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Western Press Review: U.S. War Plan Criticized, Powell Goes To Ankara, And Investigating SARS

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 2 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Topics discussed by the major Western dailies today include repairing U.S.-Turkish relations, as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrives in Ankara; a consideration of what Kurdish communities might expect after the war in Iraq; "hubris" and miscalculation in the U.S. war plan; and the global spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, a contagious pneumonia-like illness. According to World Health Organization statistics, SARS has so far infected over 1,800 people in 15 countries worldwide and killed at least 60.


This week's edition of Britain's "The Economist" questions what Iraqi and other Kurdish communities can expect after the war. Kurds are often considered the world's biggest population of stateless people. But "The Economist" says this may give "the wrong impression: relatively few Kurds outside Iraq -- and a radical movement in Turkey -- aspire to independence, though a great many aspire to developing their culture and building [Kurdish] institutions."

The magazine cites David McDowall, an expert on the Kurds, as saying Kurdish groups worldwide may constitute more of a shared ethnic community than a stateless aspiring nation. "The claim of common ancestry, he argues, is largely mythical, and Kurdish dialects [are] so distinct that Kurds can barely be said to share a language. The Kurds in Turkey, Iran, Iraq or Syria are often more like their fellow Turks, Iranians, Iraqis or Syrians than each other."

But "whatever the divergences among Kurds, [the] one incontestable fact is their oppression by host governments who, in unreasoned fear of irredentism, often ban their language and culture." "The Economist" says Kurds everywhere "deserve a break; maybe this war will open the way to one."

Iraqi Kurds "are unlikely to feel safe" in the postwar period "until they have cast-iron guarantees for running their own affairs -- albeit linked to a new Iraqi government and sharing Kirkuk's wealth with other Iraqis." But "The Economist" says this "does not mean [a] common rush to separatism."


In a contribution to the "Financial Times," author Joshua Micah Marshall says as U.S.-British forces "become bogged down in fierce skirmishing with Iraqi irregulars along the long line from Umm Qasr to the outskirts of Baghdad, criticism has focused on Donald Rumsfeld, the [U.S.] defense secretary. Against the advice of many of the country's top generals, [Rumsfeld] pressed for a fighting force in Iraq that went against conventional military doctrine. It was not only much smaller but differently balanced." But after almost two weeks of war, Rumsfeld's vision of "fast-moving, air-dominated, high-technology warfare, which seemed visionary a month ago," now appears "to many like a reckless gamble."

Rumsfeld and his senior deputies believed that modern technology had revolutionized warfare. "Used [together] with special operations, they believed, it made large concentrations of ground troops and heavy armor far less important." Moreover, they were committed to a vision of military dominance that would allow the U.S. to fight several wars at once. Thus, attacking Iraq "without mobilizing America's entire arsenal was an important part of making that threat credible." Rumsfeld's crew also believed U.S. troops would likely be hailed by Iraqi as liberators, failing to foresee the level of guerrilla warfare we are now witnessing.

The misjudgments of Rumsfeld and his deputies are due to their hubris, Marshall writes. They miscalculated because they "were sure that they were right."


"The New York Times" in an editorial notes that several observers have recently been "stunningly critical" of how U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been overseeing the war in Iraq. Some have accused him of trying to fight the war by amassing "far fewer troops than the army had wanted, leaving supply lines vulnerable to attack and providing fewer troops than needed."

But the paper says, "In a free country at war, it is natural for the political conversation to focus on whether the military is using the right plan." However, "it does seem too early to make many judgments." The editorial says while it disagreed with Rumsfeld's assessment that the Iraq situation called for a military, rather than diplomatic, solution, "his argument that the military needs to be quicker and leaner, with less reliance on heavy armored divisions, has always seemed reasonable." It adds that Rumsfeld's "main error was his imperious style."

The difficulties U.S.-British forces are having with overstretched supply lines are "serious," says the paper, but there is no indication a larger force would have avoided this predicament. "The big failure," it says, "has been in political assessment, and the expectation that southern Iraqis would welcome the American troops and offer minimal resistance." The U.S. administration may have received "mixed intelligence about how the Iraqis would respond to an invasion," and the Pentagon "chose to believe the optimistic reports."


In a contribution to "The New York Times," retired Marine General Joseph Hoar, commander in chief of U.S. Central Command between 1991 and 1994, says of current U.S. strategy in Iraq: "The fact is that more ground troops are needed. And more ground troops are on the way." But will this "second infusion" of troops be sufficient, "and why weren't these troops there when the war started?"

It is often widely believed that advances in military technology limit the need for ground forces. But Hoar says, "[despite] improved intelligence and smarter bombs, prudent planning still requires that sufficient ground forces be assigned to deal with all reasonable contingencies: poor weather; long, vulnerable supply lines; an enemy that decides to fight; an undecided, if not downright hostile, civilian populace; and the use of guerrilla tactics."

He says there is a common belief among the civilians in U.S. presidential administrations "that military technology has advanced to the point where wars can be won with relatively few ground forces. There will probably be a time in the future when this is so," Hoar says. But "until then, soldiers and marines, in large numbers, will still be required to seize and hold terrain."


An editorial in "The Washington Post" says the Turkish parliament's refusal to allow U.S. troops to use Turkish territory for operations in Iraq "stirred bitter feelings" in Washington. But there has been "fault on both sides," the paper says, from "an inexperienced new leadership in Ankara and by a U.S. administration that allowed military logisticians to dictate the pace of what should have been more careful pre-war diplomacy." U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit to Ankara today will offer a chance for the two sides to repair relations, as both "have much to gain by restoring a close working relationship."

Turkey has thus far shown restraint in not sending troops across the border into northern Iraq. A "central aim" of Powell's visit will be to ensure this situation remains, and to convince Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan "that the United States will not allow the Kurdish areas to separate from Iraq [and] will protect Turkish interests in the oil center of Kirkuk." Powell might also secure Turkish cooperation in dispatching humanitarian aid to Iraq.

"Cooperation in northern Iraq in turn could lay the foundation for U.S.-Turkish collaboration" in the postwar period, the paper says. Turkey's endorsement of a postwar Iraqi administration "will be crucial, as will be its willingness to rapidly reopen its border and trading routes." Provided the U.S. administration "can deliver on its promise to prevent Kurdish separatism, Turkey will have much to gain from a pacified and stable Iraq."


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" states emphatically that Iran has no desire to get involved in the war with Baghdad, in answer to recent U.S. allegations that Iran had deployed militants into neighboring Iraq.

The commentary says the government in Teheran is definitely opposed to Iranian volunteers or Iraqis living in exile in Iran from "seeping into neighboring Iraq to join in the battle."

However, says the commentary, Iran is a Shiite country, so "there is a considerable temptation to get involved" in Iraq, where a majority of the population is also Shiite. But Iran's mullahs do not want such a confrontation. They insist instead on playing a role of "active neutrality."


In the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Patrick Illinger discusses the deficiencies in global health policy that are evident from the threat posed by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which seems to be spreading across the globe and is believed to have begun in southern China. According to current World Health Organization statistics, SARS has infected over 1,800 people in 15 countries worldwide and has killed at least 60.

It would be simplistic to accuse China, considering its population density, of being the origin of the disease, says Illinger. More rational would be to realize that "the threat of this sinister epidemic indicates how mankind, within the framework of living creatures, is only a single mosaic tile in a fragile biological construction."

Essentially, he says, the crux of the matter lies in the activities of the World Health Organization (WHO). Although in the past 30 years dozens of diseases have become prevalent, it is only mandatory to report to the organization in cases of yellow fever, plague, and cholera. Illinger says this "Stone Age policy" continues to prevail "in a world where, at any given moment, 7,000 planes are in flight."

He says WHO policy should not limit itself to advisories and recommendations. How great must the danger become, he asks, before uniform precautions are taken to avert possible biological attacks, whether natural or man-made?


An item in France's "Le Monde" discusses the sentencing of two Bosnian Croats by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Mladin Naletilic and Vinko Martinovic were sentenced to 20 and 18 years, respectively, for their roles in a campaign against Muslims in the southern Bosnian town of Mostar in 1993. While the two did not mastermind the plan, they were deemed responsible for a significant part of the sufferings that were visited upon the civilian population of Mostar. The sentences were received with dissatisfaction in the south Bosnian town, with Croats finding them too harsh while Muslims found them too lenient.

Naletilic, 56, was the founder and commander of a group dubbed the "Revival of Justice Battalion," a force specializing in attacks against Muslims. The judges deemed his group responsible for persecutions with racial, political or religious motivations, torture, and the illegal transfer of civilians.

Martinovic, 36, was a battalion commander. The 18-year sentence was handed down for his role in war crimes and crimes against humanity. Martinovic was notably found guilty of using Muslims as human shields.

Mostar had long been known as a symbol for the peaceful cohabitation between Muslims, Jews, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians. But the city was torn during the civil wars of the 1990s by confrontations between Bosnia's Muslims and Croats. Bosnian Croats sought to install in Mostar the seat of the autonomous Republic of the Croats of Bosnia, or Herceg Bosna.


In "The Wall Street Journal Europe," economics professor M. A. Adelman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says in the postwar period, Iraq should sell off its oil to the highest bidder, regardless of nationality, in order to finance its reconstruction. Adelman cites Faisal Qaragholi of the Iraqi National Congress as saying in February that Americans "will get no special treatment when it comes to parceling out oil fields once Saddam is gone. As ungrateful as this may sound, Mr. Qaragholi is right," Adelman says. "Competition, not goodwill, is the most lucrative and efficient way to rehabilitate Iraq's oil industry. [If] competition rules the market, the big gain will go to the new government."

In reality, Adelman says U.S. and British companies "possess the most discovery-production know-how," while Russian companies also have much recent experience. British and American firms may have the most cash and thus win many of the bids, but Russian firms could also be counted on to bid heavily.

Adelman goes on to say undeveloped oil-rich areas should be "divided into the smallest manageable tracts, and opened to sealed bids, for auction sales of rights to discover, develop, and produce." Bids on these undeveloped fields "would soon provide large additional payments to the Iraqi government and people."

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