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Western Press Review: The Stabilization And Administration Of Postwar Iraq

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 14 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Attention in the Western media is now shifting from the conduct of war in Iraq to the stabilization and administration of the postconflict period.

Under discussion today is the role of Iraq's Shia (Shi'ite) majority in a new Iraqi government, reestablishing law and order following the fall of the Ba'athist regime and protecting Iraq's ancient artifacts, many of which have been looted from museums. Ensuring Iraq serves as a model of a free, fair, and independent Islamic state is also addressed, as are the U.S. administrations plans for after Iraq.

THE TIMES:

An editorial in "The Times" of London today says despite the reluctance of some U.S. officials to see U.S. and British troops assume the role of a temporary Iraqi police force, "policing the streets of Baghdad is now essential if order is to be quickly restored." U.S. forces have begun guarding banks, hospitals, and other key locations, and have begun cracking down on the looting that broke out in the aftermath of the fall of the regime in Baghdad. In past days it was announced that Iraqi police would soon return to their jobs and begin joint patrols with U.S.-British forces.

"Establishing security is only the first essential step, however," says the daily. "Administering a broken country will test the coalition's determination and diplomatic skills at a time when ambition, opportunism, the thirst for vengeance and long-suppressed tribal and religious animosities are already jockeying to fill the vacuum."

The "first chance to mobilize" post-Saddam Hussein political forces will come tomorrow, at a meeting of Iraqi opposition and civic leaders in Nasariyah. "The Times" says these varied groups must now "make good" on their pledge to present a "united front" in hammering out an agreement on a postwar Iraq.

Tomorrow's meeting should also help clarify the role of a newly empowered Shia leadership, the relevance of various tribal relationships, "and how much of the previous civic leadership can be detached from its Ba'athist past and co-opted in building a democratic future."

THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR:

"The Christian Science Monitor" says Iraq will experience "two revolutions in government" once the war is over "and peace starts." First, a representative democracy will replace an autocratic regime in Baghdad. But in addition, Iraq's long history of minority Sunni Muslims ruling over the Shia majority is likely to end.

The paper remarks that "much of domestic politics and international diplomacy in the Middle East [is] driven by a centuries-old competition between Sunnis and Shiites." The editorial says it is now "imperative" for the "Iraqi democrats shaping a new government to carefully weigh how much of a role to give Islam in civic life to ensure democracy's survival, and how much to structure a new government to both reflect and bridge this ancient religious divide among Arabs."

Iraq's Shi'ites make up more than 60 percent of the population, while the Sunnis, who are more secular, comprise roughly 20 percent.

Many of the Mideast's Muslims consider themselves Islamic democrats who "support the goals of liberty and freedom," while hoping that "Islamic social values will be expressed through fair elections." The paper says Islam's "tradition of peace and tolerance can fit with democracy's open elections and civil liberties," and both traditions cherish values that can "bring greater prosperity and equality to Mideast Muslims. If Iraq can balance the two well -- as Muslim Turkey is trying to do -- the region will be the better for it."

THE INDEPENDENT:

An editorial in Britain's "The Independent" laments the destruction of Iraq's ancient artifacts in looting following the fall of the regime in Baghdad. "The looting of Iraq's museums was a simple act of pillage, seizing objects for their financial value." And the effect of such looting "is to spit on your own history."

The paper writes, "Saddam Hussein is undoubtedly to blame for having crushed and starved his own population to a point that their first thought was destruction and theft when the lid was lifted." But it is inaccurate to dismiss the pilfering that followed simply as "an act of revenge on a tyrannical regime. You don't loot a museum for that, nor do you take the incubators from a maternity ward or the tractor from a peasant farmer."

The paper says that "priceless treasures [were] stolen and smashed," along with the cataloguing and documentation of the historical objects. U.S.-British forces in Iraq must now "make the strongest efforts to guard what little remains. More importantly, the governments of the West must see to it that stolen objects remain or find their way back to the country."

A nation's history is part of its "consciousness, especially [in] a region so rich in its past and so bruised in its present as Iraq. Private collectors, museums and dealers worldwide must be told that any stolen artifacts [must] be returned to their owner: the nation of Iraq."

FINANCIAL TIMES:

Britain's "Financial Times" says France, Germany, and Russia "have a difficult hand to play after the swift military victory by the U.S. and Britain in Iraq." Their position that the more the United Nations is involved in Iraq's postwar rebuilding the better the project's chances "has much merit." But the paper says at this point, their influence in Washington "is minimal," and the role the U.S. seems to have in mind for the UN appears to be "largely advisory," apart from supplying humanitarian aid.

Paris, Berlin, and Moscow are all seeking to mend ties with the United States in different ways, the paper says. But the "troika's" 11 April meeting in St. Petersburg [risked] perpetuating pre-war divisions."

A "pragmatic approach" is now called for, and the "priority must be to do what is necessary to ease Iraq's plight. Further UN resolutions on reconstruction will almost certainly be needed to allow, for instance, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to become involved."

But "neither the Iraqi people nor the international order would be served by another diplomatic stand-off. For its part, the U.S., faced with difficulties in maintaining order in Iraq, may come to realize how hard reconstruction will be without broad support." A new trans-Atlantic relationship of some sort "will have to be built, however difficult the prospect." And this may require "a painstaking process of reconstruction, just like in Iraq."

THE DAILY TELEGRAPH:

An editorial in Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" discusses the presumed nonparticipatory role of journalists in combat situations.

Yesterday, CNN correspondent Brent Sadler entered Tikrit with his team ahead of U.S. troops and came under attack from Iraqi forces. Armed "security advisers" that were accompanying the crew fired back at the Iraqi positions.

The editorial says: "While we are pleased that Mr. Sadler escaped injury, he and his team have acted in an alarming way. Journalists, like stretcher-bearers and Army padres, do not engage with the enemy. This is an established and important rule of warfare. By the same token, of course, they should not be targets. Yet the breaking of one of these rules does not legitimize the breaking of the other."

In return for access to a story, journalists "are expected not to act as combatants or spies. They are there to observe, not participate. While the CNN team were no doubt caught unawares, it is hard to see what business they had entering enemy-held territory ahead of their lines, accompanied by armed guards."

Every time an incident like this occurs, some regimes "will feel more justified in treating foreign correspondents as auxiliaries of a hostile army." With its action in Tikrit, CNN "has made life harder for soldiers and war correspondents."

The editorial concludes that "for the sake of one smallish scoop -- that resistance in Tikrit was crumbling -- CNN has upset an understanding that has existed for decades between armies and their attendant journalists. It should have known better."

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

Writing in "The New York Times," columnist Thomas Friedman says the United States is not just at war with Saddam Hussein in Iraq, but is at war with what Friedman calls "Saddamism: an entrenched Arab mind-set, born of years of colonialism and humiliation, that insists that upholding Arab dignity and nationalism by defying the West is more important than freedom, democracy and modernization."

This mind-set, which Friedman says is often "peddled by Al-Jazeera television," is also evidenced by "how much distress there is among certain Arab elites that the people of Iraq preferred liberation by America to more defiance under Saddam."

The project to topple "both Saddam and Saddamism" will succeed only if the United States is "successful in creating a healthy Iraq -- an Arab state where people can find dignity, not just by saying no to the West, but by building a decent, tolerant, modernizing society that they can be proud of, an Arab state where people can speak the truth and that other Arabs would want to emulate."

Friedman cites Arab columnist Rami Khouri as saying that for too long, Arabs have seen the power of America but not its "goodness." Friedman says this is partly because Arab media "willfully distorted" U.S. actions, but it is also because America has often used its power in the Mideast "more to defend oil and Israel than democracy."

The war in Iraq "was meant to bring the idealistic side of U.S. power into the Arab world," and the task now is to apply U.S. idealism "to rebuilding Iraq and resolving the Palestine question."

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:

In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," author Francis Fukuyama of Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies discusses recent speculation that Iraq is only the opening bid in a new world order envisioned by the U.S. administration.

Many observers have been wondering what country might be next on the Bush administration's agenda. But Fukuyama says the best way for the United States to take advantage of its current position may be to consolidate its global presence, rather than expand it.

The U.S. "should use [its] victory in Iraq as the occasion to withdraw all of [its] military forces from Saudi Arabia," he says. The U.S. began basing forces in Saudi Arabia in the run-up to the 1991 Gulf War. But these bases "were always a source of instability," says Fukuyama.

He says there are many good reasons to withdraw "as soon as possible." The Saudi government did not allow the U.S. to use them during its recent Iraq campaign. And they are no longer needed "with the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime and the end of the no-fly zone."

"But the most powerful reasons are political," he continues. U.S. forces may be welcome for now in Baghdad. "But there is great suspicion throughout the Arab world" of U.S. motives in the region. "Announcing a withdrawal from Saudi Arabia will underline the point that [U.S.] military deployments in the Gulf are not ends in themselves, but serve specific and limited political objectives."

THE INDEPENDENT:

Britain's "The Independent" says, "There is something unseemly, not to say alarming, about the way in which the U.S. appears to be setting up Syria as the next threat to world peace and security even before the guns have fallen silent in Iraq."

"Having eliminated Iraq as a threat," the paper says, the U.S. administration "gives the impression that it is casting around for more enemies. The risks of such public accusations were all too apparent in the failed international diplomacy that gave way to the war on Iraq. The current disorder in Iraq similarly illustrates the dangers inherent in effecting a 'regime change' by force without sufficient planning."

The editorial says it hopes that Washington's warnings to Damascus "are no more than a metaphorical shot across Syria's bows and reflect nothing more ambitious than a desire to bring Saddam Hussein and his henchmen" -- some of whom are suspected of escaping to Syria -- "to justice." But there "are those in the U.S. administration who have made no secret of their desire to re-order the whole Middle East. In their scheme, Iraq is only the start."

But the paper warns that one "ill-conceived war with the potential to destabilize the whole region is already one too many."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE:

In the "Chicago Tribune," Steve Chapman says the U.S. administration, "[by] redefining the war on terror as a war against any nation anywhere that could conceivably pose a threat to [the U.S.] anytime in the next 500 years, and by throwing in a desire to spread democracy by the bayonet, President [George W.] Bush has given America a grand mission in the world."

But the administration already has its hands full in Iraq, he says, although it has "been loath to acknowledge the size of the burden [it's] shouldering." By taking over "responsibility for running a shattered, strife-ridden [nation], you can't expect the job to be quick, easy or cheap. It could take years, and it could cost hundreds of billions of dollars."

And if Iraq's citizens "are determined to settle old scores," there is no way to gauge what it will take to maintain order. "Before long, the prevailing image of this war may not be statues falling but Iraqis looting palaces, torching buildings and exacting retribution on their enemies."

Chapman says when you have "a lot of Iraqis who hate one another and some who hate [the U.S., you] get rich possibilities for trouble."

FINANCIAL TIMES:

Writing in the "Financial Times," Gerard Baker says the United States will probably not target other suspected "rogue" nations when it finishes military operations in Iraq. He says while "it is little wonder that the globe watches and waits to know the identity of the next candidate" for U.S. action, a "dose of reality may be in order. Political, economic and geostrategic pressures on the administration all militate strongly against the idea" of preemptive action against Syria or Iran.

Although "one or two of the Pentagon's more zealous neo-imperialists" might support a more aggressive U.S. policy, Baker says "it is not the intention of the Bush administration [to] favor preemptive action." In Washington, "there is an acknowledgement that the international environment is hardly conducive to further forceful action by the U.S. Most importantly, Iraq alone will hold U.S. military and diplomatic attention for many months."

Moreover, although international public opposition "did not in the end stop the U.S. from pursuing its preferred course on Iraq, the Bush administration was anxious to portray the war, however dubiously, as the work of a grand coalition of nations."

Even if U.S. President George W. Bush did adopt the neo-conservative view "that calls for aggressive pursuit of democratic change," a series of U.S.-led military campaigns seems unlikely.

"In fact," says Baker, U.S. officials "seem to be placing faith in the proposition that the example of Iraq may be enough in itself to induce the change the U.S. wants."

Commentary in the German and Swiss press focuses on the meeting of the leaders of Russia, Germany, and France over the weekend in St. Petersburg, where the situation in postwar Iraq topped the agenda.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG:

The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" says the intent of the meeting, particularly as far as German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was concerned, was to exchange opinions, but definitely not to establish an axis of countries opposed to the United States.

Even though the three nations definitely desire a more active UN role in the rebuilding of Iraq, the actual message from St. Petersburg declares that "the world of tomorrow should be a multipolar one, and not dominated by the United States." The commentary adds that, however commendable the aim, "this ad-hoc European alliance sets a bad example."

The Germans and French should recall the as-yet-unsuccessful coalition they have been working on for decades, notably the European Union. Only when economic strength is combined with a common EU foreign policy can they look America in the eye.

NEUE ZUERCHER ZEITUNG:

The Swiss daily "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" says the meeting in St. Petersburg points to the building of an axis rather than of a bridge across the Atlantic. It seems Moscow, Paris, and Berlin are setting up a coalition to oppose the United States. That, says the paper, "is not wise." Even though there are legitimate differences of opinion on the war in Iraq, after the fall of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, emphasizing these differences is "hardly in the trans-Atlantic interest of either Russia, France, or Germany."

These countries are now eager to participate in the rebuilding of Iraq, but the frost that these three European powers have generated in past weeks in their relations to the U.S. will not be easily mitigated.

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG

The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" also discusses the politics of postwar Iraq, where the U.S. is determined to assert itself while other countries are equally eager to gain access to the spoils through a UN mandate.

The paper says, "It is far from certain whether those who express their willingness to agree to a UN mandate really consider helping Iraq to be the genuine priority."

The U.S. reluctance to return to the UN Security Council once again indicates that Washington differs in its views from those expressed in St. Petersburg by French President Jacques Chirac and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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

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