The Washington Postleads with a look at how many of Iraq's leaders have given up on the idea that they can bring about any sort of national reconciliation. U.S. officials have often touted the elusive goal, but months of infighting have led to a practically stagnant government and now many Iraqis are saying the goal is unrealistic. Rather than create reconciliation, some would rather work to create a more efficient government that can at least provide basic services. The New York Timesleads with word that a recent push by U.S. officials to convince the Afghan government that it should begin a program to spray the country's opium poppies has been having some results. Although President Hamid Karzai has long objected to these types of efforts, some in his administration are beginning to reconsider, even as there are growing concerns that a spraying program could destabilize the government.
The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with Gen. Petraeus stepping up his criticism of Iran by alleging that Tehran's ambassador in Baghdad is a member of the elite and secretive Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard, which the U.S. government is considering designating as a terrorist group. He cited no evidence, and the Iranian government has denied the claim. The Los Angeles Timesleads with a look at how Sen. Hillary Clinton has been able to build on her lead in national polls because many who were once skeptical are giving her a second chance. More importantly, Clinton seems to be gaining the most support from voters who are most important in the nominating process, "seniors, women, and blue-collar voters." Of course, her opponents insist it's still too early to declare a winner, particularly since she doesn't have such a commanding lead in Iowa polls. USA Todayleads with an in-house data analysis that shows Medicaid spending has increased by almost 11 percent in the first six months of the year. In 2006, Medicaid costs "unexpectedly fell," but now the program is on track to spend a record $330 billion this year. It's not clear why the cost is rising so quickly but it could cause problems for several states that are seeing a decrease in tax collections because of the problems in the housing market.
The WP points out that "the idea of 'reconciliation' in Iraq has always been short on specifics" and it means different things for Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. There's clearly a lack of trust all around, as Shiites say they are afraid reconciliation will bring about a return of Sunni power. Meanwhile, Sunnis don't think Shiites are willing to give in on any of their demands and would rather just see them disappear from the government. Instead of focusing so much on what each sectarian or ethnic group gets, there are calls from within the government to appoint more technocrats and move away from the current structure. Part of this could involve insulating some ministries from the political parties. Citing the failure of these types of unity governments in other places in the region, a Shiite member of parliament said Iraqis "need a strong government that conducts its duty and not that looks good." The idea that skilled technocarats would be chosen no matter what their background sounds desirable, but is it possible? The Post fails to get into whether this even has a chance of succeeding when these divisions are so marked in the daily lives of Iraqis.
Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is growing, and Taliban insurgents get much of their money from the crop, but there's concern that an official program that would spray chemicals over farms would merely increase the insurgents' popularity and decrease support for Karzai and his government. The NYT says that "in something of a reversal of traditional roles," Pentagon and CIA officials are trying to convince the White House and State Department not to push for the program. There's concern the spraying would kill food crops that are planted alongside poppies, which could easily be depicted by the Taliban as an attack on the livelihood of the common Afghan. Although the NYT does briefly mention Plan Colombia, it fails to analyze whether these types of spraying programs have worked effectively in the past.
Everyone notes the Iraqi government released its investigation into the Sept. 16 shooting involving Blackwater guards. As had been previously reported, the government claims the shooting left 17 people dead and 27 injured. The Iraqi defense minister said that "not even a brick was thrown" at the Blackwater guards. The report found that Blackwater guards seemed to shoot "in almost every direction, killing or wounding people in a near 360-degree circle around Nisour Square," says the NYT.
The LAT fronts a look at one incident in an area south of Baghdad, where residents believe Blackwater guards were the ones who sped past a traffic circle, shot indiscriminately into cars, and killed one man. No one has been held accountable, and residents say that U.S. officials told them Blackwater guards were responsible. But the Aug. 13 incident was not reported in the memos prepared for congressional hearings last week. The paper also notes inside that the widow of the Iraqi vice presidential guard who was shot by a Blackwater employee said she has not received any compensation. The vice president's office is demanding $100,000 and rejected Blackwater's $20,000, which the company sent after the initial $15,000 offer was deemed too low.
The WSJ fronts a look at how the Iraqi army is buying M-16 rifles to replace their AK-47s. The M-16 is a more accurate weapon, but it's also more difficult to operate and requires a lot of upkeep. The weapon requires that a stock of spare parts be kept handy, which is increasing conern that the new U.S.-supplied weapons could fall into the wrong hands.
The NYT fronts news that hot temperatures led hundreds of marathon runners in Chicago to become ill, and at least one died before organizers decided to cancel the event. Everyone notes that an off-duty sherrif's deputy in Wisconsin shot and killed at least six young people yesterday.
During the heart of caucus season, Iowans who get tired of hearing candidates speak will be able to watch a play that "both celebrates and lampoons a hallowed electoral tradition," reports the LAT. Caucus! The Musical! pokes fun at the way candidates will seemingly do anything for a vote: "Bill Bradley washed my pickups … Kucinich cured my hiccups."