All the papers lead with Iraq today. The New York Times leads, and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with the suicide truck bombing at a large Shiite mosque in Baghdad, which, according to the Interior Ministry, killed at least 61 people. (The Washington Postreports that death toll figures varied widely from the U.S. military claiming that 35 people were killed to wire services putting the death toll at 78.) The WP and Los Angeles Times mention the bombing in their lead stories but also play catch-up and report on the major offensive that the U.S. military has launched north of Baghdad, in Diyala province, that involves approximately 10,000 American soldiers. The NYT and WSJ had word of "Operation Arrowhead Ripper" yesterday.
USA Todayleads with word that 10 Iraqi tribes in Baghdad have reached agreements to oppose al-Qaida forces. Although Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has warned against these types of alliances, U.S. officials contend that it's their best hope of making progress. But they also note that tribal leaders in Baghdad are not as influential as they are in Anbar province, where U.S. officials say they've had success with these types of alliances. The paper also notes that U.S. forces are trying to get the help of tribes in Diyala.
The NYT suggests that the fact that the mosque in Baghdad was bombed as American forces carried out their massive offensive against al-Qaida in Iraq should not be seen as a coincidence. "The timing seemed intended to demonstrate that the insurgents could still strike with near impunity," says the NYT. The Post notes that a preliminary investigation seems to show that the truck used for the bombing was outfitted with TNT "less than a mile from where it exploded." If true, it would mean that al-Qaida in Iraq, which was always believed to prepare the bombs outside Baghdad, "has shifted strategies once again" to circumvent the numerous security checkpoints that aim to control access to the capital.
The NYT notes that the neighborhood where the bombing took place is known as one where Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds lived together and even worshipped at one another's mosques. Imams from the area even encouraged Sunnis and Shiites to pray at each other's mosques to unite the different sects.
The NYT and LAT both have stories datelined from Baquba, the capital of Diyala province, and their proximity pays off as they're able to provide much more vivid accounts of the U.S. offensive. In an insightful Page One piece, the NYT notes that operations to attack al-Qaida forces in Iraq have frequently ended up merely displacing them to another region. Now, the U.S. military is determined not just to kick out the insurgents, but to actually capture or kill them. Problem is that thousands of civilians remain in the area, and they don't appear to be listening to the U.S. military's pleas that they stay inside their homes. Besides the risk of a high number of civilian casualties, things could get more complicated if insurgents decide to try to blend in with the city's residents.
The LAT carries a piece inside from the frontlines in Baquba and suggests the U.S. military might be able to get help from the residents of the area because many were apparently happy to see the troops, as insurgents had essentially taken control of the city and imposed "their fundamentalist brand of Islam." There are almost no mentions in the papers about what role, if any, Iraqi troops are playing in the offensive. The WP is the one exception as it says that approximately 3,000 Iraqi soldiers and police officers "were expected to take part in the offensive." But it's unclear whether they're fighting alongside U.S. troops currently or whether they'll be brought in at a later date. The WP also notes that U.S. troops will get help from some Sunni insurgents in Diyala.
The NYT and WP front, while everyone else goes inside with, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's announcement that he is leaving the Republican party, which immediately raised questions of whether he's getting serious about mounting an independent bid for the White House. Bloomberg has frequently criticized both Democrats and Republicans but insisted that he will continue "to be mayor for the next 926 days," avoiding answering direct questions about any presidential plans. He's unlikely to make any definitive announcement for a while, but he has the luxury of time because his net worth in the billions means he could spend more than any candidate without having to raise a penny. "This is a serious tease," Al Sharpton tells the WP.It's unclear exactly which party could be hurt by a Bloomberg candidacy, and as a Republican pollster tells the LAT, it all depends "on how he positions himself."
USAT fronts a look at how some states that have passed constitutional amendments banning marriage for gay men and lesbians are now beginning to take away benefits that had been awarded to the domestic partners of public employees. Some states have ruled that no public institution, including universities, can offer benefits to same-sex couples or any unmarried partners. The amendments are also having some unexpected consequences for heterosexuals. An article inside details how, in Ohio, many unmarried people who are being charged with abusing their live-in partners are contending that the domestic violence law is unconstitutional because it is based on "domestic partnership," a status that is no longer recognized because of Ohio's same-sex marriage ban.
The WSJ fronts word that after much wrangling, the U.S. military has agreed to declassify 22 poems written by 17 Guantanamo prisoners, which will be published in August in an 84-page compilation titled Poems From Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak. Getting the poems released turned out to be a huge hassle as military officials worried that they could contain coded messages to the outside world.