Prague, 16 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Among the issues discussed by media analysis and commentary today are Germany's offer to send humanitarian aid to Iraq, as well as another failed NATO attempt this week to apprehend war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic. The ongoing struggle between Iran's conservative and reformist camps over the disqualification of liberal candidates from election rosters is also considered, as are Western plans for "remodeling" the Middle East and the newest challenger to Russian President Vladimir Putin's re-election bid, Irina Khakamada.
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG:
Writing in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Michael Gavin and Aaron Kirchfeld say German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's offer on 14 January to send an air force jet carrying medical equipment to Iraq "has reignited the national debate on what military involvement, if any, Germany should have in the reconstruction and stabilization of the war-torn country."
The chancellor did, however, emphasize that Berlin would not send combat troops and that the plane would only be sent at the behest of the Iraqi government and in accordance with a UN mandate. The German public, as well as its leadership, were overwhelmingly against the U.S.-led military intervention in Iraq, a policy split with Washington that has soured bilateral relations for months.
The opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) yesterday applauded Schroeder's announcement and called for more active German involvement in Iraq. The CDU repeated its call for Berlin to authorize the participation of German troops in a possible NATO-led stabilization force in the country.
Gavin and Kirchfeld note that the German offer to send medical aid to Iraq was quickly followed by a similar offer from France, in an "apparently coordinated" maneuver. They say the announcements suggest that both nations are "making a renewed bid to overcome the split with Washington caused by their refusal to support the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq last March."
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE:
The news this week of yet another failed NATO attempt to capture former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was "a reminder of the disgraceful reality." In an editorial, "The Wall Street Journal" says NATO troops were eluded once again, allowing Karadzic to "make a mockery of the West." Many excuses for the failure were made, the editorial says, yet "none credible." And "[as] long [as] Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, who directed the slaughter of 8,000 at Srebrenica, are on the loose, Bosnia can't close the book on its bloody past."
NATO tried harder to apprehend alleged war criminals in the 1990s, and did manage to capture some of the smaller suspects as a "dysfunctional Bosnia strained patience." But the paper questions the level of Western effort dedicated today to capturing those responsible for Balkan war crimes.
"Certainly, America's special forces are busy in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Europeans should do more," the editorial says. "Realistically, though, only the U.S. has the right assets on the ground to get Karadzic."
It is widely suspected that Mladic is in Serbia proper, "under the protection of the nationalists within the Serb military."
The U.S. once pledged that its troops would not leave Bosnia until Karadzic was on trial at The Hague. But as NATO gets ready to hand over peacekeeping in the Balkans to the European Union at the end of the year, "the U.S. risks breaking this promise unless NATO gets serious about catching the butcher of Sarajevo."
Pierre Rousselin of the French daily "Le Figaro" says that in the course of "remodeling" the Arab world, the future of women in Iraq poses something of a test. Nothing can justify the tyranny suffered by Iraqis, he says. But the one merit of the Ba'ath Party's secular regime was respect for the equality of the sexes.
The debate on the rights of women is shaking the Muslim world, says Rousselin. The controversy has even reached France, where the decision to ban the wearing of overt religious symbols -- such as Muslim veils and Jewish yarmulkes -- in public buildings has ignited fierce debate. In areas of the Middle East where fundamentalism influences society and ways of life, the elites have their eyes turned toward Iraq. They are well aware that the United States seeks to rebuild the country as a model of democracy for the region. But placing family issues under the jurisdiction of sharia religious law, as the Iraqi Governing Council has decreed, is no way to defend the rights of women, the author says. Iraqi women this week protested the council's December decision to revoke the former regime's secular civic laws, many of which offered women significant protections under the civil code.
Examples of lingering intolerance in the region are not lacking. Thirteen years after the U.S.-led liberation of Kuwait, the right to vote is not guaranteed for Kuwaiti women. Rousselin says even beyond the fate of Iraq, in deciding the gender right issue, it is the future of the Arab world that is at stake.
"The Economist" this week says Iran has "two parallel governments, one theocratic, one democratic." The magazine says now, "some of the democrats seem in the mood for a showdown."
The conservative mullahs' decision to disqualify thousands of candidates from running in next month's parliamentary elections -- including 80 serving legislators -- prompted a sit-in this week by Iranian reformists that is now entering its sixth day. Several prominent politicians have threatened to resign. And "The Economist" says, "Were they to do so, the long power struggle between democratic reformists and conservative clerics might take a decisive turn, leading perhaps to the definitive end of the theocracy ushered in by the 1979 revolution."
All signs indicate that most Iranians would welcome such an outcome, the magazine says. "The clerics who wield nearly all the formal power in Iran have failed on almost every score. Their fierce adherence to religious dogma, with its bans on alcohol, satellite television and most social mixing of the sexes, has become a huge irritation. Their foreign and security policies have brought Iran isolation and condemnation." And the "economic failures are even more distressing," as the two-thirds of Iran's population that is under 30 faces overwhelming unemployment.
Iran's voters feel let down by both "the corrupt and repressive clerics, [and] now by the spineless democrats," says "The Economist." But in recent years, "seemingly invincible governments have been peacefully ejected [in] Georgia, Serbia, Chile and the Philippines." The magazine says, "Sooner or later, Iran's turn will come."
THE MOSCOW TIMES:
"The Moscow Times" in an editorial discusses the candidacy of Irina Khakamada, who is challenging Russian President Vladimir Putin in presidential elections. Many observers initially believed she was running "at the behest, or at least with the tacit approval, of the Kremlin." Her campaign could help prove the election is not merely a "farce" with a foregone conclusion and will help bring out more voters, sparing the Kremlin the embarrassment of low turnout invalidating the ballot.
But Khakamada has unexpectedly launched a "direct attack" on Putin, raising "uncomfortable questions" and accusing him of covering up what really happened during the Dubrovka theater hostage taking and in the 1999 Moscow apartment bombings. Raising these questions is a good cause, says the paper, and they are still awaiting answers.
The Moscow daily calls Khakamada "a politician with a fair degree of integrity." But it predicts she is "unlikely to make a noticeable dent in [Putin's] popularity," adding that her candidacy is not "any [great] threat to the Kremlin." The paper adds, "We applaud her courage and hope her participation in the campaign leads to more open debate, but the fact remains, it is still a mock election in a mock democracy."