Iraqi Kurds Go Their Own Way
The Los Angeles Timesleads with the bloodiest day in Iraq since most U.S. combat troops withdrew from urban areas last week. Bombings in Baghdad and northern Iraq killed at least 54 people yesterday. The worst attack was in the northern town of Tal Afar, where two suicide bombers killed 34 civilians. There are continuing worries that Sunnis who fought against al-Qaida will begin to make deals with militants if the Iraqi government doesn't give them jobs. The New York Timesalso leads with Iraq but focuses on how the country's Kurdish leaders are moving forward with a new constitution for their semiautonomous region. It's another sign that the tensions between Kurdistan and the central government in Baghdad aren't going away anytime soon. The Wall Street Journalleads its online world-wide newsbox with the Group of Eight summit, which will close with a disappointing note today as the world's leading nations couldn't agree on much. Yesterday, the world leaders agreed to commit $12 billion to a "food security initiative" for the poorest countries, which is less than the $15 billion President Obama had promised. At the end of the day, the leaders "largely punted on big decisions or promised future action," declares the paper.
The Washington Postleads with a look at how local governments may run mass vaccination campaigns against pandemic flu at schools for the first time since the polio epidemics of the 1950s. The government expects to get around 100 million doses of vaccine by mid-October, which would cover more than 80 percent of the people considered especially vulnerable to the new strain of the influenza virus. Obama told health officials yesterday they should be preparing for a "significant outbreak" of what most people still refer to as swine flu within the next few months. More than 1 million Americans have contracted the disease already and 47 have died. Around the world, the virus has killed at least 420 people. USA Todayleads with a look at how some in the Pentagon want troops to be banned from smoking and the military to stop selling cigarettes at its facilities. One study says tobacco use is costing the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs too much money and should be banned over a period of several years. A ban would involve a huge change of culture among servicemembers, one in three of whom use tobacco. Those who have seen combat are 50 percent more likely to use tobacco.
The WP says the bombings in Iraq seem to be targeting Shiites, in what some think might be an attempt to reignite the sectarian battles that were once commonplace. The LAT doesn't quite see it that way—roadside bombs in a Sunni district of Baghdad killed 13 people yesterday—and rather highlights that militants seem to be focused on the north, where Kurds want to appropriate some oil-rich land. There are worries that these tensions might flare into a Kurdish-Arab war.
Last month, Iraqi and Kurdish leaders began meeting quietly to resolve the long simmering issues between the two. The Kurds have long wanted to claim a 300-mile stretch of land, where Kurds had been expelled under Saddam Hussein. Of course, by claiming the land Kurdish leaders also want to claim all the oil and gas that's underneath. By ignoring the talks and moving forward on the constitution, which is scheduled for a referendum later this year, Kurdish leaders want to make sure the central government knows they are frustrated by the pace of negotiations and are ready to play hardball. The move faced denunciation from Iraq's leaders who say the constitution is nothing but a step toward splitting up the country.
In an interview with the WSJ, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki accused the Kurdish government of "provocations" but insisted they could solve their differences by dialogue. "I am struggling for the unity of Iraq, and Iraq cannot be divided into two." Maliki is scheduled to visit Washington later this month and plans to thank American troops for their help. "We have [achieved] a combined victory against terrorism, and there have been sacrifices from both sides that brought fruitful results and democracy to Iraq," Maliki said.
The WP off-leads, and the WSJ goes inside with, word that American International Group has asked the administration's compensation czar whether it should pay retention bonuses that it had previously agreed to hand out to employees next week. The WP has the most details about the payments due next week, which include $2.4 million in bonuses for 40 executives at the insurance giant. Those payments are for 2008 performance, which doesn't technically fall into the job description of the new czar, but AIG has asked for his approval anyway in order to avoid the controversy that its bonuses caused earlier this year. The WSJ says there's about $235 million in retention bonuses still due to be paid out to AIG's controversial financial products unit.
The LAT fronts, and everyone else goes inside with, news that the parents of Sen. John Ensign gave $96,000 to his mistress and her family. The money, paid out in $12,000 increments, was given "out of concern for the well-being of longtime family friends during a difficult time," said a statement by Ensign's attorney, and was "consistent with a pattern of generosity" by the wealthy parents of the Republican senator from Nevada. The lawyer also insisted the money came from personal funds. This latest revelation came after the husband of Ensign's mistress gave an interview in which he said Ensign pursued his wife even after the affair had been discovered.
Nobody fronts the first mass street demonstrations in almost two weeks in downtown Tehran, as thousands of opposition supporters used the anniversary of a student uprising a decade ago as an opportunity to protest the result of the June 12 presidential election. Security forces were out in huge numbers and quickly broke up the demonstrators with tear gas and batons. It doesn't look like the security forces fired on the protesters, but many were apparently arrested.
The WP tries to shed some light into the claims that the CIA kept something hidden from lawmakers without actually revealing what that something involves. It seems that CIA Director Leon Panetta found out four months into his tenure that there was an intelligence program that had been hidden from Congress, so he canceled it immediately and quickly informed the House and Senate intelligence committees. It apparently involved an attempt to create a new intelligence capability that is somehow related to collecting information about suspected terrorists. Everyone emphasizes it has nothing to do with interrogation.
Republicans tried to play down the program, saying it was small and never actually used and said Democrats are using it as an opportunity to protect Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has insisted the CIA never told her about water-boarding. Democrats, on the other hand, are focusing on what seems to be a deliberate attempt by the CIA to keep something from Congress, regardless of what it involved. One former Bush administration official characterizes it as "off and on program" and says that if it could be revealed, it would be seen as "no big deal." But Rep. Peter Hoekstra, the ranking Republican in the House intelligence committee, tells the NYT he doesn't think Congress would have approved of executing the plan. "Maybe on Sept. 12," he said.
Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.