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Western Press Review: Transition of Power In Iraq, And U.S. Primaries

  • Charles Carlson

Prague, 27 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Today's press review focuses on the political transition in Iraq, the U.S. primaries for a Democratic candidate, efforts to bring Turkey into the European Union, and Libya's efforts to seek international rehabilitation.


In "The New York Times," an opinion piece by Dilip Hiro focuses on the aftermath of the capture of Saddam Hussein and its effect on the country's Shi'ite community. Hiro -- the author of "Secrets and Lies: Operation 'Iraqi Freedom' and After" and "Iran Under the Ayatollahs" -- says the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is not able to come to terms with the idea that "democracy in Iraq means Shi'ites assuming power, and most likely developing close ties with Shi'ite-dominated Iran."

The Bush administration and L. Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, are watching as the Shi'a, led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, call for direct elections to the new national provisional assembly. Bremer and the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council are trying to come up with reasons for ruling out quick elections, including the argument that Iraqis do not have a recent tradition of elections and that Iraq is not secure enough to have a fair vote.

A possible solution, Hiro suggests, is holding elections on two separate days. On the first day "voting should be held in the relatively pacific Shi'ite and Kurdish areas, then the bulk of American and Iraqi military police forces could be moved to the turbulent Sunni areas for a vote there one or two days later. "

The commentary concludes that when the UN sends electoral experts to Iraq to decide if a vote before 30 June is feasible, they will find that elections are not only possible, but necessary in providing the Iraqis the right to self-determination.


The "International Herald Tribune" reprints an editorial from "The New York Times" that argues that as the U.S. occupation of Iraq comes to a formal end this summer with the installation of an interim Iraqi government, procedures for choosing that government are too complex and not sufficiently democratic.

The editorial says the system for choosing a new government does not allow direct participation by ordinary Iraqis and provides no assurance that all important elements of the population will be represented. In addition, Shi'ite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is insisting on direct elections to assure that Iraq's Shi'a majority will have a fair share of political power. Al-Sistani rejects Washington's claim that organizing national elections in time for the 30 June transfer of power would be impossible. Instead, he wants an independent UN assessment.

The editorial says that while Iraqis are impatient to regain their sovereignty, it would be reasonable for the UN to consider delaying its assessment in order to postpone the turnover and provide time for a smoother, more democratic transition.


Jacques Shuster, in a commentary in "Die Welt," says Americans in Iraq are showing signs of bowing to Shi'a pressure to hold direct elections soon. Still, Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer argues that immediate elections would bring the Shi'a to power under Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. The Shi'a have pressed for immediate elections because they are largest national group in the country and best organized next to the Kurds.

There exists the danger, notes the commentary, that Iraq could be split into three parts: a Kurdish, a Sunni, and a Shi'ite part. But today there is no indication that the Kurds and Sunnis would allow the Shi'a to rule the country with or without representation. Perhaps three Iraqi states will bring more stability, argues the commentary. In order to avoid a civil conflict, however, Washington's primary objective should be to prevent any one national group from ruling, and to assure that appropriate laws are in place before elections.


A commentary in "The Christian Science Monitor" by Dante Chinni looks at today's New Hampshire primary and says it is difficult to predict which of the Democratic presidential hopefuls will come out on top. Some polls show Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts far ahead. Others see a closer race with Kerry, Howard Dean, John Edwards, and Wesley Clark all locked in specific places.

Chinni cites a recent "Newsweek" survey that showed that 52 percent of Americans want a new occupant in the White House next January, while 44 percent want Bush re-elected. After Bush's State of the Union speech last week, the poll shows that "as voters begin to pay attention to the campaign, they have some doubts about the president's job performance."


A news analysis in "The New York Times" provides a chronology of the forthcoming primaries for the Democratic nomination, as the New Hampshire primary is due to be held today. "Strategists for the major Democratic campaigns said they were preparing for a long, hard and expensive slog through the next five weeks of primaries and caucuses, a far more complicated race than many had predicted just a month ago," the commentary notes.

Following New Hampshire, seven states will hold primaries or caucuses on 3 February alone. The process climaxes on 2 March with primaries and caucuses in 10 states, including New York and California.

Many Democrats believed at the start of the political season that Howard Dean could wrap up the nomination very quickly in Iowa and New Hampshire, the commentary notes. However, now it appears to be more of a "marathon," with the possibility of the Kerry campaign "moving flawlessly through the next few weeks and never losing its dominance." In fact, the paper notes, 3 February could "easily end up with two or even three candidates able to claim a win somewhere," the paper cites Democrats and analysts as predicting.


An editorial in "The Christian Science Monitor" focuses on Turkey's efforts to join the European Union on the eve of talks in Washington between Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President George W. Bush. The talks are expected to focus on the questions of Iraq and the divided island of Cyprus. If Erdogan succeeds in bringing Turkey into the EU, the editorial says, this will represent a win for moderates in the Islamic world and a defeat for religious extremists who back Al-Qaeda.

Erdogan's Washington trip represents a chance for the Turkish prime minister to repair ties with Bush, who was upset last year when Ankara refused to let U.S. troops pass through Turkey en route to Iraq. The editorial says Erdogan has "begun to mend these frayed ties by at least allowing U.S. troops rotating through Iraq to pass through his country."

As a sign of his commitment to join the EU, Erdogan has announced he wants to resume peace talks on Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots rejected the talks last March. The editorial emphasizes the difficulty of resolving these issues, but adds, "If all involved can keep the destination -- Turkey's integration with the EU -- fixed before them, at least they will be able to orient themselves."


A news analysis by "Financial Times" correspondents Stephen Fidler, Roula Khalaf, and Mark Huband looks at Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi and how British Prime Minister Tony Blair worked to convince Gadaffi to reintegrate with the international community. The piece notes a letter written by Blair to Gadaffi shortly before the Iraq war. In his letter, Blair raised two aspects of Libyan foreign policy which concerned him: Tripoli's economic backing for President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and its continuing programs to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

While England is now satisfied that Libya has curtailed its support for Mugabe, Blair felt Libya could not be persuaded to deal with its WMD programs without the lure of improved relations with Washington. Libya has offered Washington support in the war on terrorism, but there is still concern over how far Libya progressed on its WMD programs. Of particular concern was the access that Libya had not just to components of WMD but also to designs, manufacturing guide books, and construction advice. Experts also suspect that Pakistani nationals have provided Libya with nuclear technology needed in its WMD programs.


John W. Lewis is a professor emeritus of Chinese politics at Stanford University. In a commentary he wrote for "The Washington Post," Lewis focuses on the trips he has made to North Korea since 1987 and the way the six-party talks on the Korean nuclear crisis ended in stalemate following his ninth visit.

Lewis discusses previous trips to North Korea where he covered the years following the Cold War and the period of flood, drought, and famine in the mid-1990s and the attempts to introduce economic reforms in 2002. These economic changes, Lewis observed, have put North Korea's nuclear program in a new context. "North Korea's desperately needed and desired economic policies depend on opening to the outside world and can succeed only if its nuclear weapons program is totally dismantled," Lewis notes.

"The main challenge now is to engage North Korea and deal with our mutual fears and threats," Lewis concludes.


A commentary in the "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" concentrates on a growing health concern, the outbreak of bird flu in Southeast Asia, which has resulted in millions of hens being put to death and the deaths of at least seven people. The World Heath Organization has warned of a possible worldwide epidemic, the commentary notes.

Bird flu appears to be caused by an influenza virus. Since 1997 it has been known that the virus that can infect not only birds but humans as well. Genetic analysis of carriers of the disease indicates that the infected persons came into contact with sick hens or their excrement.

The commentary goes on to say that nowadays modern flu medication has been developed that seems to have an effect on the bird virus. But there must be a more coordinated global effort to prevent the transmission of the disease to humans through the early use of vaccines.