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Western Press Review: Establishing Effective Government In Iraq; Saudi Terrorism; Plight Of The Kurds

  • Charles Carlson

Prague, 12 November 2003 (RFE/RL) � Today's press review highlights commentaries and analyses from the Western press on the unexpected visit of L. Paul Bremer to the White House to find ways to speed up the creation of a new Iraqi-run government in Baghdad; the 8 November terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia; the plight of the Kurds; and the disputed elections in Georgia.


A commentary by Rowan Scarborough from "The Washington Times" reports on Iraqi civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer's arrival in Washington for urgent discussions at the White House. Discussions are expected to focus on speeding the creation of a new Iraqi-run government in Baghdad.

Scarborough says the administration has come to the conclusion that its appointed Governing Council of Kurds, Shi'ites, and Sunnis is moving too slowly in creating a constitution and setting up government ministries. A proposal being made is to accelerate the constitution-writing process by moving first to an interim constitution that could be produced in a matter of weeks.

Bremer, who heads the Coalition Provisional Authority, canceled a meeting in Baghdad yesterday with Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller and traveled to Washington for these urgent discussions with White House officials.

Scarborough says this drive is even more urgent after more than 30 U.S. troops were killed this month in attacks by Saddam Hussein's followers, primarily in the so-called Sunni Triangle west and north of Baghdad.


A commentary in the "Boston Globe" titled "The Enemy in Saudi Arabia" highlights a statement by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah responding to the 9 November terrorist bombing of a Riyadh housing compound in which he vowed to "destroy the threat posed by a deviant few and those who endorse or support them."

Nearly all of the 17 who were killed and the 120 who were wounded -- in an operation that seems to bear the signature of Al-Qaeda -- were Muslims. How do the terrorists justify the massacre of Muslims, especially Muslim children, the commentary asks.

The implication for Americans is that Bush's war on terrorism is a misnomer. The U.S. is involved in a political struggle between religious reactionaries and the Muslim mainstream, it concludes.


A commentary from the "Financial Times" likewise concentrates on the attack in Riyadh, suggesting the Saudi regime is in deeper trouble than it has so far acknowledged, since Al-Qaeda has now turned its sights toward the heart of Saudi Arabia.

The roots of the problem, notes the commentary, are social, political, economic, and religious, especially when the government is now beginning to reform. The commentary refers to U.S. President George W. Bush's acknowledgement that 60 years of backing the Arab autocrats has merely produced a new breed of terrorists.


A "New York Times" commentary and analysis titled "Terrorism in Saudi Arabia" comments on the growing terrorism problem in Saudi Arabia, the latest example being the 8 November bombing in Riyadh. Saudi and U.S. authorities attribute to attack to Al-Qaeda.

The "Times" says Saudi Arabia now needs to make faster progress toward democracy, as well as establish a more effective police force. Saudi officials need to show a greater willingness to cooperate with foreign law enforcement agencies and to end the financing of radical Islamic groups that support violence, the commentary notes.


A commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" looks at the plight of the Kurds in Turkey. Abdullah Ocalan and his guerrilla PKK organization have lost their cause militarily and, the paper says, "the foot-soldiers are freezing in the northern Iraqi mountains, practically forgotten by the rest of the world."

On the other hand, says the commentary, "culturally the Kurds in Turkey have made considerable gains." At last, their language is receiving increased respect. For the first time, a Kurd play is being staged in Diyarbakir sponsored by the state.

Now, though, the Kurds want a genuine share in their newly gained freedom. Although a Kurd majority in Turkey does not want civil war, if the PKK issues a call to arms, the commentary says, "They would find support as before, because most Kurds are convinced that they owe this to the one-time fighters. Moreover, economically, the Kurd areas still lag far behind the rest of the country." Ankara still views its southeast region as no more than "a burdensome backyard," the paper reports.


In a "Washington Times" commentary titled "Turmoil Gripping Tbilisi," Jeffrey T. Kuhner writes about the political crisis in Georgia. The recent parliamentary elections, the commentary notes, were "plagued by massive voter fraud and ballot stuffing," the result being that "Tbilisi has been rocked by widespread demonstrations, demanding that President Eduard Shevardnadze step down from power."

This led the U.S. Embassy to issue a statement that "mismanagement and fraud" from the elections "denied many Georgian citizens their constitutional right to vote," the commentary added.

Shevardnadze has gradually lost his credibility with both Georgians and the international community after he assumed power in 1992, Kuhner writes. His administration has engaged in widespread bribery and smuggling, enriching oligarchs who in return pledge their loyalty to Shevardnadze.

The result is that economic reforms have been "derailed," Kuhner concludes.

Because of its vital geopolitical importance and its oil reserves, the situation in Georgia is of vital concern to Washington, the commentary adds. Georgia is the key transit point for a U.S.-backed pipeline that will export Caspian Sea oil to world markets.

For years, the West has sent massive foreign aid to Shevardnadze's corrupt regime, Kuhner continues. Washington should now insist that financial assistance be tied to concrete steps taken by Tbilisi toward necessary reforms, such as cleaning up corruption, modernizing the tax system, and implementing Western-style election laws, the commentary says.

"A stable and prosperous Georgia is essential to curtailing Great Russian imperialism and preserving the West's influence in the oil-rich Caucasus," it concludes.


Tomas Avenarius in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" also devotes his commentary to Shevardnadze, the embattled president of the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Protesters have been gathering on the streets of the capital, Tbilisi, calling for his resignation following 2 November elections which European election monitors declared had "spectacular" irregularities.

The commentary says that in the eyes of the West, and Germany in particular, Shevardnadze -- a former Soviet foreign minister -- is considered to be the most important export of Mikhail Gorbachev, who brought about the reunification of Germany. At home, though, he has nothing more to lose. He is accused of incompetence concerning everything from the economy to corruption, which pervades all fields of life.

After more than 10 years of Shevardnadze's presidency, Avenarius says the beauty of the magnificent South Caucasian country is utterly devastated following civil war. The population lives in dire poverty; industry and the infrastructure are down to rock bottom; retired people receive a pension of just 5 euros per month; electricity and heating fail for whole days; the mafia plagues the country; and separatists are dividing up the quasi-states.

Granted, Shevardnadze, associated with "glasnost and perestroika," has also promoted Georgia's closer ties with the U.S., NATO, and Europe -- and thanks to its military policy has managed to free itself from dependence on Moscow. As a whole, though, as Avenarius sums up, "the final analysis is negative."

According to the constitution, Shevardnadze will not be allowed to stand for election in 2005. "The question now is whether he can remain in power until then," Avenarius concludes.

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