The Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and USA Today all lead with the mushrooming violence in Iraq, where 11 U.S. troops died Tuesday and a twelfth died Wednesday. The latest deaths put October on track to be the third-deadliest month of the war. The New York Times also leads with Iraq, but focuses on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's efforts to stem sectarian warfare by winning over influential Shiite clerics. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the latest WSJ/NBC News poll, which shows the GOP in worse political straits than the Democrats were before losing Congress in 1994.
Digging into the details of the Iraq casualty reports reveals that the numbers are actually worse than they first appear. The two deadliest months of the war for U.S. forces were April 2004 (with 135 deaths) and November 2004 (with 137 deaths). Significantly, those months were marked by full-scale offensives in Falluja and Najaf. This month, the NYT notes, the "military has not conducted any major operations," and yet at the current rate, around 120 Americans will have died by November 1. In other words, day-to-day operations in Iraq are now nearly as deadly as open warfare was two years ago—and perhaps for those on the ground, there is little distinction.
The papers see some of this month's mayhem as temporary—USAT notes that Iraqis are observing Ramadan and "religious fervor is high." (Inside, the paper describes how the chaos in Iraq is interfering with the holy month.) Still, the violence seems to be growing exponentially; the UN estimates that 100 Iraqis face death every day, the LAT reports.
Of course one major change in recent months has been the explosive rise of purely sectarian fighting. As the Post explains in a front-page companion to its lead, that change has been accelerated by the fragmentation of the two main militias—the Badr Brigades and Muqtada Sadr's Mahdi Army. Today, dozens of smaller breakaway groups conduct brutal executions, bombings, and kidnappings across the country. The Post reports the fragmentation itself was prompted, at least in part, by Sadr's decision to join the political process.
If that's the case, Prime Minister Maliki will have a tough time convincing Sadr to help rein in the militias. As the NYT reports in its lead, Maliki flew to Najaf on Wednesday to meet with Sadr and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most politically powerful Shiite cleric. Maliki didn't walk away with any new plan, yet he offered a significant concession to Sadr by releasing a supporter who had been detained for his involvement in death squads. Today's NYT lead is worth reading alongside articles the NYT and the Post ran late last month, which reported that Maliki seems to lack both the resolve and the ability to address Iraq's problems.
Back home, the WSJ's poll reveals nothing but bad news for the GOP. Less than three weeks before the election, approval of Congress has fallen to 16%, a low that matches the poll's previous record, set during the House banking scandal in 1992. Also significant is the public's 52%-37% preference for Democratic control of Congress, the widest spread the poll has ever recorded and the first time it has recorded more than half of voters favoring one party. The WSJ's Republican pollster Bill McInturff now agrees with his Democratic counterpart Peter Hart that a majority of voters see the Democrats as "a marginally acceptable alternative" to the GOP (and yes, for the Dems, that's a ringing endorsement).
While the other papers don't have juicy poll numbers to report, all front updates on the fall campaign. The LAT, which cites the WSJ's results, offers the best piece. The paper explains how Democrats have taken the fight for control of Congress deep into Republican territory. The Post heads to Kansas, where it finds nine former Republicans running for office as Democrats. The paper avoids embracing the argument it approaches: that the shift represents a significant trend among disenchanted GOP moderates. The NYT fronts an unremarkable report on Democrats' success using the Iraq war against Republicans, while USAT offers a somewhat bizarre examination of the political advertisements aired by a Twin Cities TV station owned by its corporate parent, Gannett.
The WSJ fronts one of the best stories yet written on HP's corporate spying: the personal account of reporter Pui-Wing Tam, who was a target of the company's investigators.
Also on the front page: The LAT reports that the border city of Dandong is where China's commitment to UN-ordered sanctions on North Korea will be tested. More than half of North Korea's foreign trade is with China, and much of it flows through Dandong, perched on the Chinese side of the Yalu River. The paper explains why China is reluctant to enforce sanctions too stringently: In addition to its strategic concerns about keeping the North Korean regime afloat, the country still resents the humiliation it has suffered at the hands of foreign powers and is thus reluctant to interfere in others' "internal affairs." The NYT also fronts an article on North Korea; the paper writes that, with money, those at the regime's periphery are finding it increasingly easily to escape.
The Democrats' Plans The WSJ notes that Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., sent an email to the media Tuesday explaining what Democrats will do if they capture the House: "plot to establish a Department of Peace, raise your taxes and minimize penalties for crack dealers." Although his information seems to be solid, obviously he missed some of the other major initiatives planned, such as furloughing Willie Horton again and buying new pink Cadillacs for the nation's welfare queens.