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Western Press Review: Resistance Continues In Al-Najaf And Al-Fallujah, Impending EU Enlargement

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 27 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Much press commentary today is dominated by the tense situations in Al-Najaf and Al-Fallujah, as U.S.-led coalition forces confront Iraqi resistance forces in both cities simultaneously. Radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr remains entrenched in the Shi'a holy city of Al-Najaf and is reportedly amassing weapons, while fighters are mounting a resistance from Al-Fallujah, a Sunni stronghold west of Baghdad. As one commentator today points out, the coalition is confronting starkly dissimilar antagonists in each situation, and the circumstances demand two unique and nuanced approaches. Also at issue today is the impending expansion of the European Union on 1 May, as 10 new members spanning from the Baltics to the Mediterranean get set to join the European club.


"New York Times" Pentagon correspondent Thom Shanker says the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq faces two separate resistance forces in Al-Fallujah and Al-Najaf, as each city "has its own culture, each harbors a different enemy, and each offers its own potential allies to help calm a volatile situation."

Military officials seem to have accepted that sending U.S. forces into the holy city of Al-Najaf, which houses the revered Shrine of Ali, could be disastrous. The shrine is a sacred pilgrimage site for Shi'a Muslims. But radical Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has entrenched himself and his followers in the city and coalition forces are preparing to confront him one way or another.

Shanker says the strategy right now is "to isolate and marginalize the cleric" in order to undermine his support base. The U.S.-led coalition seeks to encourage more moderate clerics to marginalize al-Sadr within the Shi'a community.

In contrast, Al-Fallujah -- a former Ba'ath Party stronghold -- was "a bastion of Sunni support for Saddam Hussein," Shanker says. U.S. Marines have encircled the town for the past three weeks and remain "poised for an offensive against entrenched urban guerillas should no political solution be reached." A shaky two-week-old cease-fire in the town has been punctuated by frequent outbreaks of violence. The deadline for a coalition demand that the resistance turn in their weapons is today.

Shanker points out that the fighters themselves in each city are also dissimilar. The Sunnis in Al-Fallujah are mounting "credible, small-unit military missions" while al-Sadr supporters in Al-Najaf are "mostly young, unemployed men with little military experience." He says according to some reports, local merchants and shopkeepers show little support for the al-Sadr insurrection.


In a separate commentary, "The New York Times'" William Safire poses several questions today about the conundrum in Al-Fallujah. "Does America continue to try to negotiate with the insurgents holding the city's residents hostage, with U.S. forces taking casualties almost every day?" he asks. "A series of broken truces would show [U.S.] restraint but would be taken for weakness by many throughout Iraq. Terrorists would then attempt similar standoffs in other cities, with more casualties in the long run."

Or should the United States launch a military offensive, "backed by tanks and choppers, to end the Fallujah insurgency? That would risk raising the immediate level of bloodshed on all sides for a brief period -- thereby potentially infuriating Arabs everywhere who would see the suffering on Al-Jazeera television."

But there may in fact be a third way, Safire says. The U.S.-led coalition could "patiently recruit and train former Iraqi soldiers, pay them plenty, and run joint patrols with U.S. Marines -- in hopes that Americans can slowly grind down the [opposition]." Just such joint patrols are supposed to commence this week in and around the city.

Safire writes: "Either the coalition will take charge of Fallujah or the insurgents will create a capital for their comeback." Unless the resistance meets most of the terms of the disarmament demand by turning in real weapons, he says U.S. forces "should assert control, neighborhood by neighborhood, with enough infantry power to make the battle of Fallujah as short and decisive as possible."


Today's "Guardian" carries an open letter from 52 former senior British diplomats to Prime Minister Tony Blair, criticizing his staunch support for U.S. policies in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. The signatories include two former ambassadors to Iraq, as well as former emissaries to Israel, Egypt, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the letter says, "has for decades poisoned relations between the West and the Islamic and Arab worlds." Hopes were raised last year when the United States, the EU, Russia, and the UN joined forces to draw up a "road map" to peace in the region. But since then, the authors say, the road map's supporters "waited in vain" for U.S. leadership on the issue.

Instead, last week Blair appeared to endorse the U.S.-Israeli announcement that Israel would pull out of Gaza in exchange for leaving some Israeli settlements in the West Bank -- a policy the former diplomats call "one-sided and illegal and which will cost yet more Israeli and Palestinian blood."

Turning to the prosecution of the war in Iraq, the former diplomats says it is now clear "that there was no effective plan" for Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. "All those with experience of the area predicted that the occupation of Iraq by the coalition forces would meet serious and stubborn resistance, as has proved to be the case. To describe the resistance as led by terrorists, fanatics and foreigners is neither convincing nor helpful."

Any successful policy "must take account of the nature and history of Iraq, the most complex country in the region. However much Iraqis may yearn for a democratic society, the belief that one could now be created by the coalition is naive."


Baghdad-based journalist Hiwa Osman says the Kurds in Iraq, like other Iraqis, "are enjoying a Saddam-free spring. But unlike the rest of the country, they have been thriving in post-liberation Iraq. They view the events in Fallujah and Najaf with both a sense of detachment and of caution."

Within the "green line" that marks the area under Kurdish control since 1991, Osman says there is low unemployment, "a building boom, minimal interference from neighboring countries and a tolerant open-mindedness not seen in the rest of the country." And there is no tension with the U.S.-led coalition, which Osman attributes to the fact that Kurds are in charge of their own affairs. "They have well-established ministries that provide education, health care, water and garbage pick-up," he says. "They have a police force that actually protects the people and solid intelligence that almost without fail keeps the jihadis and former Baathists at bay.

"When things go wrong -- and at times they do -- fingers are not pointed at the Americans. It is the Kurdish administrations that have to answer to the people."

In order to spread this peaceable self-governance to the rest of the country, Osman says other Iraqis must also begin "taking responsibility upon themselves to make the most of the postwar situation."

He writes: "The Kurds themselves reject independence and are busy welcoming Arab workers, students and tourists who come from the center and south of Iraq in search of jobs, education and mountain recreation. Kurds want a unified Iraq. But an Iraq that is at least as economically healthy and as secure as their region."


Staff writers Ashley Seager and Charlotte Denny say Europe should "let down the drawbridge and welcome the talented citizens of the accession countries come May 1 instead of doing its best impression of a fortress."

"Europe should welcome the newcomers from the east or risk losing them to other countries who are short of skilled labor."
They say experts on immigration from diverse organizations "are fed up with the jingoistic debate about migration which they say bears no relation to the facts." Given declining birth rates across Europe, "and, in Britain at least, a booming labor market with shortages of skilled workers, Europe should welcome the newcomers from the east or risk losing them to other countries who are short of skilled labor."

European Commission estimates predict that 350,000 to 400,000 people will migrate West after enlargement, a figure the authors say is "tiny," a mere "fraction of the 450 million who will live in the enlarged EU."

Most estimates are based on the experiences of the EU when Spain Portugal and Greece joined in the mid-1980s. At that time, "[predictions] of poverty-stricken southern Europeans pitching up in Dover proved wide of the mark. The actual numbers were small and after some years the flows were quickly reversed as migrants returned to their home countries where economic conditions improved thanks to EU membership."

The authors add that warnings "that 25 million people would pour into Western Europe when communism collapsed proved equally unfounded."


As the European Union prepares itself to accept 10 new members come 1 May, a "Liberation" editorial says Brussels cannot ignore the fact that corruption in the accession region is "endemic." Among the evils that the countries of Eastern Europe have inherited from a half-century of communism, that one will be the most difficult to eradicate," says the paper. Persistent shortages and bloated bureaucracy gave rise to a system that thrived on bribery, aided by the opacity of "political complicities."

This graft was also able to take root in the region's nascent capitalism, as a new ultraliberalism plunged these countries into a rapid round of privatizations before the rules of the game were properly established. In the East, there is nothing new about corruption, except that small-scale bribery has given way to high-level rackets such as those exemplified by Russia's oligarchs. Corruption, the daily warns, is contagious.

But countries like Italy and France -- with corruption scandals of their own -- cannot exactly lecture the accession countries on morals, the paper says. If they can offer any advice, it is based on their own experiences, and not on being more inherently honest. And the first of these lessons, says "Liberation," is that the best remedy for the rot of corruption is the combination of an independent and effective judicial system, and free media.


An editorial today remarks that, "While European culture, inventiveness, and learning [has] been matchless, so too has the continent's genius for killing, culminating in the industrial efficiency of the Holocaust." At times, Europe's peoples "have been the hapless playthings of kings and, at others, the agents of history themselves. Its borders and allegiances have changed like the seasons, and the colors on its maps, like those of kaleidoscopes."

It continues: "The geometry of the new EU of 454 million people also says much about it -- the Union now has a surface area of four million square kilometers, three times that of the original six member states[,] yet still less than half the area of the U.S. And its topographical center of gravity [has] moved north and east, through six enlargements, hundreds of kilometers."

And yet what of Europe's new neighbors to the east, the paper asks. "They are part of our history, [yet] we have little inclination to regard them as part of ourselves, and specifically as legitimate candidates for the EU club."

Many of the key questions have yet to be answered, the paper says. "What is Europe? Where are its boundaries? Is it more than a geographical space bordered by the Urals, the Bosphorus, and Atlantic? What are the ties that bind?"