The New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Timeslead, while the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with slightly different angles on the release of the interim Iraq progress report and the reactions around Washington. The WP, NYT, and WSJ go high with President Bush's news conference, where he said the interim report shows progress with his Iraq strategy (Democrats disagreed), emphasized he won't be pressured into withdrawing troops, and criticized Congress for trying to set war policy. "I don't think Congress ought to be running the war. I think they ought to be funding the troops," Bush said. The LAT emphasizes that despite the heated rhetoric, it doesn't look like the president has much to worry about from Congress, at least for the next two months.
USA Todayleads with a look at the U.S. military's efforts to build "an unprecedented" database of Iraqis by taking fingerprints and eye scans of thousands of men. Since Iraqi IDs are unreliable, U.S. officials are hoping that the database will help them figure out who is friend or foe, an always difficult task. Although there have been concerns about privacy at the Pentagon, U.S. officials say that, for the most part, Iraqis have not raised objections to the program.
Bush also insisted, once again, that Congress shouldn't do anything about Iraq until the much-awaited September report is released. But a few hours later, the House voted, mostly along party lines, to begin troop withdrawal within 120 days. Not that this, and other votes, really matter, says the LAT in its lead and the Post in a separate Page One analysis. Despite an initial panic at the White House after some high-profile defections, it's clear most Republicans are standing by their man and giving the president the benefit of the doubt until September. Since Democrats won't be able to get anywhere near enough votes to override a veto, Washington will give us "at least two more months of anger and posturing but no change in direction," concludes the Post. Sounds like fun.
Although many Republicans admitted that it's not quite clear how things will really be different in eight weeks, the LAT interestingly notes that it looks like the September report won't only gauge progress but will also present Congress with options to change the war strategy. Even though it's easy to deride the political posturing, it's evident that all the criticism is having some sort of effect on the White House. As the Post notes, only two weeks ago administration officials were hinting that September might be too soon to gauge whether the "surge" was working.
So what about the report itself? The findings were pretty much as the NYT reported them yesterday. Progress on eight of the benchmarks was deemed "satisfactory," "unsatisfactory" on another eight, and mixed on the remaining two. But, despite Bush's claims of progress, the LAT points out in a Page One analysis what should be clear to anyone who reads the actual 25-page report: Things aren't going well. "The least progress is being made on the most important goals," says the LAT, which, along with all the other papers, notes that many of the political goals for the Iraqi government remain elusive. (Slate's Fred Kaplan goes through the report and calls it "a sham.")
The Post goes inside with a look at what the report says about the Iraqi military. Due to several factors, there has been a "slight reduction" in the number of combat-ready Iraqi troops. The paper tried to figure out what "slight reduction" actually means but it turns out that information is "in the classified realm," as one spokesman put it.
Meanwhile, the NYT moves to the front page a look at Bush's often-repeated assertion that those responsible for much of the violence in Iraq are the same as "the ones who attacked us in America on September the 11th." The statement is dubious at best, since al-Qaida in Iraq didn't exist in 2001 and its relationship with the larger terrorist network is far from clear. Besides, as an expert tells the Times, it's evident that "al-Qaida, both in Iraq and globally, thrives on the American occupation."
Both the WP and LAT have dispatches from Baghdad that say Iraqi politicians remain mostly wary and frustrated by the benchmarks. The WP reports that "some Iraqi leaders" view the benchmarks as unrealistic. The LAT says some Iraqi politicians are worried that the pressure to get things done by a certain time will result in rushed decisions that will have to be scrapped later.
In other Iraq news, the papers goes inside with clashes between Shiite militias and the American military that left at least 16 people dead (19 says the WSJ), including two Iraqis who worked for Reuters. The NYT is the most direct and says that it appears U.S. troops killed the journalists. A photographer tells the NYT that "it looked like the American helicopters were firing against any gathering in the area." The WP says two children were also among the dead.
The NYT fronts word that, through the power of loopholes, partners at the Blackstone Group will avoid paying taxes on $3.7 billion of the $4.75 billion the company made during its initial public offering last month. Although the partners will pay $533 million in taxes, they will get it back in the long run and, in fact, receive $200 million more from the government. "These guys have figured out how to turn paying taxes into an annuity," a tax lawyer tells the paper, and adds that this is a perfect example of why the current debate in Washington over "what tax rate to pay misses the big picture."
Think Starbucks is expensive? The LAT fronts a look at the ultimate coffee delicacy. Indonesia's kopi luwak is made from the droppings of civets ("catlike beasts with bug eyes and weaselly noses that love their coffee fresh") that can ultimately cost as much as $600 a pound. Buyer beware: Kopi luwak is so rare that much of what bills itself as freshly roasted civet droppings is actually fake.