The New York Times leads with an upbeat report on Saturday's provincial elections in Iraq, where the United States is "already drifting offstage." Despite a decreased American presence on the ground, there were no confirmed deaths as Iraqis voted in 14 of the country's 18 provinces. The Los Angeles Times leads with Barack Obama preserving the CIA's authority to carry out renditions. Some intelligence officials think the tactic could play an expanded role in the war on terrorism, as other programs are dismantled. The Washington Post leads with news that Tom Daschle waited nearly a month after his Cabinet nomination before telling Barack Obama about his tax problems.
The NYT is excited. The paper says yesterday's provincial elections in Iraq point to a "new era"; "the mood has changed"; "the world is not the same"; "whatever happens next, Iraq will not return to the way it was." But wait! "This is not to suggest that the war is over," adds the Times, suddenly remembering how unpredictable the country can be.
The NYT obviously thinks something big is happening in Iraq, as American troops disengage and Iraqi troops step up. Yesterday's elections certainly provided reason for hope. In a separate article on the vote, the Times notes the "generally joyous atmosphere" and reports that it was "an almost violence-free election day." The WP concurs, calling the elections "remarkable for the absence of serious attacks." But the Post adds that the intense security—which included bans on driving in some areas—was "a reminder that Iraq is far from reaching a state of normalcy."
As for the vote itself, the NYT nicely summarizes what to watch for as the results come in over the next week: whether religious parties will be punished for their poor governance; who will win the battle between the two main Shiite parties, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the prime minister's Dawa Party; and how much better Sunni candidates will do after after largely boycotting the last round of voting. On this last point, the WP has a nice piece from Diyala Province.
In its lead story, the LAT talks to intelligence experts who say "the CIA's controversial prisoner-transfer program may expand" because it is "the main remaining mechanism—aside from Predator missile strikes—for taking suspected terrorists off the street." But the story quotes only one anonymous administration official, who doesn't comment on the future of the program other than to say it's an "acceptable practice." So who's to say how Obama will use rendition? Still, the Times finds a clue hidden in the president's executive order instructing the agency to close its secret prisons. The instructions "do not refer to facilities used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis."
The WP headlines its lead "Daschle Delayed Revealing Tax Glitch," but the story is really about how Tom Daschle is the type of Washington insider that Barack Obama campaigned against. The Post outlines Daschle's "lucrative ties to private companies with Washington interests" that netted him more than $5 million over the last two years. Nevertheless, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says Obama stands behind his nominee. Republican senators, though, are preparing to grill him, says the LAT.
In other Cabinet news, administration officials tell the WP and NYT that Judd Gregg, the Republican senator from New Hampshire, "is atop the list to fill the job" of commerce secretary and "all but certain to be tapped."
The NYT goes below the fold with a story on Barack Obama's e-mail, "the first used by a commander in chief while in office." Knowledge of the president's address has come to be seen as a new measure of elite access in the capital. Those who have it include Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, Valerie Jarrett, and Robert Gibbs. Those who don't include Robert Gates, Nancy Pelosi, and Mitch McConnell. Disappointingly, the Times couldn't uncover whether Hillary Clinton has the address.
While Barack Obama has e-mail to keep track of his deliberations, Richard Nixon had tapes. On its front page the NYT reports that some historians and authors are accusing Stanley Kutler, the man who compiled the most authoritative transcripts of Nixon's Watergate recordings, of deliberately editing the tapes "in ways that painted a more benign portrait of … the conspirator-turned-star-witness, John W. Dean III."
In international news, the NYT has a potpourri of reports on foreign leaders. In Chechnya, a slain exile detailed the extraordinary cruelty of the thuggish president (who apparently thinks he's a Bond villain). In Somalia, thousands demonstrated in support—yes, support—of the new moderate Islamist president. In Madagascar, it's not clear who's running the country, as the mayor of the capital declared a coup on Saturday. Outside of Tibet, the Times wonders if the Dalai Lama can choose his own reincarnated successor before his death.
The WP reports that the weight of combat gear is contributing to injuries that make some American troops undeployable. "In Afghanistan, soldiers routinely carry loads of 130 to 150 pounds for three-day missions," the Post says. TP's muscles hurt just reading that.
Last week the pope reinstated a Holocaust-denying bishop. This week, the WP reports, he has promoted an Austrian pastor who called Hurricane Katrina God's punishment for sin in New Orleans.
In his NYT column, Thomas Friedman compares the economic crisis to a friend who can't digest wheat products.
Super Bowl prep … Predictably, the papers have countless reports on all aspects of today's big game between the Steelers and Cardinals. So TP has picked out some of the more interesting tidbits that readers can use to impress their friends at tonight's Super Bowl party.
• Potential Hall of Famer Kurt Warner "has only three seasons with 16 starts."
• Cardinal defensive tackle Darnell Docket has scheduled a 10-hour appointment on Tuesday in order to get a tattoo commemorating the game.
• Five teams have never been to a Super Bowl. They are Cleveland, Detroit, Houston, Jacksonville, and New Orleans.