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Western Press Review: Saddam On Trial, Crisis In Sudan, And NATO In Afghanistan And A Possible Expansion Further East

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 2 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Media attention today largely remains focused on Iraq, where former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was charged with crimes against humanity at a court appearance yesterday. Many observers are calling for his trial to be fair and transparent to demonstrate that, despite the magnitude of the crimes the former president is charged with, equality before the law is a cornerstone in the new Iraq. Other attention today is focused on Sudan, as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan make a high-profile visit to the region to highlight the continued killing and displacement of civilians in Darfur. The two world leaders have called on the Sudanese government to take steps to halt the violence and to ensure humanitarian aid can reach the over 1 million refugees amassed at the country's borders and in neighboring Chad. Other commentary focuses on the West's faltering commitment to Afghanistan and the possibility of expanding NATO further east to the Black Sea and South Caucasus.


An editorial in the London-based financial daily says by appearing before a Baghdad court yesterday, Saddam Hussein has now embarked on "a long reckoning with the Iraqi people." And holding the Iraqi leader accountable for his repressive reign "has been a long time in coming."

The future of Iraq largely depends on the trial "exemplifying the installation in Iraq of the rule of law and an independent judiciary." There is not much doubt about the former leader's crimes. But there must be "an open and fair trial, laying bare the extent of the crimes and each link in the chain of command that executed them. Only that way will a traumatized people begin to come to terms with a horrendously violent past."

But the paper adds that any full accounting of the past "also demands the airing of U.S. and Western collusion with the Iraqi dictatorship over decades. When Mr Hussein's regime gassed the Kurds in Halabja in 1988, or rained chemicals on Iranian troops [during] the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq [war,] Washington and London were remarkably uninterested in bringing these atrocities to the attention of the United Nations Security Council.

"Although none of this makes Mr. Hussein any less guilty, it is part of any full accounting."


Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook discusses the West's commitment to Afghanistan in the wake of the 28-29 June NATO summit in Istanbul. "Iraq may have dominated media coverage of this week's NATO summit, but it is Afghanistan that provides the immediate challenge to the alliance," he says. If the international effort in Afghanistan fails, "then the credibility of NATO goes with it."

Cook welcomes the decision that Britain will reportedly divert some troops from Iraq to serve in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, he says, NATO members "have put eight times the number of troops into Iraq." And he says donations to ensuring stability in Afghanistan are a pittance compared with what has been set aside for Iraq, despite Iraq's potential wealth and Afghanistan's being "one of the poorest nations on the face of the globe." Security, he says, "is just as big a nightmare in Afghanistan. Perhaps worse."

And the explanation for this imbalance "is purely political," says Cook. Iraq "is the military, political and financial priority of Washington."

Speaking at this week's summit, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai reported that half of Afghanistan's 10 million eligible adults had registered to vote. "That is a truly impressive percentage against a background in which residents have been shot for registering and electoral staff have been blown up for compiling voter lists." Cook says this "should humble countries like [Britain], where often less than half the population turns out to vote even in a situation of total safety."

He writes: "We owe it to a people who show that degree of bravery to vote for a future for their country to offer them more than second place to Iraq."


An editorial today says "[there] is no "correct" formula for the Iraqi special tribunal to follow, no rules that can ensure that everyone concerned -- victims, Iraqi citizens, Iraqi politicians -- approves the result." Trials of former dictators "must balance the demands of politics against the demands of justice, the need for promptness against the need for deeper reflection." In the case of Iraq, "there are important political reasons to move quickly: A fair rendition of Saddam Hussein's crimes might undercut the insurgency." But it is also "essential for Iraq's new government, as well as the tribunal itself, to conduct the trial carefully and well."

The paper lauds the decision to put control of the court into Iraqi hands rather than leave justice to be served up by the international community. Former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic's "disastrous" trial in The Hague "has been far too easily dismissed in Serbia as 'foreigners' justice' and has actually helped rehabilitate the Serbian dictator."

But the paper says the trial should "include as much international input as possible. One of the other inherent dangers of this trial is that its defendants will challenge the legitimacy of the proceedings." There is thus much to be gained by allowing international lawyers and judges to participate as prosecutors or even investigators. This would make clear that the court has international recognition.

The paper says it is also "critical for the success of the new Iraqi government" that the trial of Saddam Hussein receives both "the funding and attention it deserves" from the United States and the international legal community.


Columnist Georges Malbrunot considers some of the logistical issues surrounding the trial of Saddam Hussein. Predictably, the security situation remains a major stumbling block. Many potential judges for the Iraqi special court have refused to serve, fearing attacks. Daily violence hampers the investigations on the ground. And nearly half the initial budget for the court, $74 million from the United States for 2004 and 2005, will be devoted to ensuring security.

Saddam Hussein, for his part, must now concentrate on building his defense. No longer classified as a prisoner of war, he is no longer entitled to visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross. On the other hand, his lawyers now have access to the file of charges against him. Malbrunot says the main challenge will be tying Saddam Hussein directly to the crimes perpetrated by his regime, as the Ba'athist chain of command was very fluid. He says, for example, there will be no hard copy of an order from Saddam Hussein for the gassing of the Kurds. And former Ba'athist leaders fear testifying, suspecting they or their families will be targeted for revenge.

Human rights organizations and others counsel that a tribunal made up of both Iraqi and international judges would be the best formula for success. U.S. and Iraqi leaders hope the case against the former president will bring some cohesion to the new Iraqi state, and that the trial will help build the foundation of the new regime.

But Malbrunot says the case could also have the opposite effect, by deepening the divide between the various Iraqi factions. Saddam Hussein still enjoys the support of members of the Sunni minority, and all the more so since they have been somewhat marginalized by the U.S. coalition following his downfall.


A contribution to this British daily by David Clark, a former adviser to the Foreign Office in London, says the humanitarian crisis in Darfur in western Sudan has been greeted with a "deafening silence" on the part of the international community. With this week's visit to the region by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, that silence has finally been broken.

An insurgency against the governing Arab-Islamic regime launched in 2003 by black African Sudanese, who have "suffered from years of marginalization and discrimination," was promptly met with a brutal crackdown. Clark says "in the scale of human suffering, the Darfur crisis has already surpassed the one that provoked NATO to intervene in Kosovo." There are 150,000 refugees in neighboring Chad and a further 1 million displaced within Darfur.

As in the Balkans, the "violence and suffering are being inflicted on the innocent as a calculated act of policy." The tragedy of Darfur, he says, "is the product of a criminal enterprise purposefully orchestrated by the regime."

So it is "naive to imagine that a durable settlement can be achieved by diplomacy alone." The international community "can extract as many promises of cooperation and restraint as it likes. Khartoum has broken countless similar pledges before and won't hesitate to do so again."

Clark says the only pressure likely to get results is the belief that the international community would be willing to intervene militarily. But "instead of diplomacy backed by the credible threat of force, we [have] empty promises backed by an incredible leap of faith."

He calls for a UN Security Council resolution "authorizing all necessary means to prevent further slaughter."

The main reason for Western inaction in Sudan is rooted in Iraq, says Clark. After having exaggerated the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, Britain and America "have found themselves incapacitated in the face of a far more pressing humanitarian crisis.

"They are too overstretched, in military resources and in political credibility, to intervene in Sudan, so the people of Darfur will be left at the mercy of their government."


The trip to refugee camps in Sudan's Darfur region by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and a subsequent visit by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan have helped "catapult the crisis to the global limelight." But the paper says "action is long overdue."

"More than 1 million people have been driven from their homes, and about 2 million are in desperate need of aid. During Mr. Powell's visit, the Sudanese government initially denied the scale and nature of the crisis, but shortly afterward promised to send more forces to bolster security, ease restrictions on aid workers and dispatch a high-level team to Chad to negotiate with rebel groups."

The paper says both the United States and the United Nations "must be actively engaged in solving the Sudan crisis." But the African Union should take the real lead in handling the conflict. Several African nations have indicated their concern over Darfur and their willingness to get involved. "What is needed now is an immediate cease-fire to be monitored by African Union forces and vigorous negotiation to find a settlement to the land and water disputes" that dominate the scarce Sudanese landscape.

The African Union meeting in August will be key, says the paper. "That summit will determine to what extent African leaders themselves are prepared to seriously deal with this homegrown humanitarian catastrophe."


Eurasian affairs analyst Vladimir Socor of the Washington, D.C.-based Jamestown Foundation think tank says the NATO summit in Istanbul on 28-29 June "seemed consumed with the ongoing crises in Iraq and Afghanistan, and preoccupied with healing internal disagreements over those crises. Allied leaders did little more than glance at their strategically pivotal neighborhood in the Black Sea-South Caucasus region."

Georgia and Azerbaijan, for example, submitted their proposals for cooperation with the alliance -- known as Individual Partnership Action Plans or IPAPs -- in the weeks before the summit. But NATO missed its chance to offer its support for their efforts.

Socor notes that the two countries "are active members of the U.S.-led antiterrorist coalition, as well as troop contributors to NATO- or American-led peacekeeping operations in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq. They provide crucial overflight support to U.S. and allied operations, are responsible for the security of vital routes for energy transit to the West, and have successfully suppressed terrorist or Islamist fundamentalist infiltration of their territories. Azerbaijan has accomplished this mainly through its own resources, with some Turkish assistance; Georgia, with ample U.S. assistance."

Speaking on a panel in Istanbul, Presidents Mikhail Saakashvili of Georgia and Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan "detailed their countries' efforts to qualify for consideration as candidates for NATO membership." And Socor says "as front-line NATO partners, whose Western orientation exposes them to security risks, Georgia and Azerbaijan deserved proper recognition of their efforts by this NATO summit."