The New York Timesleads with news that the head of Saddam Hussein's half-brother was severed from his body during yesterday's early morning execution. Although Iraqi government officials insist the decapitation was accidental, it sparked protests among Sunni loyalists who said it was a deliberate act of revenge by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government. The Washington Postleads with word that during the State of the Union address next week President Bush will say having a balanced federal budget is one of his priorities. The Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide newsbox with the way in which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates "hit the road" to convince world leaders that success in Iraq is the best way to contain Iran's growing influence in the region.
USA Todayleads with a look at how gasoline prices are declining, a trend that is likely to continue in the coming months. At the same time though, the paper makes clear the cost at the pump will not fall as sharply as oil prices. Gas prices are down 4 percent so far this year, while the cost of a barrel of oil has decreased more than 13 percent. The Los Angeles Timesleads with California state officials and farmers announcing that record cold temperatures had devastating effects on crops. Oranges seem to be the most affected, but a variety of other fruits and vegetables were also destroyed. The full extent of the damage is not yet known, but officials say it will be greater than in 1998 when cold temperatures destroyed $700 million worth of produce.
By all accounts it seems the Iraqi government took extra measures yesterday to prevent a repeat of the sectarian taunts that met Saddam Hussein before his execution. A video shown to a small group of journalists seems to back the government's assertion that there were no outbursts from those who witnessed these hangings. But the fact that officials waited almost 13 hours to show the video seems to suggest they were trying to figure out how to deal with the decapitation. The LAT says the video that was shown to Iraqi journalists did not have the entire execution and some have expressed doubts of what actually took place. The NYT, on the other hand, says, "The video showed his head being snapped off as the rope went taut."
The WP also fronts the story, and the rest of the papers reefer it, but the NYT has by far the best account of the hangings. Iraqi officials say the decapitation happened because they made a mistake when they calculated how high the drop had to be in order to snap the prisoner's neck. The NYT notes that at least one United States Army manual reveals that Iraqis used too much rope. As usual, several countries and organizations around the world, including, as the Post for some reason finds it necessary to point out, the Moroccan Human Rights Association, criticized the hangings.
During the midterm campaign, Democrats constantly called Bush fiscally irresponsible, and now it looks like the president wants to put the pressure on Congress to come up with a solution. At the same time, though, it seems unlikely the president would be willing to compromise any of his programs or tax cuts in order to meet the goal. Regardless, it's a significant change in the administration's long-argued stance that deficits don't matter.
The LAT fronts a look at how the Iraqi government is making efforts to improve its relationship with Iran, even while the United States is doing exactly the opposite. The U.S. military is still holding the five Iranians it detained last week, and Army Gen. George W. Casey said several of those in custody worked for Iran's intelligence services and were "working with Iraqis to destabilize Iraq and target coalition forces." Meanwhile, Iraq's foreign minister told the Times his government is planning on increasing the number of Iranian consulates inside the country. Notably, the paper waits until near the end of the story to report that, according to the foreign minister, the U.S. military has not shared any of the proof that the Iranians were spies, and Iraqi officials did not participate in the interrogations.
Meanwhile, the NYT and WSJ note Defense Secretary Robert Gates criticized Iran in a meeting with reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels before flying to Afghanistan. Gates accused Iran of "acting in a very negative way" in the Middle East and emphasized the United States is planning to be in the region "for a long time."
Everyone notes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed to meet with her for three-way "informal, broad discussions" next month to try to restart the peace process. "It's been at least six years since they talked about these issues," Rice said in Egypt after she met with the country's president.
The NYT goes inside with the announcement but publishes a good Page One analysis that looks at how Rice conveniently ignored Egypt's internal problems during her visit, which include charges of corruption and torture, to name a few. Rice basically thanked Egypt for its cooperation in the region making it clear that, for the United States, "stability, not democracy" is the priority. Of course, it is hardly news that the U.S. government develops alliances with countries that have poor records of democracy and human rights (Azerbaijan, to name one). But it's a facet of the story that is frequently ignored by the papers, and a reminder once in a while is always handy to put things in perspective.
The Post fronts the story of the third official inmate at Guantanamo to illustrate the plight of some who have been held at the naval station for five years despite the lack of evidence against them. The story of Gholam Ruhani is particularly compelling because all evidence seems to point at him having simply been at the wrong place at the wrong time, but he is still being held indefinitely.
Everybody notes Republican Sen. Wayne Allard of Colorado announced he will not seek re-election in 2008. This is bound to complicate Republican prospects to gain back control of the Senate, particularly since Democrats recently won several races in Colorado.
The NYT mentions the El Pais newspaper from Spain is reporting that Fidel Castro is in "very serious" condition and is being fed intervenously after going through a number of serious surgeries.
All the papers publish the results of yesterday's Golden Globes ("If the Oscars are the senior prom, the Golden Globes are a Spring Break kegger," says the Post's William Booth) where Babel won the award for best dramatic movie. Dreamgirls got three awards, and took the prize for best musical or comedy. Martin Scorsese won best director, and in what the NYT calls "a rather remarkable feat" Helen Mirren "won best actress awards for playing two Queen Elizabeths."