Maliki in trouble; Blair could be the next special envoy to the Middle East.

Maliki in trouble; Blair could be the next special envoy to the Middle East.

Maliki in trouble; Blair could be the next special envoy to the Middle East.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
June 21 2007 6:00 AM

Trouble at the Top

The Washington Postleads with a look at how Iraq's politicians are growing increasingly frustrated with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a feeling that took center stage once again last week with the attempted resignation of Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi. The New York Timesleads with word that the Bush administration wants British Prime Minister Tony Blair to become a special envoy to the Middle East after he steps down next week. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with the continuing operations in Diyala province, where there's been heavy fighting, and troops allegedly killed 41 suspected insurgents. Also, three Sunni mosques were bombed, which was seen as a retaliation for the attack on the Shiite shrine in Baghdad.

The Los Angeles Timesleads with scientists reporting that, never mind what they told you before, estrogen replacement therapy doesn't increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes, as long as women begin taking the hormones soon after menopause. In fact, a new study shows that the chances of heart problems might decrease since women who took estrogen pills for several years after menopause saw a decrease in the amount of calcified plaque in their arteries. But because of other risks, researchers say that women shouldn't get on hormone therapy solely for the potential heart benefits. USA Todayleads with a look at how state tax collections appear to be growing at the slowest rate in four years. This development comes at a time when the rate of spending has reached its highest level since 2001. But there's no real cause to panic just yet because "most states remain in strong financial shape."

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The Shiite vice president ended up deciding to stay in his position but the attempted resignation is just one example of the supposedly many Shiite politicians who think Maliki is more interested in centralizing power within his own Dawa party than solving Iraq's problems. Mahdi, for example, has demanded that Maliki act on his promise to include the president and two vice presidents in his decision-making process. Maliki's future is also threatened by the simple fact that the Dawa party is not as popular as other Shiite political parties, which are trying to grab more power. Divisions among Shiites are also becoming evident within the general population, says the NYT in a Page One dispatch from the "Shiite heartland," where violence has been steadily increasing.

Blair hasn't decided whether he will accept the position that would make him the official representative of the group known as the "quartet," which consists of the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations. But, according to the WP, "behind-the-scenes negotiations" have been going on for two months, and Israel seems to like the idea. The LAT cites the BBC saying that while nothing is definite, "it looks like this is going to be Tony Blair's next job." Both the Post and NYT note that the only opposition might come from Russia, but no one seems to think that would be a deal-breaker.

The LAT fronts the Diyala offensive and says that, as feared, militants have started to try to mix in with the local population. The LAT also notes there are reports that a Sunni militant group that has partnered with U.S. forces, "has been using its newfound status to chilling effect." They have set up interrogation centers, and some Diyala residents say that masked men have been taking people to unknown locations and executing them.

On the question TP raised yesterday of whether Iraqi troops are participating in the offensive, there is even more confusion from the papers today. The WP says "10,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops" are participating in the offensive, while the LAT sticks to "10,000 U.S. troops," and USAT avoids the issue by saying "10,000 troops."

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Remember Bradley Schlozman? He's the former acting assistant attorney general for civil rights who told Congress that although he did hire political conservatives, he denied that his politics influenced the career officials. The WP fronts word that six officials in the division say that's not entirely accurate. "Everything Schlozman did was political. And he said so," a lawyer tells the WP.Apparently Schlozman didn't hide the fact that he cared about the political opinions of those on staff as he frequently asked whether career lawyers were "on our team" and even warned that he'd be keeping close tabs on the work of one of them who "didn't even vote for Bush."

The LAT reports on Page One that Fatah gunmen in the West Bank have been attacking Hamas supporters. President Mahmoud Abbas has said that ending "the era of militias" is his top priority, but he seems to have little power over the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which has carried out most of the attacks. The NYT reefers an interview with Mahmoud Zahar, "perhaps the most influential Hamas leader in Gaza," who warned that if the attacks in the West Bank continued, Hamas would be forced to strike back. Abbas criticized Hamas in a speech yesterday saying that "there is no dialogue with those murderous terrorists."

The papers also report that there were clashes between Palestinian militants and Israeli troops, which, according to the WP, killed five Palestinians in Gaza and two in the West Bank. At least six rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza yesterday. Meanwhile, those with serious health problems were allowed to leave Gaza to get treatment in Israel.

The Supreme Court term that ends next week has been quite good for businesses, says the LAT on Page One. "The justices have handed down a dozen rulings that sharply limit the damages that can be won in lawsuits or make it harder to sue corporations," writes the LAT.

It would have been too easy ... Trying to put an end to the debate over whether Pinkberry's products can actually be called frozen yogurt, a topic that has sparked lawsuits, the LAT sent samples to a lab. The paper reports the product definitely has the bacteria cultures that are found in yogurt. But those who filed the lawsuits say it's less than the minimum amount required of frozen yogurt, so the debate (over an incredibly tasteless product) continues.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.