The Note

Also this morning, the AP reports out of Samarra on what American accounts call the "bloodiest combat reported since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in a U.S.-led invasion." Locals are quoted wondering why U.S. forces would "shoot a kindergarten with tank shells?" LINK

Says the AP, "the scale of the attack and the apparent coordination of the two operations showed that rebel units retain the ability to conduct synchronized operations despite a massive U.S. offensive this month aimed at crushing the insurgency."

Time's Brian Bennett and Vivienne Walt writ that in pursuing a campaign against Iraqi insurgents, "the Americans are frequently guilty of excesses that are turning ordinary Iraqis into foes. Bush's Thanksgiving visit meant little to Iraqis, who cite three areas of concern: the killing of innocents, the "disappearance" of countrymen detained by U.S. forces, and the destruction of buildings, including family homes. LINK

The New York Times reports this morning that Administration officials say they have uncovered records indicating Iraq was seeking "to obtain a full production line to manufacture, under an Iraqi flag" a North Korean missile system, "which would be capable of hitting American allies and bases around the region." LINK

Write David Sanger and Thomas Shanker, "Bush administration officials have seized on the attempted purchase of the missiles, known as the Rodong, and a missile assembly line to buttress their case that Mr. Hussein was violating United Nations resolutions." As for the search for evidence of a nuclear program "or an active effort to accumulate more biological or chemical weapons," one unnamed official monitoring David Kay's weapons search says, "'So far, there's really not much in that arena.'"

While USA Today has this item on the Media War at Home: "The Bush administration says positive stories from Iraq are drowned out by a daily drumbeat of bombings and attacks on U.S. troops. If news divisions sent their anchors to Iraq and let them spend time there, they might report a different — and more positive — story." LINK

Elsewhere in the Middle East, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad sits down with the Paper of Record and says the U.S. is talking the talk but not walking the walk when it comes to the Middle East. LINK

Said Assad, "You cannot just keep talking about this vision, you have to put a mechanism in order to achieve that vision."

And the Los Angeles Times reports the Saudis now say they aren't coughing up any of the promised reconstruction cash so long as the security situation remains precarious. Says the story, "The Saudi decision is a setback for the Bush administration, which had hoped that the kingdom would set an example for other Arab governments by providing vitally needed aid." LINK

The economy:

Did somebody say consumer confidence? ABC News' Ramona Schindelheim reports that the National Retail Sales Estimate showed $7.2 billion in retail sales on Friday and $5.2 billion for Saturday, bringing the total for the first two days of the holiday season to $12.4 billion, according to retail consulting firm ShopperTrak. These sales beat last year's by 5.4%.

More news is expected on retail sales today, as well as manufacturing numbers, which Schindelheim Notes are expected to have risen in November despite continued losses in manufacturing jobs. More numbers expected this week: November auto sales, revised productivity numbers, layoffs, mortgage rates, and employment.

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