The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead with yesterday's massive truck bomb explosion at a market in Baghdad that killed more than 100 people and destroyed apartment buildings. The blast targeted Shiites and is among the deadliest since the U.S. invasion, the papers say. The New York Times puts the bomb attack above the fold, but leads with a look at the federal government's increasing reliance on contractors. The companies that perform the work aren't held to the same standards as government agencies even though that's essentially what they've become.
The NYT and LAT say the death toll from the truck bomb was at least 130, while the WP says at least 125. Sunni insurgents are believed to be responsible. The dump truck that blew up was "carrying land mines, ammunition, rockets, mortars and other explosives," the LAT reports. The NYT says about one ton of explosives was involved.
The LAT has some of the most vivid descriptions, saying the bomb "left a ghastly landscape of human remains, food, shattered goods and animal meat that was sent hurtling from butchers' stalls." The story also channels the thoughts of the attackers and concludes the bomb "was designed to inflict a massive physical as well as psychological toll." Seems the paper could have done away with the mind reading on this one and simply let the facts speak for themselves.
It was the latest in a string of attacks against Shiites in recent weeks, and the NYT says U.S. efforts to clamp down on Shiite militias may be partly to blame. One result, Shiite community leaders tell the paper, is that there has been less protection for their neighborhoods.
The NYT's lead says spending on federal contracts has nearly doubled since 2000. At the same time, the number of contracts open to competition has greatly decreased. The situation has become almost absurd: The government recently hired contractors to process cases of fraud by federal contractors.
The potential conflicts and problems with these arrangements seem neverending. The companies, of course, spend huge amounts on lobbying, and they are not forced to comply with the Freedom of Information Act. There's plenty of blame to go around. While the Bush administration gets its share of criticism in the article, the NYT points out that the "recent contracting boom had its origins in the 'reinventing government' effort of the Clinton administration."
The WP fronts a feature on an Iraq-related subject that's gotten relatively little attention so far: refugees. The paper concludes that a "massive migration" is underway, relaying U.N. figures that say about 8 percent of the pre-war population has sought to move elsewhere. Many head for Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Up to 50,000 Iraqis flee their homes every month, the story notes.
Jordan had long been open to refugees, but its attitude changed following hotel bombings that occurred in 2005, the paper says. Iraqis say they are now being turned away at the Jordanian border, and many of those who have made it into Jordan are unclear on their status and their future.
The NYT takes a look at how the Sunni-Shiite conflict is playing out in the United States on its front page. Mosques and businesses popular with Shiites have been vandalized recently in Dearborn, Mich., while disputes between the Sunni and Shiite communities at universities have also erupted. While the story says the incidents could be considered a spillover of what's occurred in the Middle East, the fact that the Muslim population in the United States has grown so quickly could also be a cause. Previously, Shiites and Sunnis had no choice but to get along because they shared the same mosques and went to the same schools. That's now changed, the paper says.
The WP fronts, and the other papers stuff, a report from yesterday's meeting between House Democrats and President Bush, where Bush pretended to be a comedian and Democrats went along with the joke—at least in public. After Bush gave a speech with reporters present in the room, the doors were closed for a question-and-answer session.
Shockingly, details leaked out, and the WP has the best roundup, saying Democrats quizzed the president on Iraq, global warming, and immigration. When asked about omitting Hurricane Katrina and veterans' issues from his State of the Union address, Bush said doing so didn't mean he doesn't care. The WP says: "As an example, Bush said he cares about maintaining national parks, even though the subject did not come up in the State of the Union." Unclear if he meant that as one of his jokes.
The LAT is alone in fronting news that NBC Universal is set to name Jeff Zucker as its chief executive this week. The paper says GE, which owns NBC Universal, wants to better compete with new media such as Google and MySpace, and Zucker is their guy. Zucker is known in part for his work on the Today show, where he became executive producer at the age of 26.
There's apparently some kind of football game being played today, and the WP marks the occasion with a Michael Wilbon column on Page One looking at a story line that is, by now, well known: It's the first time Super Bowl teams have black head coaches. Unlike most other Super Bowl stories (ad hype, etc.), this one's actually important. The NYT fronts a feature about what happens to Super Bowl champion hats and T-shirts destined for the team that eventually loses. Answer: They are given to a relief organization, which distributes them in poor countries.
And finally, the LAT catches up on a feature out of the Seattle area, where coffeehouses are trying to get an edge over the competition by having their servers wear outfits more commonly associated with strip clubs. Turns out the women make a fair amount of money off tips.