The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journalall front news from Iraq: Iraqi and U.S. negotiators have agreed to a timetable that has all U.S. combat forces withdrawing from Iraqi cities next year and from the country by the end of 2011. The agreement must still be approved by the Iraqi prime minister and parliament. Both the U.S. and Iraqi governments must sign off on the accord before the U.N. mandate for the occupation expires at the end of this year. USA Today only teases the story, devoting its entire front page instead to the U.S. presidential race.
The papers agree that recent security gains have made possible a pullout agreement that was unthinkable just months ago. The WSJ reports that the rise of the Iraqi army is the chief reason for the improved security. Iraqi forces, largely without help, now control 10 of Iraq's 18 provinces. The WP focuses on the tricky question of whether U.S. troops will be granted immunity from Iraqi law if accused of committing crimes. The NYT says that if it's approved in its current form, the agreement will become a central issue in the U.S. presidential race. Republican John McCain has suggested withdrawing by 2013, the Times reports, while Democrat Barack Obama wants withdrawal by mid-2010. The LAT notes that being seen as going along with what the U.S. wants is politically unsavory to Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and that some Shiites protested the agreement in Najaf.
The NYT leads today with word that the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government is growing increasingly hostile to the leaders of U.S.-backed Sunni guerrilla forces known as the Awakening, a movement that began in 2006. The American military contends that driving out the Sunni citizen patrols could bring renewed violence. The Times reports that some American officers attribute to the Awakening the decline in violence that has enabled yesterday's pullout agreement.
The WP, NYT, and LAT all front coverage of a nasty back-and-forth between McCain and Obama yesterday, triggered by McCain's failure to remember how many houses he and his wife own. The WP says that the gaffe immediately overtook the veepstakes as the political story of the moment and that it jeopardized the McCain campaign's efforts to paint Obama as an out-of-touch elitist. The LAT declares house-gate the "biggest, nastiest mud fight of the presidential campaign" and a godsend to Obama. The NYT takes a comparatively stodgy, no-fun tone with the whole thing, withholding the funny zingers so abundantly provided by the Post and the LAT to report instead that both candidates are "searching for ways to connect with voters on the economy."
The WP fronts news that the Bush administration yesterday announced its plans to implement a regulation that allows federal health officials to yank funding from any health care providers that don't allow employees to refuse services offensive to their personal beliefs. Critics and supporters of the regulation agree that it covers not just abortion but contraception as well, a point left weirdly ambiguous by an administration official quoted in the story.
Sixty-four people were killed in a suicide bombing at a government weapons factory in Pakistan, reports the NYT in its off-lead story. The Taliban said the attack was in response to a fierce military campaign waged by the Pakistani military against it in a tribal region. The Times says the bombing signals that, in the wake of president Pervez Musharraf's resignation this week, the Taliban hopes to intimidate the new civilian government, which the U.S. hopes will take an anti-Taliban stance.
The WP fronts a very long story plumbing the connections between the Obama campaign, the University of Chicago Medical Center (where Michelle Obama worked), and David Axelrod.
Russia can cause lots of problems for the United States, according to a front-page analysis in the NYT, by selling missiles to countries like Syria, by vetoing stuff in the U.N. Security Council, and by manipulating oil and natural gas supplies, among other things.
The LAT fronts a four-clicker questioning the legal status of an old version of Mickey Mouse as Disney's intellectual property. Readers beware—the story is utterly laden with gags like this one: The idea of an un-copyrighted Mickey Mouse is "about as welcome in the Magic Kingdom as a hag with a poisoned apple."
Fishy Friday! The NYT reports that a handful of New York sushi restaurants and seafood markets are selling bogusly labeled fish, according to an investigation by two high school kids. And the WSJ offers a Page One story on the controversial practice of "yo-yoing," or putting lead weights in bait fish, in striped-bass-fishing competitions.
Dude. Airlines are charging $300 fees for boarding with a surfboard, according to the LAT. The extremely high fee is causing an uproar in the surfer community. One pro surfer tells the Times that he's had to cut back on partying while chasing waves on tour.