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Western Press Review: Iraq's 'De-Ba'athification,' Reforming The Palestinian Leadership

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 24 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A survey of commentary in the Western press today finds much discussion of the "de-Ba'athification" process in Iraq, as the nation dismantles what is left of Saddam Hussein's regime. The ongoing search for alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is also discussed, as are Palestinian attempts at reforming their leadership with the naming yesterday of members for a new cabinet.


Writing in "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Anne Applebaum says the "de-Ba'athification" of Iraq must not merely involve the arrest of top-ranking Iraqi leaders, but must include a "revolutionary transformation of the entire Iraqi political class." From the political reorganization of nations such as South Africa, Nazi Germany, and Serbia, she says a few "very broad" rules can be drawn upon for guidance.

Applebaum says the first -- and most important -- "Law of Democratic Transition" calls for the Iraqi national debate and assessment of Saddam Hussein's regime to become "a permanent part of public life," brought into the open rather avoided or hidden. Iraq's recent political history must "[inform] the work of historians, writers and teachers as well as politicians. Archives must be carefully and systematically published," and personal files made available. South Africa's post-apartheid "truth commissions" were a similar attempt to come to terms with the past.

Applebaum's Second Law of Democratic Transition warns that, "However apparently discredited a regime is, it's only a matter of time before its functionaries begin to creep stealthily back into power." For this reason U.S.-U.K. forces must prevent members of Saddam Hussein's regime from turning their wealth and resources "into political capital."

The final rule of transition is that, as far as possible, Iraqi citizens must oversee the transition process. Applebaum says, "The more the new Iraq is built by Iraqis, the more stable a place it is likely to be."


A "Chicago Tribune" editorial today says United Nations weapons inspectors should join the hunt for proscribed weapons in Iraq. The paper calls it "perplexing" that the U.S. administration "seems so adamantly against allowing UN inspectors to help." UN scientists are knowledgeable about Iraq's weapons programs, the paper notes. They could provide "crucial help in interviewing Iraqi scientists and military leaders who have been captured." The presence of UN inspectors would also help quell suspicions that any weapons found were planted by U.S. forces to belatedly justify the military action. The editorial goes on to say that U.S. President George W. Bush's "pique" at the UN for its reluctance to support military action in Iraq "seems to be clouding his judgment on this."

The paper says it is likely that Iraq was harboring prohibited armaments, but it will take a while to find them. However, it says if chemical weapons "are not found, that will leave some very difficult questions. Were the weapons spirited out of the country, and into dangerous hands? If Saddam Hussein didn't have such weapons, why didn't he fully account for the destruction of them to avoid a war he couldn't win? And why were U.S. officials so certain of intelligence reports that Hussein still possessed them?"

But for now, the hunt for suspected weapons continues -- and it is in the interests of the international community to involve the United Nations in the search.


Writing in the British-based "The Times," Peter Riddell says the United States "knows how to win wars, but not how to win the peace."

In Iraq, he says, "American politicians and commanders have been ill-prepared and bewildered by the disorder and the hostility to U.S. rule shown by some Iraqis. There were insufficient forces to keep order and curb looting in Baghdad. Officials are reported to have been 'surprised' by the strength of the Shias, as shown by the pilgrimage by hundreds of thousands to Karbala."

With the fall from power of Hussein's Ba'ath Party, Riddell says Iraq's mosques and shrines "represent the main alternative power center," and have "deeper local roots" than Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi, whom Riddell calls "the Pentagon's favorite" to rule Iraq. "This is not," he writes, "what Washington's neo-conservatives [had] in mind." Riddell says the United States must "share its imperial burden, not just with Britain but more generally. Other countries and international institutions need to be involved" if the Middle East is to be made more stable.

Riddell goes on to note that tensions between the U.S. and British allies "are becoming more open." Britain "can no longer pretend to be the bridge between Europe and the U.S.," he says. Prime Minister Tony Blair must "spell out Britain's postwar policies" and, if necessary, "acknowledge disagreements with Washington [to] avoid being dragged along in the wake of the U.S."


In a contribution to "The Boston Globe," John Ruggie of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government says a pragmatic approach to postwar Iraq needs to be found to bring quick relief to the Iraqi people. First, the UN's oil-for-food program must be extended "for as long as it is needed." Before being disrupted by the war, this program "fed nearly two-thirds of Iraq's population."

But for Iraq to buy food, medicine and other much-needed supplies, Ruggie says "it needs to sell oil." This process is being held up by the debate over whether or not to lift UN sanctions prohibiting Iraq from doing so except under UN supervision. The United States has asked the UN Security Council to lift the sanctions, but some suggest they can only be lifted after the reasons for initially imposing them are eradicated -- namely, when Iraq's alleged cache of prohibited weapons is found and disposed of.

Another problem regards who would control Iraq's oil revenue. "Iraq cannot yet do so because it lacks a government, and neither the Iraqi people nor the international community want to see the United States in charge," says Ruggie. He suggests that as "an interim step, why not have the Security Council designate the secretary general [Kofi Annan] to act as an agent for Iraq, under close supervision and in a highly transparent manner?" The more UN involvement in rebuilding Iraq, the greater the international confidence -- and the more easily Iraq will be able "to gain universal recognition."


Dietrich Alexander, writing in Germany's "Die Welt," takes a look at Yasser Arafat's political role, following the settlement reached yesterday between Palestinian President Arafat and his prime minister-designate, Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen), after a five-week impasse.

Alexander says it is clear that Arafat was under extreme pressure, for like all autocrats, Arafat is convinced that "he alone is the almighty designated to make decisions about the Palestinian people and their fate." The fact of the matter, says Alexander, is that for a long time now, Arafat has been "expendable."

These latest events, says Alexander, offer a genuine chance of a new beginning in Ramallah. Arafat maintains a symbolic role as an "elder statesman" and will be able to save face, but his influence will diminish or even vanish. In the end, Alexander says Arafat has been politically isolated because he never managed to mature from a guerilla fighter into a statesman.


The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" carries a profile of Arafat by Thorsten Schmitz, who says the PLO chief and chairman of the Palestinian Authority is "a living enigma, whose reputation is based on a lack of transparency." Arafat's mystery even stems from birth. He maintains he was born in Jerusalem, but in actual fact his birth certificate shows he was born in Cairo. Not even his date of birth is clear, listed variously as either 4 or 24 August.

Rather than achieving real political success, Arafat is worried about going down in history as a hero, as the man who led his people against Israel in the first Intifada of 1987. He finally saw triumph when Palestinian autonomy was declared in Oslo in 1993. Arafat was then treated by the world as a statesman, who, says Schmitz, "had no state, but who made decisions about postage stamps and a national anthem."

Arafat always desired to be seen as a revolutionary. On the grounds that "he was no Israeli puppet," he refused the peace settlement opportunity at Camp David in 2000. Rather, he basked in a hero's glory for not being willing to give up the Gaza Strip.

Arafat is accustomed to commanding unlimited authority. But during the wrangling over his cabinet in the past weeks, says Schmitz, Arafat has frequently made strategic recalculations.


The lead editorial in Britain's "The Guardian" says local leaders are emerging to fill the power vacuum in Iraq caused by the collapse of Hussein's regime. "All over non-Kurdish Iraq, Shia clerics and their followers are taking de facto charge of towns and neighborhood.... [In] Najaf and Karbala, in Kut and Nassiriya, and in the suburbs of Baghdad and Basra, Shia civil control is becoming the new political reality, distinct from and largely independent of the occupation authority." The paper says on one hand, the "nascent, unfettered Shia bid for local self-determination after years of repression is a positive outcome of the war. But on the national level, it may yet come to present a serious challenge to U.S.-British hopes of inclusive, integrated statehood" for Iraq.

The growing power of the Shi'a, who comprise 60 percent of the Iraqi population, was "dramatically symbolized" this week with a pilgrimage of hundreds of thousands to the shrine of Imam Hussein in Karbala. Shi'a leaders say they do not seek to dominate Sunni Muslims or other minorities, or to institute theocratic rule. Nor do they represent "a coherent national political force," divided as they are by various political and religious issues.

But the United States has now "freely admitted" to failing to anticipate the extent of the Shi'a resurgence. "Hamstrung by legal ambiguities and its own ideology," the paper says the United States "risks losing the political initiative. The case for the UN taking charge grows more urgent by the day."


Jacques Amalric of France's "Liberation" says the reemergence of Shi'a power in postwar Iraq is seriously complicating U.S. plans. Washington underestimated the on-the-ground realities, he says. These realities are now making themselves known, for while Iraqis may have wished for liberation, a majority of non-Kurds now view U.S.-U.K. forces as occupiers.

Washington's strategists thought the power vacuum left in Iraq could be easily filled by a temporary American administration, which awaited its moment in the wings of Kuwait City. Representative Iraqis, whether they spent the past years in exile or stayed in Iraq cooperating only minimally with the Baathist regime, would then slowly be incorporated into the power structure. But this scenario has been thrown off course by what Amalric calls the "spectacular" mobilization of Iraq's Shi'a community. Even if the differences between various Shi'a factions persist, Amalric says the Shi'a community has already shown its viability, its willingness to take over the administration of Iraq.

Washington will thus be forced to commit many more forces to the region in order to carry out the "delicate" task of maintaining law and order. But a significant degradation of the situation on the ground will consolidate the American role as a force of occupation. Amalric predicts that soon the diplomatic battles will begin over how and whether to incorporate UN and NATO forces in maintaining Iraq's postconflict stability.

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