff, news that the feds raided the house of the lobbyist daughter of Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., who is being investigated for helping out his daughter's clients. USA Today, in its cover story, does a really good investigation into the larger picture of familial influence-peddling and finds that 30 relatives of members of Congress lobbied for earmarks totaling $750 million in 2005. There are no laws against this brand of nepotism, and the story makes a good case that there ought to be.