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Western Press Review: Gauging Iraqi Public Opinion, The WTO Meets In Cancun, And Dissecting Iraq's Resistance

  • Khatya Chhor

Prague, 10 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A review of major news dailies today finds much discussion of the World Trade Organization conference in Cancun, Mexico, which is bringing together trade ministers -- and protesters -- from around the world.

Other analysis focuses on this week's Arab League meeting in Cairo, gauging Iraqi public opinion, reasons why the UN should stay out of Iraq, and understanding the resistance to the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.


A "Washington Post" editorial says that as trade ministers from around the globe meet in Cancun, Mexico, for the World Trade Organization conference, it might help if they took a moment to remember what the current round of trade negotiations was supposed to achieve. Two years ago in Doha, Qatar, negotiators declared a new commitment to the world's poor and to the alleviation of poverty.

"Since then, some progress has been made," says the "Post." Medicines for AIDS and other diseases have become more affordable in poor countries, and generic versions can now be licensed. But there has been slow progress on agriculture reform. Farmers in developing nations "actually have less access to the markets of rich countries than they did two decades ago. Poor farmers who want to sell their products abroad face levels of trade protection two to three times higher than those faced by rich-country farmers."

The United States and the European Union, responsible for most agricultural subsidies, have produced suggestions for reducing tariffs -- but they "have not yet applied it to actual goods. While this is a step forward, it is a small one, and the frustration felt around the world about the slow pace of negotiations is justified."

The paper says it hopes "the publicity surrounding the meeting will embarrass the U.S., Japanese, and European governments, with their atrocious record on farm subsidies, into adopting a more radical approach."


Commenting on the two-day Arab League session now taking place in Cairo, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" says that in past years this organization has proved to be "a blunt sword," characterizing its actions regarding Iraq as "depressing and ineffective."

The current meeting, however, seems to be an exception "and points to a new pragmatic approach" since Arab League ministers yesterday invited Iraqi interim Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari to participate in the League's deliberations on the situation in the region. The 22-member group thus showed its recognition of the Iraqi Governing Council set up in Baghdad by the United States.

It is clear that Iraq will never be the same, says the paper -- but the future is also unpredictable. Nevertheless, says the commentary, "whoever wants to exert influence in the region must acknowledge this situation," especially since Iraq is among the more important Arab countries due to its vast oil resources and its population of some 25 million.


Writing in the "Christian Science Monitor," Middle East studies Professor Fawaz Gerges of Sarah Lawrence College in the U.S. says although the U.S. administration characterizes the Iraqi resistance as a "terrorist phenomenon," it is actually comprised of a "broad spectrum of political and ideological forces."

While predominately made up of lingering Ba'ath Party elements, the anti-American resistance also includes secular Ba'athists, Iraqi fundamentalists, militant Arab Islamists, and "dissatisfied" Iraqis.

Gerges says militant Iraqi fundamentalists known as Sunni Salafits have received little attention, but it is they who "appear to be heading the fight, along with secular Sunni Ba'athists." These groups are "religiously motivated and determined to establish an Islamic state." It is just a matter of time, says Gerges, before they join up with their increasingly militant and globally oriented Arab counterparts.

And yet, "Defining everything broadly as a 'terrorist' threat won't resolve the underlying problem in Iraq -- which is the lack of legitimacy of the U.S. military presence in the eyes of Iraqis. Nor will it prepare the American public for a prolonged and costly struggle in Iraq."

Gerges says three important changes are necessary to legitimize the occupation in Iraqi eyes:

First, the occupation and reconstruction must be internationalized. This will "weaken and delegitimate the armed resistance."

Next, the U.S. military presence must be scaled back while still providing security.

Finally, says Gerges, the eventual transfer of power to Iraqis must come as quickly as possible.


Writing in the London-based "Times," columnist Simon Jenkins lists several reasons why the United Nations should not become involved in Iraq. The world body should "not dilute the obligation on America and Britain to finish what they have started," he says. Washington now wants what it "swore it could do without" -- a UN resolution and the cooperation of other nations.

The best reason for the United Nations to stay out of Iraq, says Jenkins, is one cited six months ago by U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: Iraq is a military operation, he said, that demands a clear chain of command -- and the UN does not operate with clear lines of command. Moreover, the UN is not "a benign and impartial observer" to many Iraqis, who blame it for suffering under 10 years of sanctions.

UN soldiers would be sent to get shot, just as Anglo-American forces are today, says Jenkins. And a UN force would, ultimately, end up merely sanctioning U.S. hegemony in the country.

"Sending troops to nations whose leaders have not requested them and which are no immediate danger to world peace is not its job," Jenkins says of the UN. And there is thus far no consensus on how to rule Iraq.

Most UN members "see Iraq as a country desperately wanting peace and self-government that is being made a terrorist safe haven by America's inept occupation." Iraq is beyond the reach of the UN, Jenkins says. The situation today "is an argument between [U.S. President George W.] Bush and the Iraqi people."


Writing in "Die Welt," Andreas Middel comments on the latest resurgence of violence in Macedonia. Recent clashes between Albanian militants and Macedonian police and troops on the country's northern border are considered the most serious incidents since their conflict ended two years ago.

At that time, the country was close to civil war between the Albanian minority and Macedonian majority. In those days, says Middel, NATO forces were successful in disarming the Albanians and establishing peace.

And "Macedonia disappeared from the negative headlines," says the commentary.

Now the European Union has replaced NATO forces and is providing "a necessary stabilization factor, which has proved to be vital in keeping the peace." Yet it is still questionable whether that mission alone can solve the problem.

Middel notes that "dreams of a Greater Albania still seem to be playing a role -- notably far beyond Macedonian borders. As long as the issue of the status of neighboring Kosovo and the Albanian majority population there is not clarified, this dream will doubtlessly be nurtured."


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Karl Zinsmeister of the American Enterprise Institute considers the results of what he calls the first scientific poll of Iraqi public opinion.

His organization worked with Zogby International survey researchers to gain a representative sample of Iraqi opinion based on surveys conducted in Basra, Mosul, Kirkuk, and Ramadi. The results, Zinsmeister says, "show that the Iraqi public is more sensible, stable, and moderate than commonly portrayed, and that Iraq is not so fanatical or resentful of the U.S., after all."

Seven out of 10 Iraqis polled believe their country and their personal lives will be better off five years from now. And by a margin of three to one, they believe the toughest challenge of rebuilding will be political rather then economic. When asked about Iraq's chances for democracy, five out of 10 said democracy is a Western idea that will not work in Iraq; four out of 10 said it will work.

But asked whether they would like to model Iraq's new government on either Ba'athist Syria, monarchic Saudi Arabia, Islamic republic Iran, Egypt, or the United States, 37 percent of Iraqis chose the United States. Saudi Arabia was the second most popular model at 28 percent. Asked whether an Islamic government is preferred to a secular one, 60 percent favored a secular state, as opposed to 33 percent opting for Islamic rule.

Zinsmeister says if the "small number of militants conducting sabotage and murder inside the country can gradually be [eliminated], then the mass of citizens living along the Tigris-Euphrates Valley are likely to make reasonably sensible use of their new freedom."


Writing in France's "Liberation," columnist Patrick Sabatier says many of those involved with the World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting this week in Cancun, Mexico, are hoping the negotiations fail -- but for vastly different reasons.

Anti-globalization demonstrators accuse the WTO of being responsible for all the planet's ills, from the devastation of the environment to the famines of the Third World. Developing countries, locked in a standoff with the United States and Europe, are threatening to undermine everything. And President George W. Bush's U.S. would not regret the collapse of a multilateral forum at which its will is often disputed.

Skeptics might wonder how negotiators can be effective when they must vehemently defend their national economic interests but can then not act except by consensus. The organization's shortcomings, he says, are obvious.

America and Europe are particularly guilty, says Sabatier. While preaching free trade, they "shamelessly" violate the rules of the game with their farm subsidies, keeping the planet's poorest mired in misery. Sabatier says the WTO cannot continue to act in the service of the world's richest. It must rid itself of the notion that an expanding market, without regulation or control, is enough by itself to guarantee development and the reduction of disparities in wealth.

Economic competition and free trade benefit all only when they are made in equal measure and while respecting certain rules that the political powers must define.

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