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Western Press Review: Securing A Prosperous Iraqi Future And Lingering Doubts Over U.S. Policy

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 11 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics discussed in analysis and commentary in the major Western media outlets today are securing the oil resources for a prosperous Iraqi future, lingering doubts over U.S. war policy, the Kurdish victory in Kirkuk, and the nature of a postwar Iraqi administration, as misgivings and debate persist before an uncertain future in the Gulf.


An editorial in "The New York Times" says U.S.-British forces "secured Iraq's southern oil fields before they could be sabotaged," due to "good planning and quick military action." If oil fields in the north are secured similarly intact, "limited oil production may resume in a few months."

But how the U.S. administration manages Iraq's oil resources as it administers the country "will go a long way toward determining not just the future of Iraq but also America's worldwide reputation." The paper warns, "any effort to manipulate Iraq's oil for the benefit of the United States and American oil companies rather than the benefit of the Iraqi people will squander whatever political gains Washington has won in the war."

The editorial notes the U.S. administration has "repeatedly pledged that Iraq's oil wealth will be used exclusively to benefit the Iraqi people." This is "the right principle," it says, and "by adhering to it, Washington can dispel lingering suspicions about America's motives for invading Iraq."

If Iraq is allowed a chance to develop its oil resources equitably while "shedding the expensive burdens of militarism and dictatorship," the country will be able to "exceed the prosperity it briefly knew a quarter-century ago." And the United States should direct its efforts toward helping Iraq achieve this goal.


Now that the U.S.-led war in Iraq seems on its way to a conclusion -- and after television images of Iraqis cheering the downfall of the regime in Baghdad were broadcast worldwide -- several observers supporting the war have argued that antiwar sentiments were misguided or misplaced. Writing in "The Washington Post," E. J. Dionne Jr. says regardless of what side of the war debate anyone falls on, the Iraqi people "are better off to be rid of [President] Saddam Hussein." The "best case for this war," he writes, was always "humanitarian."

But the doubts of antiwar observers "never rested on a defense of Saddam Hussein," he points out. "Almost all the objections focused on the administration's diplomacy before the war, and on what would come after. [The] hardest part is just starting."

Dionne asks: "Will Iraqis who today cheer American troops for bringing down Saddam Hussein be cheering an occupying force six months or a year from now?" The United States "is about to engage in an intricate form of nation-building that will entail the most direct involvement in Iraqi politics, down to the local level. Americans [will] find themselves caught in the middle of feuds between political factions and also at the heart of fierce ethnic struggles."

He says the U.S. administration "should be eager" for any broad-based international help "that could defuse anti-Americanism in Iraq and elsewhere. The United States will also need enormous staying power of a sort we have not demonstrated in Afghanistan."


A commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" looks at the successes achieved by the Kurds in northern Iraq. The Kurds, who are allied with Anglo-American forces, took control of the key oil-rich town of Kirkuk yesterday.

The paper says, "Whereas the Kurds have long awaited this day, the Turks have always feared it." This, the paper says, is a triumph for the Kurds, as Kirkuk will also serve as "a bargaining chip." Winning this town is a demonstration of the Kurds' power and they are making clear that they intend to play a significant role in postwar Iraq. This time they will not tolerate a suppression of what the paper calls their "rightful" position.

As for Turkey, the commentary says, it will have no other choice but to accept this new reality. Should Turkey try to avert the consequences of the Kurds' victory through military intervention in the north, "the political consequences would be fatal" for Ankara. So far, the commentary continues, Turkey seems to be inclined to look reality in the face rather than pursue a hot-headed policy.

As far as the Kurds are concerned, much depends on the wisdom and ability of their leaders to prevent acts of revenge from occurring. If they keep their fighters under control, then there are real hopes that Kirkuk could become the capital of an autonomous Kurdish territory within a new Iraq.


An editorial in Britain's daily "The Independent" says, "[the] response yesterday of the Turkish government to the fall of Kirkuk is depressing. Turkey's suspicion of any expression of Kurdish identity has been an undercurrent of this war, and has as much to do with the Turkish parliament's refusal to allow U.S. forces free run of the country" as any feelings of kinship with Iraq's Muslims or acquiescence to Turkey's antiwar public opinion. "Turkey did not want Baghdad to be taken, with Kurdish help, from the north, and it does not want Kurdish fighters heading south, expanding Kurdish territory."

"Yet Turkey will not be able to suppress the Kurdish issue," the daily says. A new representative Iraq will allow "greater international recognition of the Kurdish right to self-determination." And this "is unwelcome to Turkey, where more than half of all Kurds live, because there is no good argument in principle against a unified Kurdish state." Ankara, it says, "does not seem sufficiently to understand that its best hope of heading off Kurdish nationalism is to respect the rights of Turkish Kurds."

But for now, the paper says, "establishing order is urgent." Humanitarian aid "cannot be distributed unless it is effectively policed." In addition to the obvious short-term issues, there is a medium-term concern raised by sustained chaos and lawlessness in that it allows "gangsterism to take hold. The problems in Bosnia and Kosovo show how difficult it is to root out organized crime once it gains a hold."


"The Boston Globe" in an editorial says the U.S.-British "foreign invaders" tearing down the "Baathist dictatorship" in Baghdad "have an obligation to help Iraqis revive their country. But if U.S. and British troops stay too long and meddle too much in the politics of Iraq, they are sure to be reviled as neocolonialist occupying powers." The paper writes, "It will not be easy to create democratic institutions in a society disfigured by violent dictatorship. But the effort must be made."

The paper says the postwar civilian team being chosen by the United States to administer postwar Iraq will "take charge of existing Iraqi ministries and manage basic functions -- the provision of electricity, water and sewage disposal and the revival of communications, hospitals, and postal services." But this "must be done swiftly," the paper says. "Three months ought to be time enough to prepare the way for a transfer of administrative responsibilities to Iraqis."

Moreover, says the paper, the U.S.-led postwar Iraqi administration must not "mold police and intelligence services" in the service of Washington, or limit Iraq's "political options" by ruling out participants "according to ideology."

"It will be best [if] an interim Iraqi authority -- one that includes representation for all 18 of Iraq's provinces and all political tendencies -- can take part in deciding the roles of the UN and other outsiders in Iraq's reconstruction." The "Globe" adds that foreign powers "who have been implicated in long liaisons with Saddam [Hussein] should not decide now how free Iraqis will govern themselves."


An editorial in France's "Le Monde" today says the Anglo-American campaign in Iraq promises to "free the Iraqis from one of the most brutal regimes on the planet." After having liquidated his political opponents and consolidated his power in 1979, President Saddam Hussein went on to ruin the economic future of a country, the paper says, of what was one of the most promising in the region.

There has been little popular resistance to the arrival of Western forces and no fighting in the streets of Baghdad, as feared, the daily said. But it should be remembered that much of the Arab world feels ambivalent about the expected Anglo-American victory due to a sense of collective Arab humiliation at American hands, which tempers much of the satisfaction felt in the region at Hussein's fall, "Le Monde" wrote.

The French daily says the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush insists "it can make democracy flower in the craters left by bombs." But this is optimistic, says the paper. U.S. military victory was never in doubt, but the postwar period has not yet been dealt with. The success of this endeavor will depend largely on whether the U.S. administration chooses to significantly involve the UN or whether it decides on the "unlimited, unilateral deployment of U.S. power."


The lead item in this week's "The Economist" lists a plethora of persistent, lingering questions about U.S. policy in Iraq: "What about the looting, the disorder, the score-settling, the perils ahead? How, exactly, does the U.S.-British coalition plan to plant a liberal democracy in such barren soil? Was the war legal? Was it worth the damage it has inflicted on the Security Council, on Arab pride, on relations between America and Europe and between Islam and the West? Is there not a danger that, having rediscovered the swiftness of its terrible sword, America will turn too readily to the use of force in other conflicts?"

The magazine says, "In truth, many of these are excellent questions." But first let us acknowledge "that something good has happened," that the people of Iraq "are being delivered from a terror that has endured for more than a quarter of a century."

"The Economist" says that, to Iraqis, "America is an improbable liberator." Many "despise" the U.S. for inciting Iraqis to revolt in 1991, then abandoning them and letting them be crushed by Ba'athist forces. Younger Iraqis "have been schooled to hate America for -- they believe -- imposing sanctions on Iraq and Zionism on Palestine. To such people [the] notion that America might be a force for good in the lives of Arabs must be thoroughly discombobulating." But the "jubilant" toppling of a statue of Hussein in downtown Baghdad on Wednesday "was the sort of event that has the power to shape the beliefs and behavior of millions."

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