All the papers welcome 2007 by leading with news from Iraq: The number of American soldiers killed has reached 3,000, and Saturday's hanging of Saddam Hussein has further worsened Sunni-Shiite tension.
The New York Times reports that the last 1,000 American deaths—the body count had reached 2,000 in October 2005—resulted from an increased success rate for roadside bombs (despite improvements in body armor) and largely affected the regular military services, because many National Guard and reserve units have been rotated out. The article also points out that 93 American soldiers have committed suicide in Iraq and that more than 20,000 have been wounded. The Washington Post notes that casualty rates will stay steady unless there is a major change in strategy, and finds that many congressional Republicans such as Kansas Sen. (and potential 2008 presidential candidate) Sam Brownback are skeptical of President George W. Bush's expected plan to send more troops to Iraq. Only the Los Angeles Times points out that at least 5,900 Iraqi soldiers and police have died in the same time period.
A leaked cell-phone video of Saddam Hussein's execution, likely filmed by a guard, showed the Shiite guards who escorted him to the gallows bullying him and the spectators—also mostly Shiite—chanting "Moqtada, Moqtada, Moqtada," a reference to powerful militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr. A must-read NYT news analysis reports on how the "cruel theater" of the execution highlights the newly open sectarianism of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government and the increasingly fearful state of the Sunni population.
The NYT lead plays up how, toward the end, the United States became Saddam's defenders: They futilely tried to get the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government not to rush the execution nor do it on a holiday, and successfully ensured that his body was returned to his home village of Auja, where there was a preliminary memorial service yesterday. Hundreds attended, and all the papers allude to a growing consensus among Sunnis—even those who are viciously anti-Saddam—that the ex-dictator's execution disrespected both justice and their community. The LAT highlights a different constituency upset by the execution: researchers, legislators, historians, and human rights activists who will not be able to fill in the many blanks left by Saddam's rule, such as hundreds of millions of missing dollars, specifics of genocide, and the details of backdoor deals he made with other countries.
The LAT and the WP report that the Somali Islamist fighters—who ceded power when they evacuated the capital city of Mogadishu last week—fled from their stronghold in the southern city of Kismayo. It is expected that the fighters, who number somewhere from 500 to 2,000 (roughly 70 are assumed to be from outside Somalia), will regroup near the Kenyan border. The NYT dispatch, which was filed before the Islamists retreated, reveals that town elders in Kismayo were insisting that the Islamists leave and spare them violence. In Nairobi, negotiations between the official, Ethiopian- and U.S-backed government and moderate Islamist leaders have reached a standstill.
The NYT, the LAT, and USA Today flag an announcement by a Hamas spokesman that they could be releasing a kidnapped Israel soldier soon, in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. Both the Palestinian negotiator—who is closely allied with President (and Hamas rival) Mahmoud Abbas—and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert downplayed the prospect of quick results.
Nine bombs exploded across Bangkok last night, killing three people, injuring almost 30, and shutting down New Year's Eve festivities. No group has claimed responsibility; possibilities include supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was recently ousted in a coup, or members of an Islamic insurgency that has been raging in southern Thailand since 2004.
A local story fronted by the WP notes that the murder rate in the D.C. area went slightly down last year, even though violent crime increased nationwide. The decline was attributed to the success of 1990s-era community programs and increasingly rigorous policing. TP wonders how the increase in violent crime will play out in the media for the upcoming year.
The WP also fronts a comparison of Hillary Clinton's and Barack Obama's Senate voting records. They agree 90 percent of the time, disagreeing on Cuba policy, ethanol, and some spending projects. TP finds the article confusing—it notes that Senate records have "a lot of material to mine, and even misrepresent," and then somewhat myopically goes into the differing votes, without really considering broader policy implications. There's a lot about how Hillary will have to explain to Iowans why she voted against ethanol, however.
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts released his year-end report yesterday and dedicated the entire thing to a constitutional crisis that threatens "the independence of the federal judiciary": stagnant pay. Judges' salaries are comparable to those of congressmen, but unlike representatives, those with lifetime appointments usually do not retire to become a well-heeled lobbyist The NYT points out that judges not only get paid less than private attorneys, but, unlike 30 years ago, now make less than law professors. In his report, Roberts recalled why former Chief Justice Warren Rehnquist chose New Year's Day as the regular release date for the relatively unanticipated report: "[I]t was difficult to get people to focus on the needs of the judiciary and January 1 was historically a slow news day."