The New York Timesleads with further proof of how Islamic militants are operating freely in northern Pakistan, resulting in what the paper calls "virtually a Taliban mini-state." In September, the Pakistani government signed a peace agreement in North Waziristan, but militants are "openly flouting" the terms of the accord, which critics say is flawed because it lacks any sort of enforcement mechanism. USA Todayleads with word that outgoing United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan will issue several strong critiques of President Bush's administration in a farewell speech he will deliver today at the Truman Presidential Museum in Missouri.
The Los Angeles Timesleads with a look at the intense competition in the Republican party over who will inherit the Bush family's powerful "fundraising and vote-getting machine." Any presidential candidate who gets it will automatically have an advantage in the coming race for the GOP's nomination. The two leading candidates are Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Although aides close to President Bush seem to prefer McCain, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush seems to be leaning toward Romney. The Washington Postleads locally but off-leads the recent outbreaks of food-borne illnesses and says they have exposed the ineffectiveness of federal and state regulations designed to guarantee food safety. Produce places a particular challenge because it is often eaten raw, and at the basic farm level self-regulation seems to be the norm. The Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide newsbox with a catch-up from the last hours of Congress, where, among other things, lawmakers approved, and Bush signed, a funding bill to keep the government running until Feb. 15.
Islamic militants are using northern Pakistan to increase their ties with al-Qaeda and train suicide bombers as well as foreign fighters. All of this adds up to training that could easily translate into increased violence in Afghanistan next year. One of the clearest signs of al-Qaeda's influence in the area is the rising number of suicide bombings, a tactic that was not common before before 2001. One tribal leader says there are so many recruits willing to become suicide bombers that volunteers are sent home and told to wait their turn.
Annan has never kept secret his dislike for several of Bush's policies, including the war in Iraq, but the speech is unusually tough, and, according to experts, unprecedented in the history of the United Nations. Annan will talk about the importance of "respect for human rights and the rule of law" and will warn that when the United States "appears to abandon its own ideals and objectives, its friends abroad are naturally troubled and confused." Referring to the war in Iraq, Annan will say the world only considers military action legitimate when "it is being used for the right purpose … in accordance with broadly accepted terms." The Post publishes an excerpt of the speech in its op-ed page.
All the papers front the death of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator whose government killed or disappeared more than 3,200 people. He was 91 and died of complications from a heart attack he suffered last week. Pinochet came into power after a U.S.-supported coup on Sept. 11, 1973, that toppled the elected government of Marxist President Salvador Allende. Pinochet then proceeded to lead the country for 17 years in a brutal dictatorship where approximately 29,000 people were tortured. Some in Chile and abroad supported Pinochet and credited him for instituting successful economic policies.
Almost immediately after Pinochet's death was announced, thousands took to the streets in Santiago to celebrate the former dictator's death. A smaller crowd of supporters also gathered outside the hospital to mourn his death. The celebrations turned violent last night, as confrontations led to wounded police officers and some demonstrators were arrested. In an op-ed piece in the LAT, Marc Cooper notes Pinochet died on International Human Rights Day.
The WP fronts an extensive look at how Sunni Muslims in some of Baghdad's traditionally mixed neighborhoods are increasingly being targeted by Shiite militias and are forced to flee. The story is not new, of course, but the Post does a good job of illustrating how the problem is getting worse and the increasing desperation of people who feel they have no choice but to run away as they see more of their neighbors disappear every day.
The NYT fronts a look at how the Iraqi government is not spending billions of dollars in oil revenues that could be going to build the country's infrastructure. There are several reasons for the lack of spending, but the Times points to "a strange new one" amounting to government officials being so confused and scared about anticorruption measures they are reluctant to sign new contracts. Although Iraq's total capital budget in 2006 was approximately $6 billion, only about 20 percent of that money has been spent.
The LAT reefers and everybody mentions Iraqi President Jalal Talabani strongly criticized the Iraq Study Group report yesterday. He called it "dangerous" and said several of its plans threaten the country's sovereignty. He also accused the report of being condescending toward Iraq's people. "They are dealing with us as if we are an emerging colony, doing whatever they like," he said.
The NYT fronts the latest developments in the murder of a former Russian spy in London, where the mystery has now spread to Germany. Investigators say they found traces of polonium-210 around Hamburg. A Russian businessman, Dmitri V. Kovtun, flew from Russia to Germany and then to Britain, where he met with former spy Alexander Litvinenko. Kovtun is in the hospital, apparently sick from exposure to radiation, although his health status is unclear. German authorities said they have reason to believe Kovtun "might have brought the substance with him outside his body to Hamburg, and that he may not only be a victim but also be a perpetrator." German officials are frustrated with Russia because officials have not responded to its request to speak with Kovtun. Tensions had already risen between Russia and Britain, but these new revelations raise the possibility the murder will strain relations between Russia and the European Union as a whole.
Everybody notes the crowds keep on increasing at the protests by Hezbollah and its allies in Beirut, as yesterday hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered to demand an end to Lebanon's current government. The leaders of the protests noted time is running out before further steps are taken. Although no rumors have been confirmed, there are indications a campaign of civil disobedience will now follow. Meanwhile, the NYT emphasizes the country's prime minister, Fouad Siniora, told reporters he doesn't understand "what is this great cause that is making them create this tense political mess and stage open-ended demonstrations."
The Post fronts, and everyone goes inside with, Sen. Barack Obama's first trip to New Hampshire, where he was followed by sold-out crowds and a large group of reporters. He still hasn't announced whether he will run for president, and a final decision isn't expected until January. For now, the hype around a possible candidacy keeps building, and everyone quotes Obama saying he is "suspicious of hype." Slate's John Dickerson says it is a smart move for Obama to try to "temper expectations for his candidacy. If voters stay in such a deep state of affection, they may get disappointed some day when he doesn't walk on water."
When the CIA refused to grant a request from the State Department for the names of Iranians who could be sanctioned for involvement in a nuclear-weapons program, the agency turned to Google for answers, reports the Post on Page One. The CIA said it needed to protect its information, but the State Department wanted to push for sanctions, so it asked a junior Foreign Service officer to search for terms such as "Iran and nuclear." It's easy to make fun of the plan, of course, but interestingly enough, European officials also wanted to protect their most sensitive names but ended up coming up with a nearly identical list, even though they insist Google was not used.