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Western Press Review: Diplomatic Rifts Over Iraq, Al-Jazeera's Role, And Markovic's Flight To Moscow

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 31 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The Western media turns its attention to some of the broader issues related to the war in Iraq. The United States' apparent decision to leave the umbrella opposition group the Iraqi National Congress out of events in Iraq is considered, as is the role of the Al-Jazeera television network, often the only satellite television station allowed access to certain areas or officials in the Persian Gulf. Relations between the U.S. and Europe, much strained by the Iraq debate, are also under much discussion today.

We also take a look at the flight to Russia of Mira Markovic -- wife of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, now on trial in The Hague -- after she was implicated in a political assassination.


As criticism of the U.S. military campaign mounts -- from both a diplomatic and a military perspective -- "The Wall Street Journal Europe" says it "can't help but wonder if the response [in Iraq] would be more enthusiastic and widespread, and the liberation of Iraq's cities easier, if the United States had done a better job sooner of working with those Iraqis who share our goals."

Specifically, the newspaper says that increased coordination with the Iraqi opposition groups united under the pro-democracy umbrella Iraqi National Congress (INC) seems called for. The paper cites INC leader Ahmad Chalabi as saying the U.S. incursion into Iraq must look like liberation. But thus far, "There is no Iraqi face involved in this at all," Chalabi observed.

The paper says the INC "is the only Iraqi opposition movement that can claim membership from all Iraqi ethnic and religious groups -- Kurds and Arabs, Sunnis and Shiites." And yet, "for reasons that are difficult to fathom, Saddam's willing opposition has been more or less frozen out of [the U.S.] coalition." The U.S. has spent millions training INC volunteers. But thus far, they -- and their Iraqi language skills and "local knowledge" -- have been left out of current operations.

Chalabi and others from the INC are eager to get involved. And the paper says the U.S. military "can use all of the Iraqi allies it can get." Yet elements within the U.S. administration are "undermining the chances of future Iraqi democracy for the sake of keeping the INC out of power in a post-Saddam Iraq."


In a contribution to Britain's "Financial Times," Brigette Granville of the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs and Christopher Granville of Russia's United Financial Group say both Britain and France share similar political ambitions, even though they fall on opposite sides of the debate. While London has remained a loyal ally of the United States in its Iraq ambitions, Paris has consistently opposed U.S. policy.

The authors say that "it seems obvious" that Britain and France are "pursuing the same goal by opposite means. Both have lost power and status in the world and are trying to cope in different ways with the same humiliation at the hands of a largely unwitting America." The common French-British aim "is to project their residual power and influence as effectively as possible but [with] contrasting strategies. Britain tries to be the tail that wags the American dog, while France aspires to be a rival top dog -- the niche vacated by the demise of the Soviet Union."

The authors suggest that the French government "should learn from Russia's new pragmatism. This means an acceptance of weakness and loss of status, combined with a readiness to contribute in the future." But Paris can communicate its disagreement, while remaining willing to work at improving the situation.

The Granvilles write, "This is the way to heal wounds between friends and to restore harmony in the family of nations."


A brief commentary in today's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" considers recent allegations that the initial U.S. war strategy has failed and now must be reconsidered. The paper says this view is based on "unrealistic expectations."

The commentary points out that, even during the war in Afghanistan, where the U.S. only had to contend with a few fanatic believers, rather than a regular army, the war took several weeks.

But those responsible for planning the war in Iraq did overestimate a friendly welcome from the local inhabitants, who remember how the U.S. betrayed them in the 1991 Gulf War.

We will only know after the war, says the commentary, if people in Iraq are just biding time to see who leaves the battlefield as victors, or whether this is "the germination of future resistance to a U.S.-led Western occupation."


"The New York Times" in an editorial criticizes the decision by the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq to bar reporters from the Al-Jazeera Arab television network, calling the judgement "repugnant."

The financial exchanges complained that Al-Jazeera is not "responsible," an allegation the paper calls "cryptic," but assumes it is linked to the station's decision to air footage of dead U.S. and British soldiers and POWs in Iraq.

"But Al-Jazeera says that after the Pentagon asked it to remove the pictures until families had been notified, it did so for eight hours, while the television stations of numerous countries continued to show them."

"The New York Times" says: "In truth, it seems that New York's exchanges have a broader complaint, heard in various forms elsewhere -- that Al-Jazeera is insufficiently supportive of America and its war in Iraq. As the only uncensored Arabic television in the world, Al-Jazeera does indeed slant its debates and discussions in a way that can be hostile to the West. [But] if the U.S. hope for the Arab world is [for] it to enjoy a free, democratic life, Al-Jazeera is the kind of television station Americans should encourage."

The Qatar-based station is the only Arabic channel "that regularly interviews Israeli officials," the paper says. It has also been "a vital source of information" about Al-Qaeda. "The New York Times" says Al-Jazeera "deserves all the help it can get."


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" says the Kremlin "has struggled to maintain a precarious balance" between its post-11 September strategic alliance with Washington and the French-German camp, which opposes the war in Iraq. Russian President Vladimir Putin is now also being forced to choose between Kremlin officials "who want to preserve their special relationship with [Iraqi President] Saddam [Hussein] and the need not to alienate Russia's friend in the White House."

U.S. officials have accused Russian firms of supplying Iraq with night-vision goggles and antitank missiles. If this is true, the paper says Putin "must make a clear decision" and end a trade relationship that threatens to harm Russia's long-term national interests. Putin "should cut off any Russian military assistance to the doomed dictator in Baghdad. He may not want to back [the U.S.] war, but he certainly cannot wish to cast Russia's lot with Saddam."

The editorial says, "It was bad enough that the Kremlin sought to protect [former Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic; if Putin truly wants to cast Russia's destiny with the liberal democracies, he will have to ditch Saddam."


Today's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses the political role of Mira Markovic, wife of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who is currently being tried at The Hague war crimes tribunal.

Serbia's interior minister is threatening to issue an international warrant for Markovic's arrest unless she returns immediately from Russia to answer allegations of her involvement in the August 2000 killing of former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic.

Police found Stambolic's remains last week and uncovered Markovic's alleged connection to the case while investigating the 12 March assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. Stambolic's body, which had been missing for nearly three years, was discovered on 27 March in a lime-covered pit on a northern Serbian mountain.

In its discussion of Markovic, the commentary addresses how her husband, Milosevic, and Stambolic, once political allies, eventually became rivals. Markovic was always very much involved in her husband's political career, and the commentary describes them as Serbia's "mad twosome" -- a couple obsessed with power in the tradition of William Shakespeare's Macbeth.


In the "Los Angeles Times," policy analyst and author Walter Russell Mead says France and Germany, which have until now defined Europe, have two different visions for the future role of the European Union.

"France hopes the European Union will grow into a superpower that, under French leadership, will challenge the U.S. for world leadership." But Germany sees the EU "as an alternative to power politics." Berlin "thinks that it is high time the human race grew up and got serious about problems like the environment and international law."

After both Paris and Berlin actively opposed U.S. policy in Iraq, the United States challenged the idea that France and Germany -- dismissed as "old Europe" by the U.S. defense secretary -- guided Europe. "Of the EU's five largest members, Britain, Spain and Italy tilted toward the U.S. With the EU committed to eastward expansion, it was about to include even more pro-U.S. countries."

Mead writes, "The arithmetic is clear: Even if Germany sticks with France, old Europe won't have the votes it needs to control the future foreign policy of the expanded European Union."

But Mead says the U.S. must reward its supporters and show their skeptical publics that it pays to back America. Secondly, Washington must fix relations with Berlin. The U.S.-German relationship is the "cornerstone of the Western alliance," says Mead. "Fix that relationship and the rest falls into place."


A "Le Monde" commentary today discusses the emphasis placed on God by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush. After what the paper calls "a youth filled with turpitude," Bush was "born again" in the Christian faith later in life.

"Le Monde" says Bush is not content to conclude his speeches with the traditional "God Bless America" used by all American presidents. Instead, Bush peppers his rhetoric with references to God and begins cabinet meetings with prayer.

The U.S. Congress has just announced a day of fasting and prayer for the American people, allegedly to prepare them for the challenges the nation must face.

This act has a single precedent in U.S. history, the paper says. In 1863, after two years of civil war, former President Abraham Lincoln similarly called for a day of prayer. This "unusual" step "shocks" Europeans, who have a firm secularist view, even if not all of Europe is as "rigorous" on this point as the French.

For the Americans, 80 percent of whom describe themselves in polls as "religious," this does not raise issues of separation between church and state because no particular religion is mentioned. But the editorial says such frequent invocations of God risks transforming the U.S.-British mission in Iraq into a new crusade in the eyes of millions of Muslims, with devastating effects throughout and beyond the Mideast region.

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)