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Western Press Review: 'Real Weapons' In Iraq And The Lost Road Map To Peace In The Middle East

  • Don Hill

Prague, 13 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A survey today of commentary in the Western press finds two central topics -- mounting unrest in Iraq and mounting bloodshed in the Middle East.


"The Wall Street Journal Europe" in an editorial hails a report that the United States is about to begin training a new Iraqi army, reducing some of the growing pressure on U.S. troops there.

The editorial says: "Baghdad regent L. Paul Bremer announced yesterday that the U.S. will soon begin training a new Iraqi army, and it's certainly about time. The rebuilding in Iraq is still suffering -- and the U.S. casualty rate is growing -- because of our failure to let Saddam Hussein's opposition join the fight before the war.

"The result has been that U.S. troops have had to bear all of the burdens of security in that large country, while also hunting for [weapons of mass destruction] and pursuing Saddam if he's still alive."

The newspaper adds: "[A] sensitive issue here is how quickly to turn over a whole host of other responsibilities to Iraqis, including that of actually running a government. [But] we can't see a downside in enlisting more Iraqi help in policing streets and oil rigs, or in hunting Baathists."


"The New York Times" revisits in an editorial the issue of the credibility of the government of U.S. President George W. Bush on the subject of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

The newspaper says: "President Bush cannot be pleased to know that his State of the Union address last January included an ominous report about Iraq that turns out to have been based on forged documents. The incident is an embarrassment for Mr. Bush and for the nation, and he should now be leaning on his aides to explain how they let fabricated information about Iraq's nuclear weapons program slip into his speech. The answer might help explain whether Washington deliberately distorted intelligence to rally the nation for the war against Iraq."

The editorial concludes: "It remains to be seen whether Iraq pursued a nuclear weapons program in recent years. But along with the many other questions that have arisen about Iraq's unconventional arms since the end of the war, the matter of the forged documents needs to be explored fully by Congress and a White House advisory board that reviews the performance of intelligence agencies."


"Chicago Tribune" writer Steve Chapman says in a commentary that the Bush government promised the world an Iraqi pinata -- that is, a container filled with toys and candy, which are released when the container is beaten. What it delivered, Chapman says, was a Pandora's box full of problems.

The writer says: "The Palestinians were supposed to deduce from [Saddam Hussein's] fate that terrorism is a ticket to nowhere. But militant factions are still carrying out suicide attacks, and Washington's preferred Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, lacks the will and the power to stop them. Nor do neighboring Arab states show much interest in trying to rein in the terrorists.

"Elsewhere in the world, victory has paid no dividends. A new global survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press finds that 'in most countries, opinions of the U.S. are markedly lower than they were a year ago.' In such predominantly Muslim states as Indonesia, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, most people have a favorable opinion of Osama bin Laden.

"Not everybody loves a winner -- at least if they see him as a bully."


Richard Norton-Taylor and Rory McCarthy write from Baghdad in a commentary in Britain's "The Guardian" that U.S. troops in Iraq must deal with a problem greater than so-far unseen weapons of mass destruction -- renewed fighting with "real weapons."

The writers say: "While attention has focused on the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, growing evidence that the war is far from over has been overlooked. Fighting with real weapons is on the increase. A sudden upsurge in violence in the past couple of weeks has killed at least 10 American soldiers and wounded more than 25.

"The United States admits it had to revise drastically the number of troops it needed within weeks of the fall of Baghdad, as looting, armed robberies, rapes, kidnapping and carjackings multiplied. The arrival of the U.S. Army's 1st Armored Division was brought forward, the departure of the 3rd Infantry Division, which led the invasion from Kuwait, delayed. U.S. troops are now being sucked into Iraq much deeper than they imagined, or were told."


Commentator Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger writes in Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" that Germany is finding "unbearably high" the price it is paying for having opposed the U.S. intervention in Iraq.

Frankenberger says: "The dispute continues over whether the German government's attitude during the Iraq crisis benefited or damaged Germany's international reputation. One thing that is clear, though, is that Germany had to pay and is still paying a price for its attitude. It is being ignored demonstratively by high-ranking U.S. politicians.

"Although it played a prominent part in causing this situation, the German government increasingly considers this price unbearably high. Now it is praising the German-American friendship and is anxiously trying to brush over and forget about the past.

"But 'let's forget about it' isn't an attitude that comes naturally to people like U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is not about to forgive the German government for getting in Washington's way during the Iraq crisis. So Germany remains in forced quarantine. That's how one has to interpret Rumsfeld's renewed distinction between the old and new Europes."


On the topic of the Middle East, "The Guardian" warns in an editorial that the stage appears set for U.S. President George W. Bush to "pass the buck" -- that is, shift responsibility to subordinates in his failing peace initiative.

"The Guardian" calls the peace effort "a road map in reverse." It says: "Mr. Bush seems to have very little new or constructive to say. Analysts suggest that [his] studied, even proud, ignorance of nuance and detail are now proving to be its undoing. One debate centers on differing interpretations of the word 'restraint,' in the context of Israel's ability to preempt terrorist attacks. It is clear that the Bush and [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon versions do not match. Having promised great things, and invested much presidential prestige in Aqaba, Mr. Bush is being reduced to uttering a rather pathetic, running commentary on each latest reverse.

"It is unlikely that his political advisers will let that go on for much longer. If Mr. Sharon is not forced into line soon, Mr. Bush may back off, passing the Middle East buck to lowlier officials rather than risk a personal humiliation. That may be the very outcome Mr. Sharon is aiming for."


What is needed desperately now, says "The Christian Science Monitor," is a "pause for peace." The editorial says: "Bush is right to pressure Israel to hold its fire and move ahead with the road map despite the bombings, starting with dismantling Jewish outposts on the West Bank."

The editorial adds: "[Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud] Abbas remains a weak leader, unlike Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Yet he was persuaded by the United States to renounce 'terror against the Israelis' at the peace-plan launch. His sincerity and authority now are being tested in how well he can rally the Palestinians behind his stated views.

"Israel's long-term interests demand that Abbas be given some peace to see if he can stop the violence."


On the Atlantic's other side, the British daily "Financial Times" takes a similar tone under the headline "The Road Map Goes Nowhere."

The editorial says that Abbas must establish a monopoly of authority over Palestinian violence. It goes on: "He can only do that if his people believe he can negotiate an end to Israeli occupation of their land. The road map is too vague on its final destination to do this.

"The United States and its partners need to add something to kick-start it, and to spell out where it is going. That means leaning on both sides to scale back violence now and work flat out for a cease-fire. It will eventually mean forcing the issue of a final settlement. The most sensitive issues, such as sharing Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees, would have to be the subject of a final trade-off between the two sides. But there can surely be no prospect of peace without the promise now of a Palestinian state on nearly all of the occupied West Bank and Gaza."


"The Washington Post's" Jackson Diehl writes in a commentary that Ariel Sharon evidently sought the "violent consequences" of Israel's attempt this week to assassinate Hamas official Abdel Aziz Rantisi.

The writer calls this "diplomacy by assassination" and says: "Abdel Aziz Rantisi, the Hamas leader Sharon ordered assassinated, is a media personality who lives a highly public life. Had it chosen to, Israel could have targeted him at any time in the past year, when no peace process was under way. So why did the helicopters strike six days after the Aqaba summit? The most logical explanation is that the violent and entirely predictable consequences were exactly what Israel's prime minister wanted."


Writing in "The Guardian," commentator Martin Woollacott says that Sharon errs in taking the position that Abbas should be able to control Hamas.

The writer says: "The worsening violence in Israel and the occupied territories could be taken to mean that the scheme for a settlement between the two peoples launched so recently is already doomed. The road map, which the United States and others have persuaded Israelis and Palestinians to endorse, does indeed lay out a route which is strewn with obstacles and which is only going to work with a lot of luck and a great deal of perseverance, above all on the part of the United States.

"But it is not upset forever because of one vicious round of hostilities between the Israelis and Hamas, and if the lessons of that confrontation can be learned the chances of success may improve.

"What the confrontation shows is that there has to be an understanding between Israel and the more extreme wing of the Palestinian movement, as well as one between Israel and Fatah -- Yasser Arafat's political organization. Or, rather, there has to be a triangular understanding between all three if there is to be progress toward peace. This has been evident for a long time, but it has been pushed to one side because in the public world view of both the Sharon and Bush governments, there is no place for negotiations with those responsible for terror."