Prague, 20 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The prospect of greater UN involvement in Iraq elicits several comments in the press today. At a news conference on 13 April, U.S. President George W. Bush said UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi would determine the form of the Iraqi interim administration that will accept power from the U.S.-led coalition on the scheduled 30 June transfer date. But several analysts and observers question whether the UN is either able or willing to take on a greater role in the country amid persistent security concerns and continuing militant resistance to the U.S.-led occupation. We also take a look today at Uzbekistan's plan to diversify its security options in the wake of a string of attacks in late March.
THE WASHINGTON POST
An editorial today says politicians continue to offer "simple or short-term answers" to the situation in Iraq, most often calling for increased UN involvement and expecting the world body to act as either "panacea or prop." But the editorial says these calls ignore the reality "that the UN leadership is unwilling and unable to take over from the Coalition Provisional Authority."
The U.S. administration is now hoping that UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi "will somehow come up with the formula for political stability that has repeatedly eluded the U.S.-led administration -- and that he will make it work in the next 72 days, allowing a transfer of sovereignty to a new Iraqi government" by the scheduled 30 June deadline. But even if the June transition is successful, the paper says, "stabilizing Iraq will require a more comprehensive and nuanced strategy by the United States -- one that recognizes what the United Nations can do and what it cannot."
The paper says: "After a year of occupation, Iraqis are impatient to take back control of their country and are not likely to accept continued rule by foreigners, even under UN auspices." UN standing in Iraq was already dubious under the rule of Saddam Hussein, damaged as it was by the controversial sanctions regime the UN instituted following the 1991 Gulf War. A burgeoning scandal over its oil-for-food program is further undermining the UN position in Iraq.
But what the paper calls the UN's "greatest remaining asset" may still be significant: "It is not the United States, and so it has a better chance of overseeing the creation of a new Iraqi government without provoking a nationalist backlash."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE
An editorial in "The Wall Street Journal's" European edition says the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority has placed little faith in Iraqis throughout its administration of the country. "After the war, the coalition was slow to train Iraqi defense recruits and has never let the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) step into the limelight. Now the U.S. is hoping to fill the political vacuum all of this has created with whatever [UN special envoy Lakhdar] Brahimi conjures up."
But the paper says it has doubts about the political benefits of UN intervention. "The point seems to be to distance any transition government from the taint of U.S. occupation -- never mind that any government will still depend on 135,000 American troops for security."
If the UN were willing to commit significant international troops, the paper says it would welcome its increased involvement. But last week UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said a large UN presence would not be deployed in the country until security improves.
"[The] political priority now isn't a temporary transition but elections to form an Iraqi government of unquestioned legitimacy," the paper writes. "If Mr. Brahimi can help broker that process, then fine. But an interim Baghdad administration can certainly be handled by the Governing Council, either in its current or expanded form."
The editorial continues: "One reason politics in Iraq has failed to develop quickly is because U.S. officials have refused to let it develop. What Iraq needs isn't a White House abdication to Mr. Brahimi but U.S. leadership in developing a plan for elections. Instead of disbanding the Iraqi Governing Council, the U.S. should be using it to develop that plan and govern in the transition."
THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
An editorial in "The Christian Science Monitor" publication says the timing "could not be worse" for the scandal over the UN's oil-for-food program. "Just when the world body is taking the lead in forming a new government in Iraq, it's being probed for alleged corruption in the order of billions of dollars," the paper says.
Allegations are mounting that Saddam Hussein was able to make billions in profit from the program, which allowed Iraq to trade a limited amount of its crude oil in exchange for strictly monitored food and medical supplies beginning in 1996.
The UN is now set to pick new leaders and oversee elections later this year in Iraq. But "[its] effectiveness in those tasks will depend in part on how quickly its officials clear the air by cooperating with investigators," the paper says.
"The Iraqi people deserve to know how their country's natural wealth was squandered and perhaps get some money back. U.S. taxpayers, too, need to see reforms in the UN since they are the world body's largest funder. And the UN itself needs to learn a lesson from this sanctions scheme gone awry so that it can perform better next time."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE
Author and professor Francis Fukuyama of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies says "it is important to be realistic" about the challenges that lie ahead in Iraq, and suggests it would be wise to lower expectations of what is possible, "lest the best become the enemy of the good or the possible."
Fukuyama says four major issues must be addressed in the process of democratizing the country. The first is the most obvious: security. Rebuilding Iraq's infrastructure is being delayed because thousands of aid workers and contractors are in persistent danger and unable to perform their functions. The second major problem is the plethora of Iraqi militias, which undermines any prospect that Iraq will soon fulfill one of the classic definitions of a state: an authority with a monopoly on legitimized force.
A third main issue to be addressed is long-term relations between the Kurds and the Shi'as and how they will harmoniously share power in the new Iraq. Finally, Iraq's Sunnis must be reintegrated. After the demise of the Sunni-dominated Ba'ath Party of Saddam Hussein, Fukuyama says the Sunni are now "the least politically developed of all of Iraq's major groups."
Even if all these problems are solved, Fukuyama says the new Iraq will remain "very weak and dependent on outside assistance" for some time to come.
Following a spate of attacks in Tashkent and Bukhara in late March, Uzbekistan looks ready to diversify its regional security posture. During President Islam Karimov's recent visit to Moscow on 15-16 April, he declared Uzbekistan ready to take decisive steps to boost economic and political cooperation with Russia. This indicates a "marked shift in the official Uzbek view of relations with Moscow," says CIS affairs analyst Igor Torbakov. Following the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, Tashkent allied itself firmly with Washington in the prosecution of military operations in Afghanistan. But Torbakov says, "The severity of the March 28-31 attacks, during which at least 47 people were killed, appears to have prompted a change in Uzbekistan's strategic calculus."
Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed the call for closer cooperation and the two presidents said they would move ahead with the creation of a Russian-Uzbek strategic cooperation pact.
Yet Tashkent seems to want to maintain its strategic cooperation with Washington as well, and seems to favor expanding ties with the U.S. military. Torbakov says, "In pursuing closer strategic ties with both the United States and Russia, Uzbekistan is emulating its Central Asian neighbors -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. [Kazakhstan] in particular has advocated a 'multi-vectored approach,' in which Astana seeks to balance the interests of not only Russia and the United States, but also China."
Torbakov says Uzbekistan's "spasm of violence" also "set off alarms in the analytic and policy-making community in Moscow, helping to reinforce the belief that Russian national security is vulnerable to Islamic radicalism emanating from the 'volatile South.'" Russian officials have, of late, signaled a greater willingness to work with Western institutions on counter-terrorism issues, particularly with NATO.
Military analyst Gerard Chaliand says the situation on the ground in Iraq is serious but not catastrophic. We are not yet facing another Vietnam, he says, but the Sunni insurgency has not lessened over the past few months and the use of excessive force in Al-Fallujah has exacerbated the troubles in the Sunni triangle. How to eradicate political enemies launching an armed insurrection without seeming to be a force of repression to those who are not fighting, but who tend to sympathize with their co-religionists -- this is the dilemma facing U.S. troops in Iraq, he says.
But if the situation is delicate on the military level, it is even more so on the political, Chaliand says. The errors made by the U.S.-led coalition have been numerous from the beginning, he says, and much of it the result of poor planning. Two main problems have now emerged. First, the overly ambitious troops rotations. Chaliand says in less than one year, three troop rotations have taken place in Al-Fallujah, thus undermining any chance for the soldiers to develop local bonds -- something Chaliand says is essential. The U.S. coalition has also failed to establish dominance in the communications sphere, and Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya -- both critical of the U.S.-led occupation -- have stepped in to fill the void.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine a nonconflict situation in Iraq, he says. But it is essential to continue with the processes of arbitration and management and to eventually establish security -- no matter how dubious this prospect might seem today.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
An editorial in today's edition says throughout the tenure of the current U.S. administration, it has been "tempting" to view U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell as being "the powerful voice of reason in an increasingly ideological administration. That uber-Powell was forever rumored to be on the cusp of asserting himself with Vice President Dick Cheney, or Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Overseas, he was the face of the 'good,' multilateral United States."
But a recent book by veteran journalist Bob Woodward ("Plan of Attack") alleges that Powell was left out of the loop on plans to invade Iraq and that he opposed the administration’s approach but did little to alter it. "The New York Times" says the book raises new questions about just where Powell stands on U.S. policy.
"Woodward describes Mr. Powell as deeply concerned about the prospect of an Iraq invasion, yet doing virtually nothing to try to turn Mr. Bush back from what he considered a dangerously wrong policy." Powell then "cashed in more of his credibility" by presenting the U.S. case at the United Nations "and presenting intelligence about Iraq's weapons [that] turned out to be flat wrong."
Powell denied these assessments, told AP yesterday that he was both well informed and supportive of the administration's Iraq plans.
The paper says the secretary of state might be trying "to have it both ways, to be seen as a loyal member of the Bush team, but also as a wise man who knew all along that the Iraq war would be a mistake. If the Woodward version is correct, Mr. Powell should have spoken up more than a year ago."