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Western Press Review: Humanitarian-Aid Risks, The Deaths Of Saddam's Sons, And Havel's 'Medal Of Freedom'

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 24 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Among the issues addressed by analysis in the Western press today are the logistical difficulties and mismanagement experienced by U.S. forces in Iraq, the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein in Mosul, re-equipping U.S. humanitarian forces for high-risk situations, and awarding the American Medal of Freedom to dissident playwright and former Czech President Vaclav Havel.

NEWSWEEK:

Writing in the international edition of U.S.-based "Newsweek" magazine, Adam Piore discusses some of the logistical difficulties, communications breakdowns, and mismanagement experienced by U.S. forces in Iraq. Piore, who was embedded with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, says the actions of the U.S. military and civilian command in Iraq left him "with a deep sense of foreboding for Iraq's future."

While most Iraqis seemed to be "ecstatic" to be freed from the former regime, the U.S. presence "lacked even a basic understanding of Iraq and the effects of Saddam Hussein's rule." He says troops "suffered from poor or nonexistent coordination and communication -- even between Americans."

Piore cites an occurrence in Al-Qaim as an example. Locals complained repeatedly about a lack of gasoline, while U.S. commanders "agonized over how to obtain some -- even arranging to send trucks hundreds of miles to try to buy it." They finally discovered that local gas stations still had plentiful supplies -- but owners were waiting for orders to open and no one had thought to ask them to.

Initially, Piore says, Anglo-American occupying forces "hadn't shown much interest in rebuilding a new center of power in Baghdad." And it remains unclear "whether the [U.S.] administration even recognizes the problem." Iraqis are so used to living under totalitarianism that the political initiative and know-how for rebuilding a democratic state is lacking.

"In light of all this," Piore says Iraq's Governing Council is a "welcome development." He says that "strong central leadership and a vision," coupled with experience, is now needed "to get Iraq up and running."

LE MONDE:

An editorial in the French daily "Le Monde" says the reported deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein indicate that American attempts to kill or capture former Iraqi officials are bearing fruit. The generous financial rewards promised to Iraqis for volunteering information seem to be proving effective; of the 55 officials on America's official wanted list (published in April), 36 have now been arrested or killed.

The fate of Saddam Hussein's sons will reassure Iraqis who doubted that real progress was being made by Anglo-American forces. Many feared a return -- in one form or another -- of the former regime.

But "Le Monde" questions whether the deaths of Uday and Qusay will bring a decrease in the number of attacks on British and U.S. forces. Real security will only return to the country when the daily life of Iraqis finally improves, the paper predicts.

U.S. officials now realize they underestimated the difficulties of the post-Hussein period. Chief civilian administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer is currently in Washington to ask for more resources for the formidable task of reconstruction. The paper says Bremer is concerned that the willingness of Iraqis to cooperate is dissipating due to a lack of results.

In order to receive help from the international community, "Le Monde" says the White House will have to agree to relinquish some of the power in Iraq and allow for a vote on a new resolution, giving the responsibility for reconstruction to the United Nations.

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

In a contribution to "The New York Times," former Peace Corps volunteer Avi Spiegel says the U.S. administration's ideas of how to reorganize the military may need to be rethought. "[Instead] of making the military better at humanitarian assignments -- in Iraq, Afghanistan and perhaps Liberia -- humanitarian groups should strive to become more comfortable in military situations." Spiegel says, "A force of trained and educated volunteers could improve its cooperation with the military and learn how to conduct itself in such settings."

Most humanitarian organizations "cling to their independence and worry that any semblance of cooperation with the military might jeopardize their credibility." And aid organizations should not be answerable to the military, he says. But in post-Hussein Iraq, the military has been "slow to allow international humanitarian workers into the country because of concerns over their protection." The lessons, he says, "are telling: there are humanitarian workers who are capable of entering dangerous situations, and better relations with the military just might allow them better access."

America's humanitarian aid organization, the Peace Corps, "has been notably absent in Iraq and Afghanistan," he says. Peace Corps volunteers are "frequently withdrawn from any country in which the political situation became unstable." Today, if only allowed into secure, stable countries, "the Peace Corps [risks] being shut out of too much of the world." Spiegel says, "From North Africa to the Persian Gulf," the face America shows to the world "is too often the face of a soldier."

DIE WELT:

In a joint contribution to Germany's "Die Welt" today, World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn and philanthropist and Open Society founder George Soros discuss some of the issues relating to the Romany population in Eastern Europe. The authors recently (1 July) attended a conference in Budapest on the challenges facing Roma in an expanding European Union.

The commentary discusses the plight of the fastest-growing minority population of an estimated 7 million to 9 million Roma in Central and Eastern Europe. Roma tend to be the least-protected minority population, and most live below the poverty line. Wolfensohn and Soros say the Roma were the great losers during the region's economic transformation from a communist to a free-market society.

Roma lack access to basic education and thus suffer from a lack of professional qualifications which, coupled with social discrimination, excludes them to a large extent from the job market.

It is imperative to improve their housing conditions, to make schools available, and encourage their attendance, the authors say. Only improvements in education and living standards can ensure the Roma's future prosperity in Europe.

The commentary says, "Although EU candidate countries such as Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia can evidence considerable economic and political progress in dealing with this issue, the misery of the Roma remains one of the most important problems to be dealt with before EU enlargement is accomplished -- it is a problem we cannot afford to ignore."

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

Playwright, communist-era political dissident, and former President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel, who was imprisoned several times in the former Czechoslovakia for his plays criticizing communist rule and for his staunch defense of human rights, was among the chosen 10 to whom U.S. President George W. Bush yesterday awarded the Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian award.

Commenting on the fact that Havel was the first Czech to be honored in this way, correspondent Peter S. Green in "The New York Times" highlights Havel's undiminished fighting spirit in criticizing politics even today. Havel has been outspoken in his criticism of current Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who oversaw the often corrupt postcommunist privatization effort and takes a skeptical view of the Czech Republic joining the EU. At a Prague rock concert urging Czechs to vote in their referendum on joining Europe, Havel said, "Only criminals could find European membership a threat."

Likewise, Havel has not been afraid to direct implicit criticism at U.S. policy. Green quotes Havel as saying, "Terrorism is a big threat, and the war on terror is a very important thing -- but these are not the things that should determine the world order."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE:.

Writing in the "International Herald Tribune," Saudi oil and security analyst Nawaf Obaid says the truculent rhetoric used by the U.S. administration toward Iran is self-defeating and misguided. Instead, Obaid suggests that Washington must distinguish between Iran's reformist elements, led by President Mohammad Khatami and the elected parliament, and the hard-line conservative mullahs serving under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Obaid says it is Khameini and Iran's conservatives "who are solely responsible for Iran's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, as well as its support of international terrorism and links to Al-Qaeda."

Khatami's attempts to marginalize hard-liners from the government "have met with little success," says Obaid. But "[derailing] the nuclear program and terrorist activities of radicals in Iran's government is vital to peace in the region [and] a goal shared by Khatami and his supporters." However, he says, "achieving this will require nuanced diplomacy by the international community." Officials in the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush who attempts to bully and threaten Tehran with force "only strengthen the extremists."

Obaid suggests that instead, the United States and its allies "should pursue policies that isolate Khamenei and his henchmen without undermining Khatami and the forces of reform. This will be more difficult than making threats, but is necessary if one wants to foster a peaceful, non-nuclear Iran."

THE NEW YORK TIMES:

Writing in "The New York Times," Sandra Mackey says killing Saddam Hussein's sons, Qusay and Uday, was a tactical victory for the United States, but not a strategic one. By killing instead of capturing these "odious symbols of the old regime" and missing the chance to put them on display or bring them to trial, the U.S.-led occupation "has denied itself the chance to give absolute proof of their demise" to Iraqis, who live in "a society that rejects authority and thrives on conspiracy theory. It has also lost an opportunity to give Iraqis a chance to purge their bitterness, and satisfy a deep-seated need for revenge, by confronting their tormentors in court."

Although dental records positively identified the Hussein brothers yesterday, many Iraqis are not yet convinced. Mackey says in this case as in many others, the U.S. "continues to forget it is dealing with a culture that is far older and far different from its own. Suspicion and distrust of authority is deeply rooted in Iraq," she says.

In opting to assassinate Uday and Qusay instead of risking an attempt at capture, the United States "lost an opportunity to show Iraqis that those who have committed the most heinous of crimes cans still be brought to justice." At the same time, says Mackay, their assassination "runs counter to the kind of country [the U.S. wants] Iraq to become -- one built around the rule of law."

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

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