PRAGUE, 9 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Fighting in Iraq is continuing between U.S.-led coalition forces and Sunni and Shi'a insurgents, as well as with the Al-Mahdi Army in the service of radical Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The battles in cities throughout Iraq dominate the headlines and press commentary today, and have many wondering whether the United States was prepared for the level of resistance it is now facing in Iraq. Also under scrutiny is the testimony of U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice yesterday before the commission investigating possible intelligence failures ahead of the 11 September 2001 attacks.
Martin Woollacott of "The Guardian" says the mounting battles between various Iraqi factions and U.S.-led coalition troops throughout Iraq are vividly demonstrating the limits of military power. The U.S. administration is now facing what Woollacott calls "the essential meagerness of the military instrument." The use of force "can be a key that opens the door for other kinds of action, but it cannot be a substitute for it."
Woollacott cites George Bernard Shaw's observation that any political administration that depends on soldiers is unlikely to be long-lasting. From the beginning, the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq has never aimed to establish close military control of Iraqi society. "Even if close control was desirable," Woollacott says, "American and other coalition troops are not present in sufficient numbers -- nor do they have the language and other skills that would enable them to exercise it."
The U.S. occupation has relied on the cooperation and consent of some of the main elements in Iraqi society, "and on the promise of beneficial political and economic changes. It is this consent and the belief in that promise which is wavering as fighting spreads -- and along with it the idea that the Americans are losing their way and have no clear idea how to reassert themselves."
But perhaps the biggest U.S. misjudgment, Woollacott says, was the failure "to grasp how damaged Iraqi society had been by years of dictatorship, by sanctions, and by the corruption, apathy and cynicism that grew behind the facade of Saddam [Hussein]'s supposedly strong state."
THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
National Public Radio senior news analyst Daniel Schorr writers that as resistance to the U.S.-led occupation spreads across Iraq -- on the anniversary of the fall of Baghdad a year ago -- it is clear that the Pentagon "failed to foresee that some Iraqi might fight for liberation from their liberators."
Perhaps the time has come to apply that dreaded word -- a holdover from Vietnam days -- to the situation in Iraq: "quagmire." Schorr defines a quagmire as a situation in which, "whether or not you should have been there in the first place, you're stuck there now because you can't get out without making things infinitely worse."
Schorr notes that U.S. public support for the war is holding at 57 percent, according to a recent Pew research poll. But he adds that the same ratio -- 57 percent -- also agrees that the U.S. administration does not have a clear exit strategy.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
An editorial discusses the testimony yesterday of U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice before the commission investigating possible intelligence failures ahead of the 11 September 2001 (9/11) attacks. Rice attempted to assure the panel that the administration of President George W. Bush had devoted appropriate attention to countering the threat from terrorism. But the paper says Rice "was totally unconvincing when she tried to portray Al-Qaeda as anything approaching a top concern for the White House."
The question of most concern to the U.S. public and the victims' families is whether the attack could have been avoided "if Al-Qaeda had been something more than one policy concern among many for the administration." And the paper says Rice "was at her weakest in her testimony...when she attempted to portray Mr. Bush himself as a hands-on administrator with a particular concern about terror threats."
The paper says if the national security adviser were not so focused "on burnishing the commander in chief's [President Bush's] image as the hero of 9/11, she might have been able to admit that Mr. Bush is a hierarchical manager who expects his immediate underlings to run things, and who guessed wrong about what deserved the administration's most immediate and intense attention." It notes that when the U.S. president and his administration came into office, they were "determined to build a missile defense shield, fixated on Iraq as the top problem in the Middle East and were greatly concerned about China."
The French daily's Patrick Sabatier says confronted with a mounting resistance, the U.S.-led "coalition of the willing" occupying Iraq is fast becoming a "coalition of the weak-willed." The Ukrainian contingent hastily beat a retreat; the Japanese and South Koreans remain ensconced at their bases; the Spaniards and Kazakhs await an announced withdrawal; and the Poles increasingly question why they remain in the country. A new tactic -- the taking of civilian hostages -- adopted by some elements of the Iraqi resistance may well precipitate a total rout, he says.
The Americans are for the most part cut off from four of the major bases from which they have been launching their retaliations, while their Iraqi back-up troops are unpredictable. From a military point of view, he says, the retreat of the "coalition" does not change much for the United States. But from a political perspective, it is a severe blow.
The U.S. administration was too late in considering that the UN could help legitimize the Iraqi authority, to which a show of transferring power must be made on 30 June, he says. Now Washington is asking the very countries that it scorned for not supporting the war to take part in a multinational force to protect a UN mission in Iraq. But one can assume these countries will think twice before offering to rescue President Bush from a trap that he set for himself, he adds.
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The questioning of U.S. national security adviser Rice yesterday regarding possible intelligence failures before the 2001 attacks in New York and Washington was, "[as] expected, [more] an exercise in finger-pointing than a search for insight. The right-leaning U.S. daily contrasts what it calls Rice's "cool performance" with the prosecuting manner of some of the Democratic Party members on the investigating commission. The almost three-hour interrogation was an exercise in partisanship, says the paper.
But Rice "refused to be cowed" and was "calmly answering the questions and attempting to give the members insight into the Bush administration's thinking and activity on terrorism before September 11, 2001."
However, the paper says the lines of questioning pursued by some of her Democratic interrogators "raise serious doubts about the commission's ability to fulfill the duties it was chartered with." It calls it "unlikely" that the commission will be able to produce "a perceptive, prescriptive report" that would deserve careful consideration.
"The full fury and firepower of the U.S. military fell for the first time on the terrorists thanks to the leadership of President Bush," "The Washington Times" says. The fight has been "taken to the terrorists in Yemen and Afghanistan," and the battle "still rages in Iraq." It is time to stop assigning blame and move forward, the paper says.
THE WASHINGTON POST
Columnist David Ignatius says U.S.-led forces in Iraq this week have become "what they have been trying for a year to avoid becoming -- an army of occupation fighting a bitter urban war against a broad Iraqi insurgency."
The fate "American troops managed to escape in the largely bloodless battle of Baghdad a year ago they are facing now: fighting in city streets across Iraq." The United States is now undertaking "a second Iraq war -- a campaign of pacification that could be protracted, as the insurgency moves underground."
Ignatius says it was "unwise" to take on radical Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's militia in the same week U.S. forces were "rightly" retaliating against the Sunni resistance in Al-Fallujah, following the murder and mutilation of four Americans contractors in the city. "Rather than enhancing the rule of law, the Sadr crackdown added to Iraq's chaos." And the "unintended result was that America finally brought Shiites and Sunnis together -- in opposing occupation."
The U.S. campaign in Iraq has been "unraveling for months," Ignatius says. Some of Washington's fundamental mistakes stem from the contradiction between its stated desire to create a sovereign Iraq "and its failure to tap the indigenous political roots on which a strong Iraqi government must be built." America wanted democracy for Iraq, "but it also wanted control."
INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE
An editorial today says U.S. President Bush "keeps assuring the public that the militias attacking the occupation forces [in Iraq] represent a tiny, freedom-hating fringe. But that fringe is willing to take to the streets with guns, and none of Iraq's leaders are willing to stand up to them."
The paper asks, if new Iraqi leaders are "afraid to speak against the mob now, when they are flanked by American troops, what makes us believe they will behave more forcefully when the troops are gone and the mob is rising up against other Iraqis who don't share the same religion?"
"So far there are no reassuring answers to these questions as U.S. Marines and soldiers battle Sunni militias in one part of the country and Shiite rebels in another."
The paper advises the U.S. president to "tell the American people in detail what his plan is for uniting Iraq, who exactly the tough new leaders are going to be and how he intends to create a strong enough government to at least offer the possibility of ending the occupation someday." It is becoming increasingly difficult "to see how to define, let alone achieve, victory in Iraq and to understand why it's worth the constantly increasing toll of American lives."