The New York Timesleads, and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with news that the Iraqi government announced measures that will be implemented as part of the new security crackdown. In a televised address, Lt. Gen. Aboud Qanbar, who is in charge of the new plan, ordered those who are occupying homes illegally to leave and announced a 72-hour closing of Iraq's borders with Iran and Syria, an expanded curfew in Baghdad, and the suspension of weapons licenses. The Washington Postleads with the House of Representatives beginning to debate the nonbinding resolution against President Bush's new plan for Iraq.
USA Todayleads with a Homeland Security assessment that says tests to try to find a new technology to successfully screen subway and rail passengers for bombs have failed. All the "futuristic screening equipment" tested as part of the $7 million program had problems, and they would all be expensive to implement. The Los Angeles Timesleads locally but goes high with complaints springing from Bank of America's announcement that it is giving credit cards to immigrants who may not have a Social Security number. The WSJ reported on the cards Tuesday, which led to complaints and government officials saying criminals could exploit the program. The program is being tested in 51 Los Angeles County branches but it could go national this year. The paper sees this as another sign of how businesses are trying to turn the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants into customers.
As part of the new security measures, Qanbar also said the government reserves the right to listen in on phone calls, open mail, and break into homes and cars. The NYT focuses on the announcement, which apparently surprised even American officers, that those who illegally occupied homes have 15 days to leave. The Times characterizes it as "a monumental task," and even that might be an understatement. There's no telling how many people have actually occupied homes, there's no system in place to verify people's claims, and, quite simply, there don't seem to be enough security forces to carry out the work. It is unclear what the role of U.S. forces would be in all this. The paper talks to genocide expert Samantha Power, who says either the plan will never be enforced, or it could be the beginning of more killings. "Unless you create security first, you are paving the way for a potential massacre of returnees," says Powers.
The LAT puts a human face to the issue of occupied homes with a Page One first-person piece by one of the paper's Iraqi translators. Said Rifai tells of how he felt completely powerless when he got word that gunmen had "house-jacked" his childhood home. Even after he finds out U.S. forces raided his house, his troubles aren't over, as Rifai now has to worry officers will think his family provided a safe house for insurgents. As a side note, the LAT continues to be the only major paper to regularly give prominent placement to these types of stories written by Iraqis. Why?
Democrats in the House urged lawmakers to send a clear signal to the White House that there will be "no more blank checks for President Bush on Iraq," as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. The NYT notes that as part of the "tightly choreographed" debate, members of Congress who are veterans were among the first to speak. Meanwhile, many Republicans found themselves in the unenviable position of trying to argue that the resolution is insignificant but, at the same time, very damaging to U.S. interests.
The papers report that senior administration officials claim Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr has been living in Iran for the past few weeks. The officials were careful to note Sadr has family in Iran and he has left before. But that didn't stop officials from speculating his trip might be related to the new security crackdown. The LAT catches word from Sadr's aides, who insist the cleric has not left Iraq.
The WP and NYT front attorneys for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby announcing they won't call either Libby or Vice President Dick Cheney to testify. This sudden change in the expected strategy seems to show defense attorneys think having Libby and Cheney on the witness stand could do more harm than good.
The Post fronts, and everyone else mentions, news that federal prosecutors have indicted the former No. 3 official at the CIA and a defense contractor. Prosecutors allege Kyle Foggo used his seniority to hand over contracts to his longtime friend Brent Wilkes, who bribed the former CIA official. This is all related to a criminal investigation of former Rep. Randy Cunningam, who is currently serving eight years in prison for accepting bribes. Wilkes allegedly bribed Cunningham with trips, prostitutes, lavish meals, and various other goodies. The Post and NYT mention the indictment came days before a key U.S. attorney involved in the investigation, Carol Lam, is set to step down. Some Democrats in Congress say Lam was forced out by the Justice Department for political reasons.
Over in the Post'sop-ed page,former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith defends himself from accusations that he inappropriately handled pre-war intelligence. Feith says that if the inspector general's report, which chastised his role in intelligence activities before the Iraq war, hadn't become "part of a political battle" then it would have never turned into a big deal. "Sensible people recognize the importance of vigorous questioning of intelligence by the CIA's 'customers,' " Feith writes. He also claims only four senior administration officials received the briefing and they could have never confused it for an intelligence product since they knew it was coming from the Pentagon.