Shiite militiamen frustrate government troops in southern Iraq.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 30 2008 5:18 AM

Bogged Down in Basra

The New York Times leads with with a report on violence in Basra, where Shiite militiamen continued to frustrate the Iraqi government's efforts to wrest back control of the city; U.S. troops also clashed with insurgents in Baghdad, prompting fears that the tension could flare into a wider conflict. The Washington Post eyes the Treasury Department's plans to rewrite America's financial rule-book; lawmakers and regulators said the revamp was unlikely to jolt the U.S. economy out of its current funk. The LA Timesleads with a look at the Democratic district conventions now underway in Texas, where tensions are running high as supporters of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama jockey for position.

Despite the presence of 30,000 police and government troops, Mahdi army militiamen yesterday retained control of broad swathes of Basra, repeatedly launching attacks on government positions before vanishing into alleyways and slums. The NYT reports that violence also spread north to Shiite districts of Baghdad, prompting fears of a wider breakdown of the ceasefire called by the Mahdi Army's founder, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The Post reports that the U.S. military provided ground and air support to Iraqi government forces in Basra, and killed dozens of Shiite insurgents during clashes in Baghdad.

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The LAT fronts a piece framing the battle for Basra as a power struggle between the Mahdi army and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, the national government's largest Shiite faction; the NYT likewise notes that the government assault may be intended, at least in part, to tarnish the Mahdi army's reputation ahead of coming provincial elections. On the NYT's op-ed page, Anthony Cordesman makes a similar point, warning that the United States should be cautious about too readily endorsing the central government's attack on the Sadr movement.  The U.S. presidential hopefuls also joined the debate; John McCain said the Basra assault was a sign of the Iraqi government's strength, while Barack Obama argued that it highlighted the Bush administration's failure to resolve Iraq's lingering political tensions.

Back home, the backlash has begun against the Treasury Department's proposed overhaul of America's decades-old financial regulatory apparatus; the Post reports that the revamp will take years to implement and will have little impact on the current credit crunch. And while the move would allow the Federal Reserve to send SWAT teams into industry sectors or institutions that threatened the stability of the overall financial system, the NYT notes that the fine print makes it clear that the government would do virtually nothing to regulate many of the financial products that precipitated the current crisis. In an  editorial, the NYT says it's hard to have confidence in the reforms, given the Bush administration's "disastrous" track record.

Hillary Clinton earns space on the Post's front page by declaring her intention to stay in the presidential race until the end of the primary season and perhaps even until the Democratic National Convention in August; she said she wouldn't consider bowing out until the spat over Michigan and Florida's invalid primaries was resolved. The NYT runs a similar story inside, eying Clinton's efforts to woo Indiana voters ahead of the state's primary on May 6. Clinton's pledge came as Texas Democrats bickered over the state's delegates; the LAT reports that infighting could cause the Democratic Party lasting damage at the state and local level. Barack Obama, meanwhile, says he has no problem with Clinton staying in the race; the Post's editorial board agrees, arguing that "polite political combat" will only strengthen the eventual Democratic nominee.

Zimbabweans went to the polls yesterday, but many feared that whichever way they voted, President Robert Mugabe would retain his 28-year grip on power. The NYT reports that voter rolls are absurdly swollen with the names of fabricated or deceased voters; even Ian Smith, the white prime minister who led the country when it was still Rhodesia, is on the lists. Still, with the economy in utter collapse—the official inflation rate of 100,000 percent is widely believed to be an underestimate—the Post says a stolen result could tip the country into chaos. "If Mugabe wins, there will be civil war," said one opposition supporter.

Both the NYT and the Post cover Condoleezza Rice's calls for Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to cooperate on security in the West Bank; the move, which came as Rice began a trip to the Middle East, was intended to jump-start three-pronged negotiations between Israel, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

Colombian officials say computer files captured in a controversial cross-border raid show that the Venezuelan government has been attempting to arm Colombia's leftist guerrillas. The NYT says the files, currently being examined by Interpol, suggest that Venezuela's intelligence chief offered to mediate between Colombia's FARC rebels and a Panamanian arms dealer, and that the group asked Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez for a quarter-billion-dollar loan "to be paid when we take power." Chávez mocked the reports, saying the files had been forged. "This computer is like à la carte service, giving you whatever you want," Chávez said. "You want steak? Or fried fish? How would you like it prepared? You'll get it however the empire decides."

Ben Whitford writes for the Guardian, Mother Jones and Newsweek.

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