The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox all lead with Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr calling on his followers to put down their weapons and bring to an end six days of clashes with Iraqi and U.S. forces. In exchange, Sadr demanded that the Iraqi government stop "illegal and haphazard raids," and free his followers who are now imprisoned but haven't been convicted of any crimes. Sadr also demanded the government help bring back "the displaced people who have fled their homes as a result of military operations." The LAT says the six days of fighting have killed more than 350 people.
USA Todayleads with word that the Transportation Security Administration will begin testing a more serene screening process at one airport in the hopes that it will improve security. Here's a preview: "Mauve lights glow softly, soothing music hums, and smiling employees offer quiet greetings and assistance." TSA officials think it will be easier to catch suspicious passengers if security checkpoints are no longer synonymous with stress. In a chaotic atmosphere, screeners could subconsciously feel the need to rush. "Chaos gives camouflage," the TSA administrator explained.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki called Sadr's statement "a step in the right direction," though it's unclear whether the government is willing to meet his demands. Also, no one knows whether many of his followers will listen and actually drop their weapons since his movement is hardly unified and many have divided into separate militias. Regardless, everyone reports that even though violence continued after Sadr's announcement, it seemed as though it had decreased in several key areas. "Some laid down their arms while others kept fighting," the Post summarizes.
The NYT, WP, and USAT point out that Maliki allies traveled to Iran in order to negotiate with Sadr. USAT focuses its Page One story on the Iran angle and says the agreement was brokered by the commander of the Quds brigades of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps. "The government proved once again that Iran is a central player in Iraq," a political analyst tells USAT.
How much the violence will decrease in the coming days still needs to be seen, but the NYT and LAT both note that if there's one single loser from the six days of clashes it's Maliki, who clearly underestimated the strength of the militias. The prime minister made a big deal of emphasizing that he was overseeing the operation in Basra and vowed to stay in the area until the militias were defeated. "If anyone comes out a winner, it's Sadr," a Middle East expert tells the LAT. "He's coming out stronger, and Maliki looks like a lame duck." The WP points out that Sadr appears "more politically astute" than he was a few years ago because he seems to realize that his chances of winning big in the upcoming provincial elections would markedly improve if he can claim credit for helping end the current bout of violence.
Early-morning wire stories report that the Green Zone was once again pounded by rocket and mortar attacks today.
The WSJ goes inside with word that Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson will resign this morning. The move is a blow to the Bush administration since Jackson has been a key player in its efforts to deal with the housing crisis. But Jackson has faced intense criticism throughout his tenure, and many critics have pointed to his failures at handling public housing after Hurricane Katrina. Most recently, Jackson has been under investigation for charges that he gave out lucrative contracts to friends.
The WSJ fronts a look at how a number of figures in the Democratic Party are throwing their support to Sen. Barack Obama in an effort to get Sen. Hillary Clinton to drop out of the race. The paper gets word that Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota will endorse Obama today. In addition, the seven Democratic House members from North Carolina are all expected to endorse Obama as a group before the state's May 6 primary. Although calls for Clinton to get out of the race continue to get louder, the WSJ points out that "no Democrat today has the power to knock heads and resolve the mess."
Everyone notes that Zimbabwe's main opposition party claimed victory after presidential and parliamentary elections, which would mark an end to President Robert Mugabe's 28 years in power. But these claims were based on unofficial vote counts at each polling station while the nation's election commission released almost no results. The delay led to growing tension across the country as many speculated that it was giving the government an opportunity to rig the results.
The LAT fronts, and everybody else reefers, the death of Dith Pran, the Cambodian-born journalist whose amazing story of survival in the brutal Khmer Rouge regime served as the basis for the 1984 movie The Killing Fields. He was 65 and died of pancreatic cancer. Dith helped Sydney Schanberg, the NYT journalist who covered the rise of the Khmer Rouge, make sense of Cambodia. When Schanberg was forced to get out of Cambodia, he had to leave Dith behind. Nothing was heard from him for years, and he was presumed dead. But more than four years later, Dith managed to escape and moved to New York, where he became a photographer for the NYT.
USAT reports that a new survey reveals traditional dog names are falling out of favor, and more people are choosing to give their four-legged friends names that are usually associated with humans. Still, it seems some traditions are hard to shake since Buddy continues to be among the top names for male dogs. Other top choices include Max and Rocky for males, while Bella, Molly, and Lucy head the list for females. "It's a reflection of the position that pets hold in a household," an expert in dog history tells the paper. "They are integral members of the family, just like a child."