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Western Press Review: Divisions Persist On Iraq Amid Debate Over Postwar Reconstruction

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 20 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Commentary in the major Western dailies today continues to focus on the diplomatic wrangling ahead of a potential U.S.-led war in Iraq. The governance and form of a possible postwar Iraq is also attracting much debate, including appeals by Ahmad Chalabi, the head of the umbrella group for the Iraqi opposition, the Iraqi National Congress.


An editorial in the "International Herald Tribune" remarks that the hospitality U.S. President George W. Bush recently extended to Latvian, Spanish, Italian, and British heads of state -- all of whom support the U.S. position on Iraq -- "is an effort to demonstrate that America does not stand alone in its determination to force Iraq to disarm."

The paper says all this red-carpet cordiality is fine, but "no coalition, however willing, can generate the kind of disarmament pressure on Baghdad that would come with the Security Council's explicit blessing of military action." The paper predicts that as long as France, Russia, and China resist military action and hesitation prevails among other council members, Iraq will continue to flout the United Nations' disarmament orders.

Bush's ad-hoc coalition "also creates the misleading impression that governments around the world are lining up to help pay for the reconstruction of Iraq" after a possible military conflict. But the reality remains that Washington will be left with the majority of this responsibility.

"The next few weeks of diplomacy are crucial, not just because they offer Iraq one last chance to change course. They also give the United States an opportunity to work with other nations on the Security Council rather than marching off to fashion a more pliable coalition."

The support of a handful of willing partners should "not dissuade [Bush] from the challenging but necessary effort to obtain further support from the Security Council."


The current issue of France's monthly political digest "Le Monde Diplomatique" carries a commentary by Ignacio Ramonet in which he says all signs indicate that there will soon be a war between the United States and Iraq.

"But there is still nothing under the international rule of law to justify this aggression," Ramonet says. UN weapons inspectors in Iraq still "have nothing to show for their efforts." Their 27 January report to the UN Security Council was "inconclusive," as were the accusations made by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell at the UN on 5 February.

"No credible link has been established" between Baghdad and Al-Qaeda. In short, says Ramonet, "World opinion is still calling for solid proof to justify war."

The regime of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad is "odious," but "does this justify a 'preventive war'?" asks Ramonet. Alas, he says, Saddam Hussein is "hardly the world's only such tyrant. During the 1980s Washington had no scruples about supporting Saddam when it suited U.S. interests."

Ramonet says the right-wing hawks in Washington may be about to embark on an "arbitrary action [that] could turn out to be disastrous in geopolitical and human terms." He says the U.S. administration mistakenly "[imagines] that there is a military solution to every political, economic, or social problem."


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" discusses French President Jacques Chirac's 17 February admonition of Central and Eastern European nations for their public support of U.S. policy on Iraq. Chirac characterized the European Union aspirants as "not very well brought up," warning that their support for the U.S. could undermine their chances of joining the European Union.

The editorial says that in reacting "to Chirac's threats and insults," the 13 candidate countries "were exemplary in their restraint." The paper says one might think their histories had been reversed, "that it was Chirac's manner that had been deformed by decades of Soviet domination and that the actual survivors of the Stalinist nightmare were the ones who learned tact and tolerance in a pluralist Paris."

The editorial says it is ironic that during "Chirac's tirade," he "indulged in the same arrogance and bullying that Paris inveterately attributes to the U.S. 'hyperpower.'" Indeed, the paper says, Chirac used "an offensive tone that no American head of state could be expected to match" in his "condescension" toward the new democracies of Eastern Europe.

But the paper goes on to say it is important to recognize Chirac's criticism "is more about Europe and the trans-Atlantic alliance than it is about [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein." The United States should not allow the Iraq issue to "sow divisions," and should now take steps to cultivate unity between America and its French-German partners, as well as between "the Old and New Europe."


In Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" today, Ahmad Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress umbrella opposition group, says the "first and most urgent task" in Iraq is to "empower [Iraqis] to have control over their destiny." He says the only way to do this is to establish "a democratic government founded upon the rule of law," a government "based on a constitution that guarantees regional autonomy, the separation of powers and iron-clad guarantees of equal civil, political and human rights for all citizens."

The governance of Iraq is the "exclusive right of the Iraqi people," says Chalabi. But even so, he says Iraqis "recognize that the genocidal repression" of Saddam Hussein's regime "requires international participation for the swift and effective transition to a liberated and independent Iraq." But Chalabi says, "We reject notions of foreign military government or United Nations administration for Iraq." Iraqis "are perfectly capable of governing Iraq. There are many able and talented Iraqis who are not tainted by serving the dictatorship; after all, nearly a third of all Iraqis live outside Saddam's control" in exile, Chalabi points out.

But he says, nonetheless, that Iraqis "recognize that necessity will force temporary limits on our future Iraq's freedoms. Iraqis accept military restrictions, reparations, international monitoring, international peacekeepers, and other required measures as the consequences of our national tragedy," he says. But "what is needed is an open and collaborative process between Iraqis and their liberators to minimize these restrictions and maximize Iraqi control of Iraqi life."


In the British daily "The Independent," Natasha Walter points out that many Iraqis who oppose President Saddam Hussein's regime also oppose a Western-led war in their country. Some Iraqi exiles view the increased presence of United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq "as providing a possible lever to put pressure on Saddam Hussein not just on the issue of weapons of mass destruction, but also on human rights."

Others share the view that "the best way for the international community to act [is] not through war, but through alternative pressure." Such "alternative" methods might include containing the regime through continued weapons inspections, lifting sanctions to allow Iraqis to rebuild their economy, and a strong UN presence to monitor and prevent human rights abuses.

Walter says human rights monitors "can function as a deterrent to violations." However, resistance to deploying human rights monitors in Iraq "is now coming from the United States, said to be under pressure from its allies in the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia," which does not want to risk having its own human rights record scrutinized after the establishment of a precedent in Iraq.

What does this indicate about U.S. dedication to human rights in Iraq? Walter asks wryly. Should we now "really expect the U.S. and Britain to put human rights at the center" of a postwar Iraq settlement, "even if it were to mean alienating its supporters in the region?"


An editorial in Britain's "Financial Times" describes U.S. and British thinking on the issue of a postwar Iraq as "complacent" and possibly "overconfident." The paper says, "No one doubts that U.S. military might can bring down Saddam Hussein's regime -- much reduced by more than a decade of sanctions and attrition -- and probably in fairly short order. That will be the easy part."

But managing a post-Saddam Iraq is another matter, it says. "Iraq, arbitrarily constructed as a nation-state by the British from bits of the Ottoman Empire more than 80 years ago, is fragile, and seething with accumulated bitterness."

Already Shi'ite opposition forces backed by Iran have begun moving into northern Iraq, apparently "staking a preemptive claim in Iraq's future.... [After] the brutal experience of the 1980-88 war with Iraq, moreover, Tehran has every reason to see its neighbor as a potential threat."

Turkey also has forces in northern Iraq and is looking to send thousands more. Turkey fears a potential insurgency among its 12 million-strong Kurdish minority might be ignited by the increased autonomy of the neighboring Kurdish population in a postwar Iraq.

The paper says the U.S. "has rightly stated its intention to preserve the integrity of Iraq, but that is about as far as it goes." If "regime change" is to be the goal, "there needs to be some realistic thinking about what comes next."


In the "International Herald Tribune," columnist Thomas Friedman says the U.S. administration under President George W. Bush must make a better case for war in Iraq. So far, he says, the Bush administration has been "big on attitude, weak on strategy, and terrible at diplomacy."

During the 1991 Gulf War, then-serving administration officials went from capital to capital to build an international base of support for action in Iraq. The Bush team "has done no such hands-on" coalition building, says Friedman. It believes effective diplomacy can be conducted with a mere phone call.

Saddam Hussein "does not threaten America today. He can be deterred. Taking him out is a war of choice -- but it's a legitimate choice." Friedman says Bush should explain that force is justified because Saddam Hussein "is undermining the United Nations, [because] if left alone he will seek weapons that will threaten all his neighbors, [because] the people of Iraq deserve to be liberated from his tyranny, and [to] help Iraqis create a progressive state that could stimulate reform in the Arab/Muslim world, so that this region won't keep churning out angry young people who are attracted to radical Islam and are the real weapons of mass destruction.

"That's the case for war," Friedman writes. "[And] it will require years of occupying Iraq and a simultaneous effort to defuse the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to create a regional context for success."


"The Times" of London says the United States "committed an error as well as a terrible injustice back in 1991, when out of fear that Iran would exploit regime collapse by grabbing southern, mostly Shia Iraq, allied forces stood by as Saddam [Hussein's] forces killed 60,000 Iraqis who had risen, encouraged by the U.S., in rebellion." Iraqi Shias are not under direct Iranian influence, the paper says, while adding a warning against oversimplifying the allegiances and relations between Iraq's diverse ethnic and religious groups.

"Fear of armed anarchy" should not lead to a repeat of that mistake, says the paper. Iraq "will need help for the long haul, and must unstintingly have it." A postwar Iraq "will need the protection of armed contingents, the more international the better."

The priorities must be to ensure the supply of daily essentials, as well as to set up "as fair and transparent an administration as [possible] in the messy debris of a collapsed totalitarian state." In the campaign against militant Islamic extremism, "nothing could be a better investment than Iraq's rehabilitation. If the world finds the means, Iraqis freed of fear will find the will to succeed."