Shiite militias and Iraqi security forces clash in several Iraqi cities.

Shiite militias and Iraqi security forces clash in several Iraqi cities.

Shiite militias and Iraqi security forces clash in several Iraqi cities.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 26 2008 6:14 AM

Basra Calling

The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox all lead with the outbreak of violence in Iraq as Shiite militias loyal to cleric Muqtada Sadr clashed with Iraqi security forces in Basra, Baghdad, and other cities. The most serious fighting took place in the southern city of Basra, where American and British troops provided aerial support for the huge offensive launched by Iraqi forces against militias that have been battling for control of the area. There were also serious clashes in the southern cities of Kut and Hilla, and Sadr's Mahdi Army battled against U.S. and Iraqi forces in Baghdad. And, as if that weren't enough, a barrage of rockets pounded the Green Zone in Baghdad for the second time in three days. Yesterday, the U.S. Embassy confirmed that an American civilian who was wounded in Sunday's attacks against the Green Zone died on Monday.

USA Todayleads with an analysis of federal data that shows midsize airports located outside big cities are experiencing a huge growth spurt. The numbers of passengers and flights at these airports, which are close to cities such as New York and Boston, have increased by up to 400 percent in the past 10 years. Much of this growth is due to the fact that popular discount airlines have been lured by the cheaper prices at these "secondary airports." This growth has helped spur economic development in suburban areas while also decreasing congestion at the country's major airports.

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Everyone says the biggest risk of the latest outbreak of violence in Iraq is that Sadr will once and for all declare officially an end to the cease-fire that has been a key part of the recent improvements in security across the country. Sadr has always said his followers have a right to defend themselves, although it seems clear that the latest events take the meaning of self-defense to a whole new level. But U.S. military officials say many of the attacks, particularly in Baghdad, are being carried out by "rogue elements" of the Mahdi Army that do not necessarily follow Sadr's wishes.

The NYT says almost 30,000 Iraqi security forces are involved in the Basra operation, which is seen as a key test of whether the Iraqi forces are ready to operate (largely) on their own. To highlight the importance of the operation, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki flew to Basra to direct the fighting. As the NYT and WSJ highlight, whatever happens over the next few days could have a direct impact on further withdrawal of American troops. The LAT reports that some of Sadr's supporters are threatening to set fire to the Basra oil wells if the crackdown continues.

While U.S. troops may not be on the ground in Basra, the NYT points out that they do appear to be helping Iraqi troops seal off Sadr City, a stronghold for the Mahdi Army. Throughout Baghdad, tensions were high yesterday as many residents chose to stay behind closed doors while heavily armed members of the Mahdi Army walked the streets. There were reports that the Mahdi Army took control of checkpoints in Sadr City, and the NYT appears to have confirmation of this from one of its photographers.

Sadr called for nationwide protests in response to what his followers say is the way that the central government is targeting his supporters. An analyst tells the LAT that the violence "looks like a preview of what will happen as we approach provincial elections in the fall." Indeed, many of Sadr's followers believe the crackdown in Basra is the government's way of weakening their political movement before the elections. But the government insists the crackdown is aimed at Shiite militias as a whole, and the NYT reminds readers that a key part of the operation supposedly involves freeing the extremely lucrative Basra port from the control of a militia run by the Fadhila political party. It's obviously understandable that information from the ground is sketchy at best, so it'll probably be a few days before we know whether the Iraqi security forces are really targeting all the Shiite militias.

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Early morning wire stories reveal that the Green Zone was once again pummeled by rockets and mortars today, and the U.S. Embassy says three Americans were seriously injured. Maliki has said that any militia members who don't put down their weapons in three days will be targeted for arrest. The latest death toll now stands at 40 killed in Basra and 15 in Sadr City, while approximately 300 people were wounded.

The Post fronts the revelation by Pentagon officials that the U.S. military sent Taiwan four secret nuclear missile fuses when it was meant to send helicopter batteries. Most worrying of all is the fact that the mistake wasn't discovered until a year and a half after the shipment was sent out. The fuses contained no nuclear material, but the mistake raised more questions about the safety of the country's nuclear material, particularly since it comes a few months after six nuclear warheads were mistakenly flown from North Dakota to Louisiana.

The NYT fronts word that a cigarette company funded the study, which made big news when it was published in 2006, that declared that more than three-quarters of lung cancer deaths could be prevented through widespread use of CT scans. The NYT appears to have made the discovery and shocked cancer research experts when it told them of the findings. Of course, those responsible for the study say they never tried to hide their funding source and insist the cigarette company had no effect on the study's outcome. Although many were already skeptical of the study, some are now seeing the cigarette company's fingerprints on the results, since it would be in the company's interests to suggest lung cancer can be successfully treated if it's caught early enough.

In an interesting Page One story, the WSJ reports that as the murder rate of African-Americans increases, black funeral parlors are being forced to invest more in security and change the way they do business due to a marked increase in violence during services.

The WSJ says that recent problems in the markets suggest that we might be in the midst of a "lost decade." The stock market is at the same level it was nine years ago, and many think the period of decline is far from over. Stocks are often referred to as the best long-term investment, but the truth is that over the last nine years, investors would have gotten a bigger return out of Treasury bonds.

If you've been itching to write the next great book about the economy, now is the time, says the LAT. Publishers are desperate to seize on the growing interest in the economy to publish books that will explain the issue to readers and help them deal with the mess. Some believe "the key to publishing a successful business book in tough times is to avoid relentless pessimism." But best hurry, because there's a short window of opportunity here. "I haven't seen an avalanche of submissions yet," Grand Central publisher Rick Wolff said. "But it's early. It's only 1 p.m. I might see six of them this afternoon, and the floodgates could open."

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