The Washington Postleads with its second Iraq-related scoop in two days. The paper got ahold of the draft of the Government Accountability Office report that evaluates progress in Iraq and, unsurprisingly, the picture isn't pretty. Only three of the 18 benchmarks set by Congress have been fully met. "Key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds," the report concludes. The New York Timesand Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf agreeing to step down as army chief as part of a power-sharing deal with former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. If finalized, the deal would allow Musharraf to remain president and Bhutto to return to Pakistan after eight years in exile.
USA Todayleads with an in-house analysis that found at least 96 highway bridges that were rated "structurally deficient" in 1982 and continued to have the same rating last year. Although some were fixed and then fell into disrepair, others never got extensive renovation work. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a look at how a judge on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court has become the latest in a growing number of people who are openly critical of California's death penalty system, which takes an average of 17.2 years to execute a prisoner. The judge, who supports the death penalty, blames a flawed and inefficient system that needs to be overhauled.
The Post calls the GAO report "strikingly negative," and although it doesn't come out and say it, the draft certainly seems like an indictment of the administration's assessment of progress last month. The GAO questions some of the White House's conclusions, and says that, in the future, the administration should take more views into consideration and back up its findings more extensively. The GAO found there really hasn't been a decrease in violence against Iraqis and says there has been a marked decrease in the number of Iraqi army units that can operate without assistance. Even though the GAO's mandate was to provide a yes or no judgment on the benchmarks, it does say two have been "partially met." A government official apparently gave the report to the Post fearing the "pessimistic conclusions would be watered down in the final version."
Although there are still some issues to work out, the power-sharing agreement between Bhutto and Musharraf seems to be close to a done deal, Bhutto tells the NYT. The Post says a top aide to Musharraf confirmed he will be stepping down from his army role. Everyone mentions a Musharraf-Bhutto deal would have seemed impossible only a few months ago and is a reflection of how much they need each other, although there are questions of its long-term viability.
"Today is Pakistan's moment of truth," says Bhutto in a LAT op-ed. "Decisions made now will determine whether extremism and terrorism can be contained to save Pakistan." Bhutto goes on to forcefully speak out against treaties and agreements with militants. "No deals can be struck with religious fanatics," Bhutto writes.
The NYT and WP front, and everyone mentions, the final report of a state panel appointed by Gov. Timothy Kaine to investigate the shooting massacre at Virginia Tech. The NYT says the report, which was going to be released today, was posted online late last night after the paper got ahold of it. The report criticizes the university both for failing to inform students of the first shooting and because it didn't treat Cho Seung-Hui when it became clear he had mental health problems. The panel concluded the death toll might have been lower if classes had been canceled immediately after the first shooting. The Post notes Kaine doesn't think any university officials should be fired.
The WSJ fronts a good dispatch from Baghdad that says U.S. commanders in Iraq are increasingly saying the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia group run by cleric Muqtada Sadr, is preventing them from making any kind of progress in Iraq. "The Mahdi Army has infiltrated Iraq's government and society so deeply" that it's hard to identify the enemy, says the Journal. All the other papers mention Sadr ordered the Mahdi Army to suspend militia activities for six months until it's "rehabilitated." This was largely seen as a response to the clashes between Shiite militias this week that killed about 50 people. The LAT says Sadr might be trying to show he remains powerful, but the WP and WSJ emphasize many are skeptical he still has control over the militia.
In other Iraq news, everyone points out that the eight Iranians who were taken from their hotel in Baghdad by U.S. troops were released yesterday. The NYT fronts word that weapons given to the Iraqi forces have been showing up in Turkey.
The NYT and WSJ front Hillary Clinton and other Democrats announcing they will get rid of donations from Norman Hsu, a big-time fund-raiser whom the LAT yesterday revealed was a fugitive.
And while Democrats rushed to erase traces of Hsu, Republicans can't seem to get away from Sen. Larry Craig quickly enough. The Post fronts, and everyone mentions, GOP leaders removed Craig from his committee posts, and other Republicans called for his resignation. "The intensity of the Republican leaders' assault on one of their own was stunning," says the WP.
The NYT and USAT reefer, and everyone mentions, the death of Richard Jewell, the Atlanta security officer who was briefly suspected of carrying out the 1996 Olympics bombing.
The NYT goes inside with a look at how some local lawmakers have had enough of kids wearing their pants so low that their underwear is exposed. Several towns have enacted, or are considering, ordinances to stop the practice. As a mayor of a town in Louisiana said, "We used to wear long hair, but I don't think our trends were ever as bad as sagging."