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Western Press Review: Iraq's Resistance Movement, Hans Blix's Departure, And The Mideast Cease-Fire

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 30 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics considered in major Western media outlets today are the departure of chief weapons inspector Hans Blix from his post at the UN; the weekend's developments in the Middle East; the U.S. policy of selective engagement abroad; and the ongoing resistance to the Anglo-American occupation in Iraq.


An editorial today discusses the work of Hans Blix, who was chief UN inspector in the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq up until the eve of war. Blix will depart his post at the UN today and return soon to his native Sweden.

The paper says it is too soon to make a final judgment on the Blix legacy while an intense search for the alleged weapons is ongoing in Iraq. "But with each passing day that the [Anglo-American] allies fail to find any 'smoking gun' evidence of terror weapons in Iraq, the carefully calibrated judgments of Mr. Blix and his inspectors are looking ever more credible," the paper says. While he has been criticized by both hawks and doves over Iraq, "in his precise and lawyerly way, Mr. Blix always stuck close to the available evidence."

If Anglo-American forces do find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, "the discovery will be a warning that even quite intrusive inspections like those by the Blix team are no guarantee of safety," says the paper. "But if the allied search comes up empty, that will suggest that the inspections were successful in containing a potential weapons threat. [And] Mr. Blix and his team will deserve our congratulations."


An editorial in Britain's "Daily Telegraph" discusses the announcement that Israel would begin a gradual withdrawal today from the Gaza Strip. In response, two of the five main militant Palestinian organizations, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, proclaimed a three-month cease-fire.

"The Telegraph" calls these developments "the most substantial progress in the Middle East" since the introduction of the "road map" for peace.

But Israel dismissed the cease-fire announcement as a "ticking bomb." The government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon refuses to negotiate with militant organizations, all of whom operate "under the nose" of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority (PA). Israel insists the PA take responsibility for reining in the extremists, and "The Telegraph" says new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) now has a chance "to prove that he can deliver more than words."

The cease-fire, "at best," signifies "a readiness to interrupt a policy of indiscriminate slaughter," the paper says. But because it is "based solely on tactical considerations, there is no knowing how long it will last." Much will depend on the actions of Iran and Syria, both of which support militant Palestinian groups, "The Telegraph" says.

The U.S. has turned up the pressure on these nations to cease this support, but "[at] most, the region can expect a lull" in the violence.


Writing in "The Washington Post," Jackson Diehl says the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush "appears to have forgotten the rest of the world." On one hand, Diehl says, it might appear the 11 September 2001 attacks caused the administration "to shift from conservative detachment to radical engagement in international affairs. Instead of trying to bring home U.S. troops from abroad it has poured them into Central and Southeast Asia and the Middle East; instead of disengaging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict it is trying to micromanage it."

But this perceived shift is only "partial, and deceptive," he says. "In theaters deemed part of the war on terrorism, President Bush indeed looks like the most activist U.S. president in a generation. But in most of the rest of the world -- including regions where Washington has been an indispensable power broker for a half-century or more -- this administration has executed a major retreat."

Africa, which "is suffering perhaps the worst confluence of crises in its modern history," will receive a mere "photo opportunity" visit from the U.S. president next week. And Diehl suggests no more consideration is being put into U.S. policy on Latin America or Asia. Instead, he says, the Bush administration "tends to eschew real crises for pointless ideological crusades."

A "Washington Post" editorial says that at the beginning of June, "loose networks of Iraqi militants, many with ties to Saddam Hussein's deposed dictatorship, were trying to launch a guerrilla campaign." And as the month draws to a close today, the number of Iraqi ambushes and other attacks has risen to an average of two daily.

The "Post" says this rising resistance "ought to prompt a thorough review of whether the United States has sufficient troops, sufficient resources, and sufficient allied help to overcome the challenge. Reports from the ground strongly suggest it does not." U.S. troops are "struggling to maintain order and restart normal economic activity, because they lack training, expertise, or civilian help."

The paper says the U.S. administration's best option "would be to reverse the error it made after the war, when it insisted on monopolizing control over postwar Iraq and minimizing the role of allies and the United Nations. UN agencies and European governments are well stocked with experts [in] infrastructure repair, agriculture, policing, and judicial reform who could be recruited to help the thinly stretched American forces in the provinces."

If the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush would "stop monopolizing reconstruction contracts for U.S. firms," it might also hope to obtain financial support for Iraq's reconstruction from the European Union and others. Most Iraqis are still willing to work with Anglo-American forces to rebuild their country, says the paper.

But the U.S. "must move quickly to prove to them that [the] transformation will go forward."


Writing in "The New York Times," columnist Nicholas Kristof says as inquiries continue into whether the U.S. and British administrations overstated the intelligence they had received on the threat posed by Iraq, hawks must "wrestle with the reckless exaggerations of intelligence that were used to mislead" the public. Yet at the same time, he says, the doves must also accept that Iraq is experiencing a "giddy new freedom," including an explosion of new newspapers and magazines.

Kristof goes on to say one "of the central moral questions for our time is when to intervene militarily on humanitarian grounds." He asks, if the United States "was willing to rescue Iraqis, should Washington intervene -- multilaterally -- to stop the far worse bloodshed in Congo -- where 3.3 million people have died since 1998?"

He says he fears the "mistakes and poor planning that are now miring America in Iraq will unfairly discredit humanitarian intervention more broadly, even when saving people pleading to be liberated." And that "would be another terrible cost of Iraq."


A "Stratfor" commentary today discusses U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's 27 June statement that the Iraqi resistance to the Anglo-American occupation is not a guerrilla war. Rumsfeld asserted recent attacks against U.S. and British troops were uncoordinated and not under any central authority.

But "Stratfor" says: "The definition of an early stage guerrilla war [is] that it consists of very small units, widely dispersed, with very little central coordination. [They] adopt a basic doctrine, such as attacking convoys, pipelines, and electrical infrastructure. Then small units carry out these operations on their own initiative."

Rumsfeld further claimed the perpetrators of the attacks were either remnants of the now discredited Ba'athist regime or criminals. But the commentary points out that the goal of a criminal "is personal advantage -- usually money." Attacking U.S. or British troops "cannot be called a criminal activity, in the sense that there is no personal profit to compensate for the extremely high risk. These attacks are not about money, they are about politics."

Many in Iraq oppose the Anglo-American occupation, whether for political, religious, nationalistic, or other reasons, says "Stratfor." This "is clearly a guerrilla war," one that is increasing in intensity for motivations that are "clearly political." Whether the guerrillas "succeed or not, they are hoping to expel the United States from Iraq."


Writing in the "Financial Times," former U.S. director for Russian and Eurasian affairs Mark Brzezinski says reports of foreign fighters joining the resistance in Iraq are "an alarming development," as Anglo-American forces try to re-establish security.

Brzezinski says this trend parallels the experiences of Russian forces trying to quell the rebellion in Chechnya. Chechnya began as a localized battle to gain independence. When the second Chechen rebellion was launched in 1999, Russia pursued a "scorched-earth program to crush the rebels," and the "ruthlessness" of the Russian military was noted worldwide.

Russia's hard-line policy brought more foreign fighters, or mujahedin, to Chechnya from all over the Muslim world and elsewhere to help resist the Russian crackdown. Brzezinski says the role of foreign fighters is often less to achieve a viable national independence for the indigenous population and more focused on raising the casualty toll of the occupiers to pressure a withdrawal.

But while Russian troops in the Caucasus are notorious for their brutality, Anglo-American forces in Iraq have generally sought to minimize civilian casualties and restore power and electricity to the local population. The U.S. still has a good chance of convincing Iraqis "that the coalition administration will be good for them and for their nation. But if the U.S. cannot meet the population's basic needs -- water, food, shelter, health care -- and if it is not sensitive to the population's national and cultural dignity, we will have lost the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people."