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Western Press Review: Shifting U.S. Policy On Assassination, Iraq's Governing Council, And Monitoring Hizb ut-Tahrir

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 14 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics discussed in the Western press today are yesterday's first meeting of the Iraqi Governing Council; Washington's new and "unprecedented" open policy on assassination; the rising popularity of Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami, or the Islamic Party of Liberation, in Central and Southern Asia; U.S. President George W. Bush's trip to Africa; and reforming Europe's farm subsidy system.


An editorial in "The Christian Science Monitor" says that the first meeting on 12 July of the Iraqi Governing Council is a "welcome" development. As attacks on Anglo-American forces in the country continue, it is "extremely important that the Iraqi people see progress toward involving Iraqis in their country's government."

The paper says that although the council is appointed, rather than elected, "it is broadly representative of Iraq's diverse religious and ethnic groups." Membership includes "13 Shi'ite Muslims, five Sunni Muslims, five ethnic Kurds, an Assyrian Christian, and a Turkoman."

The council's first priority will be "to convince Iraqis that it represents and serves them -- and is not just a front for coalition officials" working behind the scenes. The council has broad powers to "hire and fire ministers, approve a budget, appoint diplomats" and prepare for a constitutional convention in September. But it must now show that it can govern Iraq "peacefully after years of dictatorship."


In an opinion piece from "The New York Times" reprinted in today's "International Herald Tribune," author Thomas Powers -- whose most recent work is "Intelligence Wars: American Secret History From Hitler to Al-Qaeda" -- discusses what he calls Washington's "open, all-out effort to find and kill Saddam Hussein," calling it a campaign "with no precedents in American history." Powers says the plan to assassinate Hussein, "frankly admitted and discussed by high officials in the White House, Defense Department, and CIA, has committed the United States for the first time to public, personalized, open-ended warfare in the classic mode [of] an eye for an eye, a life for a life."

He says the open discussion of assassination "marks a profound retreat from the longstanding insistence that the United States did not and would not use assassination as a tool of state." Powers notes that presidential orders banning assassination signed by former U.S. Presidents Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, "prompted by public dismay over poisoned cigars and exploding seashells intended for [Cuba's Fidel] Castro, have never been formally revoked."

Powers says realists "may scoff that war is war and that things have always been this way, but in fact personalized killing has a way of deepening the bitterness of war without bringing conflict closer to resolution."

Assassins, once their mission is over, are "in a position to extort blackmail [or] go to the newspapers," Powers points out. Moreover, after one leader is assassinated, another may simply take his place. Washington clearly believes killing Hussein would be "a change for the better," he says. And "the public, so far, appears content to wait and see."


In a contribution to "The Washington Times," Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation says the U.S. government should be paying more attention to the emergence of Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami, or the Islamic Party of Liberation, in Central and South Asia and the Middle East. Cohen describes the group as a "radical Sunni political organization" that operates in 40 countries around the globe. The group's goals are to pursue a jihad, or holy struggle, against the United States and moderate Muslim nations, as well as "the overthrow of existing political regimes and their replacement with a Caliphate," a theocratic dictatorial regime based on religious Shari'a law.

Cohen says in order to prevent Hizb ut-Tahrir from destabilizing Central Asia and other regions, the U.S. administration must first increase its intelligence on the organization. But Washington must also pressure Central Asian governments to pursue more rapid economic reform. The popularity of Hizb ut-Tahrir is growing in Central Asia partly due to the lack of secular political options or economic opportunities throughout the region. To jump-start reform efforts, Cohen says Washington should consider conditioning security assistance to Central Asia on economic reforms such as adopting free-trade policies, strengthening the rule of law, ensuring transparency, and fighting corruption.

But the United States must also encourage public participation in politics. "The scarcity of secular and moderate Islamic democratic politics [and] the lack of freedom of expression may be driving thousands of young recruits to join [Hizb ut-Tahrir] in Central Asia," Cohen says.


The "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" today comments on the dubious claim by U.S. President George W. Bush that Iraq was trying to obtain nuclear material from Africa in his State of the Union address last January.

The German daily says although presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters that Bush considers the controversy over his claims to be over, "Bush will not rid himself of this problem easily." In fact, says the commentary, "this political conflict is only beginning."

The paper continues by saying it is not sufficient to put the blame on forged documents, for the president himself is responsible for the institutional and deplorable state of affairs that led to the misuse of secret documents for political purposes. The paper says Bush is ultimately responsible both for the ideas coming out of the White House as well as any decisions made on security policy.


Writing in the "Los Angeles Times," former U.S. envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross, now of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, discusses Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen.

Ross says that while head of the Palestinian negotiating team, Abbas "preferred to discuss the broader concepts and principles and let others work out the details." He always remained focused "on the bigger picture," and "[for] him, that bigger picture was peace with Israel."

Abbas "was an early advocate of dealing with Israelis and recognizing Israel," says Ross. "He understood that there was no future except as a state next to Israel, not in place of it. And that the sooner Palestinians understood this, the sooner their -- and his -- aspirations would be achieved."

Ross goes on to say that while Abbas is intensely nationalistic, he -- unlike Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat -- "saw that violence had been disastrous for Palestinian interests." His threat last week to resign was serious, Ross says, for Abbas "will not put up with subterfuges by Arafat. [He] will try hard to succeed, but he will not humiliate himself or violate his principles."

Abbas's threat of resignation may give him "the maneuvering room he needs." But, Ross asks, "can he deliver?" If Abbas "has a period of calm that allows him to build his authority, perhaps he can. The world should hope so."


Writing in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Thomas Scheen takes a look at U.S. President George W. Bush's five-day Africa tour last week, which he sums up as "bringing no cures to Africa's problems." Moreover, he adds, Africans are aware of this and regard Bush with mistrust, viewing his visit as designed only to pursue "U.S. national and security issues." The way to heal Africa, says Scheen, is by promoting economic growth, credible government, industrialization, employment opportunities, and, hence, wealth from taxes. In short, a functional state. But this rosy picture has one main failure: Africa is excluded from free trade. The United States, which pursues a policy of reform through trade, subsidizes its own cotton while simultaneously failing to open its own markets. During Bush's trip, Scheen says, "he repeatedly ignored appeals to cut subsidies and give African products a chance to compete in world trade."

Thus, "Africans are forced to take up Kalashnikovs in order to earn money quickly." If America and Europe want to halt fighting and prevent new security leaks from springing up all over the globe, Africa poses a legitimate question: Can it benefit otherwise in real economic terms? "Bush's answer was an unequivocal 'no'," says Scheen.


An editorial in "The New York Times" says Europe recently took "a small, grudging step" toward reforming its agriculture subsidies, which the paper says "undermine the global trading system and cheat farmers in the underdeveloped world." At least the EU's half-hearted attempt at reform was "a welcome admission that the status quo can no longer be justified," says the paper.

EU farmers will no longer be able to automatically increase their subsidies by growing more food, which often leads to huge surpluses. Subsidies to some of the largest farms will be funneled into projects for rural development and payments will now depend in part on farmers meeting environmental criteria. The paper says this is "[all] well and good, but far too little." EU leaders will need to undertake additional reforms in coming months, and the paper says the World Trade Organization's upcoming meeting in Cancun, Mexico, will offer just such an opportunity. The "overhaul" of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy could "mean much for struggling farmers in poorer countries."

Europe, the United States, and Japan have all "aggressively sought" to lower trade barriers on manufactured goods and services from the developed world. But wealthy nations have shown "reluctance to dismantle market-distorting agricultural policies [like] tariffs and subsidies" on agricultural and textile products from the developed world. This, says the paper, "betrays an unwillingness to make the sacrifices that poorer nations, with less negotiating leverage, have been asked to make" in the name of free trade.


An editorial in "The Washington Post" says as U.S. President George W. Bush meets with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan today, the two leaders should discuss the crackdown on pro-democracy advocates in Burma (Myanmar), a situation about which both men "have claimed to be highly concerned." The leader of the democracy movement, Aung San Suu Kyi, remains in police custody, "and neither Mr. Bush nor Mr. Annan has rallied to her defense as strenuously as one would expect."

Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a commentary in "The Wall Street Journal" that the time had come to freeze the assets of Burma's ruling junta and ban remittances. "But the [U.S.] administration has taken no such steps," says the paper. "It's been six weeks since the junta sent 3,000 vigilantes [to] beat and stab Aung San Suu Kyi's supporters." A Nobel peace laureate, she "apparently escaped injury but was taken into custody and, except for one brief interview with a UN envoy, has not been heard from since."

The paper continues: "You might think the Security Council [would] demand freedom for one of the world's most courageous [leaders]. After all, there is no dispute as to her legitimacy; the party she leads overwhelmingly won an election in 1990 but has never been permitted to take its rightful place in government." Yet thus far, the UN has done little, except -- ironically -- elect Myanmar "to the vice presidency of the General Assembly for the session that begins in September."


An item in France's "Le Monde" says U.S. President George W. Bush has recently been asked to "rediscover" NATO and the UN. On 10 July, the U.S. Senate, the upper house of parliament, unanimously passed a nonbinding resolution encouraging Bush to ask, "officially" and without delay, NATO and the United Nations for help in rebuilding Iraq. The resolution calls for asking the UN to supply armed forces and civil police, as well as other resources, to aid in the administration of the country. It acknowledges that it is in American interests to remain engaged in Iraq but that conditions on the ground continue to pose a great threat to U.S. forces.

One of the resolution's authors, Democratic Senator Carl Levin, suggested that it was misplaced pride that was preventing the U.S. administration from asking NATO or the UN for assistance, following the dispute that set Washington against Paris and Berlin over their opposition to the war.

On the ground, the situation remains difficult and tense, "Le Monde" says. According to General Tommy Franks, who led the war in Iraq, U.S. forces face between 10 and 25 attacks a day. Franks refuses, however, to call it guerrilla warfare. Although the attacks are increasingly sophisticated militarily, Franks says there does not seem to be a coordination of efforts -- which, in his opinion, does not correspond to the definition of guerrilla war.

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