The Washington Post leads locally but off-leads news that the State Department is planning to fill up to 50 vacant positions in Iraq by forcing members of the diplomatic corps to go there, the first time such an order would be made since Vietnam. The Los Angeles Times leads with a new, dangerous fire threatening Southern California even as most of the fires in the region are dying out. The New York Times and Wall Street Journal both lead with the Merrill Lynch board of directors considering firing the company's CEO after it took huge losses.
The State Department will try to fill as many positions as possible in Iraq with volunteers, but if there aren't enough who sign up, the department will fill force diplomats to go and fill the rest of the spots. The new policy has been driven by the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, who wrote a cable this summer asking for more and more experienced officials in the Baghdad embassy. "In essence," he wrote, "the issue is whether we are a Department and a Service at war. If we are, we need to organize and prioritize in a way that reflects this, something we have not done thus far." The union that represents diplomats objects to the new policy, saying it's not necessary and will hurt the diplomatic corps.
The new fire in eastern Orange County was set by an arsonist and was threatening about 750 houses. But overall, normalcy is starting to return to much of the area affected by the fires, as people move back into homes they evacuated and few enough people were left in San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium that the NFL's Chargers will be able to play Sunday's game there as scheduled, the city's mayor announced Friday.
The fires have focused attention on Southern California's many illegal immigrants from Mexico, the NYT reports on the front page. Advocates for immigrants like the ACLU have drawn attention to the fact that some migrants affected by the fires couldn't get help at shelters because they didn't have identification, while immigration opponents focused on reports that some of the fires may have been set by immigrants. And border guards took advantage of the situation: "The Border Patrol also arrested scores of illegal immigrants made visible by the fires," the Times says. The LAT profiles a different sort of border crosser, a Mexican fire crew from Tijuana who was helping fight the blaze in California.
Merrill Lynch's CEO, E. Stanley O'Neal, is under fire not only for the poor performance of the company—it lost $2.3 billion in the third quarter of this year—but because he also discussed a merger with Wachovia without notifying the board. (The Times broke that story yesterday, we are helpfully reminded in the second paragraph of today's story.) Shares of the company rose close to 10 percent on news of the possible firing.
The LAT fronts a look at how domestic political pressure is pushing Turkey's military toward invading northern Iraq to take out rear bases of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). The other papers stuff their own PKK pieces. The NYT story leads with Iraqi officials proposing to post U.S. soldiers in the remote mountains that PKK forces inhabit in exchange for Turkey keeping its military on its side of the border. Turkey rejected the proposal, and it may not have been feasible, anyway: The top U.S. commander in northern Iraq said his troops plan to do "absolutely nothing" to fight the PKK. The Post plays up the U.S. role, going high with remarks by a top Turkish general saying that no decision will be made on an invasion of northern Iraq until Turkey's president returns from a Nov. 5 meeting in Washington with President Bush.
Also in the papers: The LAT fronts an engaging profile of an Arkansas man who travels the globe hunting for meteorites, which can sell for tens of thousands of dollars. The Journal puts a bit of public-service journalism on the front page, looking at the danger posed by the indoor use of electronic devices during lightning storms. The NYT looks at how the pending execution of a former minister of defense has emerged as a test case for justice in Iraq. And further down on the front page, the NYT looks at a new design for a football helmet that that could significantly reduce concussions by using what one expert calls "the greatest advance in helmet design in at least 30 years."
And on the LAT op-ed page, there's a clever essay on the fires as seen through California film and literary clichés: "As bad as things get, we never entirely let go of the idea that a Californian watches his house burn down while standing in his driveway in a pair of Ray-Bans, drinking gin and humming a Doors song."