Ambush!

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 13 2007 6:09 AM

Ambush!

The Washington Post leads with, and the Los Angeles Times fronts, the U.S. Army's intensive search for soldiers missing from a patrol that was ambushed in Iraq. The attack, an organized strike that took place in one of the country's most dangerous regions, left five dead and three unaccounted for. The New York Times stuffs the ambush and leads with a report on how civilian deaths in Afghanistan are corroding popular support for the country's government and hampering the allies' fight against the Taliban. The Los Angeles Times leads with a look at the many problems facing an important oil bill under consideration in the Iraqi parliament.

According to the Army's top spokesman in Iraq, seven U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter came under attack in a dangerous Sunni area southwest of Baghdad while on a pre-dawn patrol. The details remain hazy, but the Post has by far the best piece. The paper talked to one unnamed Army official who said the vehicles were hit by a roadside bomb before being swamped by gunmen, and another official told the Post that the Army had only identified one of the soldiers thus far, suggesting that the bodies "may have been difficult to recognize."

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No one has yet taken responsibility for the attacks, but the Post quotes one alleged al-Qaida member who had this to say: "I can assure you that we will start pressuring Bush in a new way at the same time he is facing pressures from the Democrats and the American people. And there will be no problem to sacrifice 10 soldiers in order to abduct a single American soldier and get him on television screens begging for us to release him."

Maybe the Post and Times consider it too obvious to mention, but the LAT makes clear from the start why the story is getting major attention: "Abductions of American troops are rare in Iraq." The paper lists just four previous cases.

The main reason for high civilian casualties in Afghanistan seems to be the Americans' heavy reliance on airstrikes in the fight against the Taliban. It's pretty easy to see why high civilian casualties aren't making the NATO alliance or the Afghan government more popular. But the Times goes on to note that the deaths are also "exposing tensions between American commanders and commanders from other NATO countries," who have apparently never agreed on a strategy for fighting the war. The piece concludes that "military commanders and diplomats alike fear that divisions within the coalition and the loss of support among Afghans could undermine what until now was considered a successful spring" for the allies. (Somewhat awkwardly for the Times, there is a very late-breaking report that the Taliban's top operational commander has been killed.)

Both stories come on the heels of Afghan legislators voting the country's foreign minister out of office. He had failed to stop Iran from expelling tens of thousands of Afghan refugees and workers.

Back in Iraq, the L.A. Times has another dose of pessimism: A big American-backed oil bill intended to boost foreign investment and organize revenue sharing between the country's sects is in danger of going down the tubes. The Iraqi Cabinet approved a draft in February, but the bill has stalled in parliament. The Kurds and Sunnis object to the bill's profit-sharing provisions and distrust the Shiite-led government. Everyone distrusts the foreign companies seeking gain from Iraqi oil. And there is plenty of good old-fashioned America-hating, too. The LAT can't resist a bit of speculation, noting that the "problems of the oil bill bode poorly for the other so-called benchmarks" that the Bush administrations seeks.

Both the Times and the Post front election-related profiles. The Post studies Rudy Giuliani's career in the private sector, where he has made tens of millions of dollars since leaving office. The former mayor's consulting business, Giuliani Partners, operates in relative secrecy, but the Post does an all-right job of dredging up spotty clients and reminding us of Giuliani's former associates, like the hilariously disgraceful Bernard Kerik.

The Gray Lady, meanwhile, looks at Bill Clinton's role in his wife's campaign—a role that seems to be at once active and awkward. Bill raises money and offers advice but is kept out of conference calls and occasionally cut out of discussion.

The Post fronts an update on what is by now a highly familiar Supreme Court story line: Anthony Kennedy turns out to be the most influential justice on the bench. He has been on the losing side in just two of the court's 40 decisions so far this term and has been part of the majority in every single one of the 5-4 opinions.

The Times also has a front-page feature on the rising number of unmarried women having abortions in China. The cause seems to be a lack of sex education combined with an increase in sex.

In what the Post calls "the first public vote on any of the more than 90 measures local governments around the country have proposed to crack down on illegal immigration," voters in a Dallas suburb passed a measure requiring landlords to verify, in most circumstances, that renters are citizens or legal immigrants.

Atheistic libertarians will be unhappy to learn that religious organizations are now competing for federal pork.

Reports the L.A. Times: Television's "Extreme Makeover" doesn't always make for happy endings.

And it's difficult to say whether or not this is a holiday-themed feature, but the Post has a front-page report on fertility clinics that let women freeze their eggs, allowing them to delay motherhood and "buy more time on their biological clocks." So happy Mother's Day, or something.

Conor Clarke is a former editor at the Atlantic and the Guardian as well as the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism.

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