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Western Press Review: Trying To Decode U.S. Policy On Iraq

  • Don Hill
  • Katarzyna Wysocka

Prague, 19 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Press commentary in the United States and elsewhere in the West seeks to puzzle out U.S. policy on Iraq.

LOS ANGELES TIMES: Massoud Barzani committed the ultimate betrayal last month

In an analysis from Washington, Robin Wright says today: "For the United States, Massoud Barzani committed the ultimate betrayal last month. The Kurdish warlord, with whom U.S. officials renewed high-level contact (yesterday), sold out to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein after years and millions of dollars worth of American support -- more than any other Iraqi opposition leader. His relationship with the United States was so close the CIA station was based on Barzani's turf. His security force provided American agents with protection and critical intelligence, say Iraqi dissidents who worked with him. Covert operations were often launched from his territory -- including a U.S.-orchestrated drone airdrop of anti-Hussein leaflets over the capital on the Iraqi president's birthday in 1994."

Wright continues: "So when Barzani, instead, balked at a U.S.-orchestrated cease-fire with his rival last month and, just days after his 50th birthday, led Hussein's elite troops in a sweep across the 36th parallel into the U.S.-declared Kurdish haven in northern Iraq, furious Clinton administration officials used terms like 'quisling' and 'traitor' to describe him. Yet, as one part of an attempt to salvage U.S. policy, Washington again has turned to Barzani, whose life and policies are full of contradictions."

NEW YORK TIMES: Kuwait welcomes the show of U.S. might

From Kuwait City, Douglas Jehl writes today: "With more American troops and military hardware headed here, Kuwait is trying to persuade its skeptical Persian Gulf neighbors that there is cause for the latest U.S. buildup aimed at Iraq. Fearful that Iraq might invade again, Kuwaiti officials plainly welcome the new show of might by the United States, which by week's end will have more firepower here than at any time since October 1994, when Iraq last massed troops near its southern border. But with Saudi Arabia and other gulf states showing little enthusiasm for the American mission, Kuwait is also clearly worried that the episode will erode the regional coalition that has stood firm against Iraq for more than six years."

POLITIKEN: Too violent an assault may give Saddam further Arab sympathy

The Danish newspaper said recently (Monday) in an editorial: "Saddam Hussein is not a rational man, at least not by Western standards. Instead of considering what to do to ease the international sanctions against Baghdad, he chose to provoke the United States and its allies to threaten military action to enforce UN-imposed no-fly zones. It may seem contradictory that the United States sent missiles to Southern Iraq (while Saddam's involvement in the Kurdish civil war was in the North). But here is where Saddam's military installations are.'

The editorial said: "But answering Saddam out of proportion (by sending greater military power to the region than the size of the provocations) is hardly wise. President Clinton has already demonstrated his resolve shortly before the (U.S.) elections. And he must destroy other Iraqi offensive installations (if and when) they threaten Baghdad's neighbors). But too violent an assault may give Saddam further sympathy among the many Arabs and may further crack the relations within the old Gulf War alliance, primarily with Egypt, Turkey and France. If the stick beats too severely, the result becomes abuse, not punishment."

LONDON DAILY TELEGRAPH: The cruise missiles were intended as a wrist slap

Analyst Stephen Robinson writes today from Washington: "The best that can be hoped of President Clinton's policy in Iraq is that Saddam Hussein is as confused about American intentions as the Pentagon and the White House appear to be." Robinson says: "Concern in Washington is not just at the (Clinton) Administration's inability to explain what the policy objective is, but at the confused and confusing handling of the situation." He writes: "The original wrist-slapping cruise missile strikes were intended as a quick way to defuse the crisis, make Mr. Clinton appear strong, and allow him to concentrate on the (U.S. political) campaign. Building coalition support for a united response would have taken (too long). Saddam understood this well, and drew the Americans further into the conflict by firing on U.S. planes."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: Turkey wants as normal relations as possible with Iraq

In a news analysis in today's edition, Horst Bacia writes: "Turkish politicians, military and secret service have pointed for a long time to the complex circumstances in Northern Iraq. On the one hand, anxiety has mounted in Ankara that under the the shield of 'Provide Comfort' (the name of the American military action), the conditions for a Kurdish state might be created. The ruling circles would consider this a completely unacceptable model for their own Kurdish population. On the other hand, the conflict between (Kurdish factions) provides an opportunity for to the (Turkish) worker party of Kurdistan (PKK), to gain a foot in Northern Iraq (militarily and also) politically." Bacia writes: "Escalation of the confrontation between Washington and Bagdad wouldn't be in Turkey's interests. Ankara wants to have as normal relations with Iraq as possible, whether or not the name of the leader in Bagdad is Saddam Hussein."

BOSTON GLOBE: Few could confuse U.S. policy toward the Kurds with charity

Ethan Bronner writes today in a news analysis from Jerusalem: "Two decades ago, after secretly supporting Kurdish rebels opposing Saddam Hussein and then leaving them defenseless to be massacred by the young Iraqi leader, Henry Kissinger was asked for an explanation by a congressional oversight committee. 'Covert action should not be confused with missionary work,' the secretary of state told the committee. As the latest saga in Iraq unfolds, few today could confuse U.S. policy toward the Kurds with charity. "

NEW YORK TIMES: The U.S. should keep its policy simple and tightly focused

Thomas L. Friedman comments today: "When trying to assess the long-term implications of Saddam Hussein's recent 'victory' in northern Iraq, keep in mind the following fact: The Kurds whom Saddam wooed away from the United States, and forged a partnership with in an effort to reassert his authority in northern Iraq, are the same Kurds whom Saddam bombarded with mustard gas and cyanide in 1988. This is not a relationship with a long future." Friedman says: "That's why it's actually reassuring to see the Clinton Administration, belatedly, toning down its rhetoric, taking a deep breath and stepping back from the brink of all-out war against Saddam." The Times' writer concludes: "When you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there. Right now, no one in the Middle East seems to know where he is going, and everyone is on a different road. In such a moment, the United States would be wise to keep its policy toward Iraq simple and tightly focused. It doesn't have the allies, vital interests or road map for anything more."