Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: Double Inquiry Into Iraq Intelligence, Kurdish Security Concerns, And EU Economic Woes

Under pressure over WMD. Prague, 4 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Today's press commentaries look at the U.S. and British inquiries into Iraqi intelligence failures, security concerns in Iraqi Kurdistan, Europe's "structural" economic shortcomings, and turning a blind eye to human suffering in the world's dictatorships.


A "Financial Times" editorial welcomes the news that the U.S. and British governments have "finally decided to hold inquiries into the intelligence about weapons of mass destruction" used as a casus belli for invading Iraq. "It has long been clear that the information was inadequate and inaccurate," the British daily writes. "But it is not enough to find out why that was so. It is also essential to determine if that incomplete information was properly analyzed, and if it was in any way misused in the political process of deciding to go to war."

The paper says all three of these questions must be answered over the course of the investigations. The British and American inquiries are likely to be very different, but inseparable, the "FT" says. Going to war may have been the right course of action. But justifying that decision "will require dramatic progress in stabilizing Iraq and the surrounding region."

The two inquiries have a vital role to play. "They must make clear whether there were systemic failings in the process of gathering, analyzing and using the intelligence on Iraq's presumed possession of WMD. That is not just a question for the intelligence services. [U.S. President George W.] Bush and [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair are ultimately responsible for the decision they took to go to war."


Today's "International Herald Tribune" reprints a "New York Times" commentary by Peter Galbraith, the former U.S. ambassador to Croatia. Galbraith writes that until the 1 February attacks on two major Kurdish political parties, the Kurdish-controlled region of northern Iraq "had been largely free of the terrorism and chaos that has plagued the rest of the country."

Last April, Kurds protested the U.S. decision to relax border controls between Kurdish areas and the rest of Iraq, which was then newly emerging from decades under the control of deposed President Saddam Hussein. These latest bombings "will reinforce widely shared doubts about a closer association with Baghdad," Galbraith says.

The Coalition Provisional Authority is now pressuring Kurds to give up some of their powers. Yet the Kurds want to retain control over the oil in their region, "continue to have exclusive taxation powers and keep the new Iraqi Army out. The Americans, prodded by Turkey, see these demands as setting the stage for secession. For the Kurds, however, the issue is not sovereignty but security."

Galbraith says the Kurds "see control of oil and taxation as further insurance" against future repression by another regime in Baghdad. The Kurds would rather rely on their own military, the peshmerga, "and want a clause in the transitional constitution requiring regional approval for any entry of Iraqi armed forces into Kurdish areas."

And the latest bombs are likely to "harden their diplomatic positions as the Kurdish public comes increasingly to feel it must rely on its own institutions -- the peshmerga, the local police and security services -- to protect it against a danger that most see as coming from the south."


Writing in "The Washington Post," Robert Samuelson discusses some of the systemic problems of the European political model. In the past, he says, people could choose between an American-style economy -- one with "more competition and insecurity" -- and the European economic vision, which sacrificed some economic growth for more unemployment benefits, universal health care, and other aspects of a welfare state. But Samuelson says this choice is no longer viable.
The European economy is now "so enfeebled by high taxes and restrictive regulations that it can't pay for all the benefits," he says. The chasm between Europe's social promises and what it can deliver must necessarily widen "and, in the process, spawn disillusion and discord." But even larger troubles loom, he says.

As the European Union expands to include 10 new members in May, the assumption was that "shared prosperity [would] promote mutual good will. The danger is that shared stagnation will aggravate mutual ill will." An even "larger threat" comes from Europe's "aging populations and expensive retirement programs," says Samuelson. Promised benefits for retirees "can't be paid without crushing taxes or implausible budget deficits."

Europe is set to discuss these issues as finance ministers from the world's richest countries meet later this week. "But little can be done," Samuelson says. An "obvious step" would be to cut interests rates. But Europe's real problems are "structural." He advises that Europe must be willing take "modestly unpopular steps today," or risk being faced with "hugely unpopular consequences tomorrow."

Writing in the "International Herald Tribune," John Darnton takes a look at how the Eastern and Western economies of an expanded Europe will affect each other come enlargement this May. The economies of Eastern Europe "are eagerly anticipating receiving EU subsidies," he says. But since those subsidies will amount to one-quarter of what industries in current EU member states receive, workers from the East "are apt to find their goods undercut when it comes time to take them to an international market."

At issue also is the possible lack of competitiveness from the East's state-owned and state-operated industries such as coal mining, infrastructure repair, and other sectors that still receive infusions of government cash. And possible price rises in goods such as cigarettes and gasoline are also causing concern.

But Darnton says in the new European economic environment, "enterprising behavior can reap rewards." Given the 80,000 pages of new EU "regulations and specifications," anyone who can "climb to the top of the regulatory mountain is king."


Writing in "The Washington Post," columnist Anne Applebaum says today, "it seems impossible to understand why so few people, at the time of the Auschwitz liberation (1945), even knew that the camp existed. It seems even harder to explain why those who did know did nothing," whether out of "ignorance or ill will or fear, or simply because there were other priorities, such as fighting the war."

Today, she says, "[we] shake our heads self-righteously, certain that if we'd been there, liberation would have come earlier -- all the while failing to see that the present is no different." Competing priorities and other interests still serve to distract people from the world's unpleasant truths.

Applebaum discusses a documentary aired on 1 February by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that described atrocities allegedly committed in present-day North Korea, including testing poison gas on human subjects and purposefully feeding poison to female prisoners. Applebaum acknowledges the BBC allegations have not been independently confirmed. But she notes that on 2 February, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters he was optimistic about a new round of talks with Pyongyang.

Of course, there are other priorities, Applebaum says: "The [U.S.] president's budget, ricin in the Senate office building, [weapons inspector] David Kay's testimony" and presidential primaries. North Korea "is far away [and] it doesn't seem there's a lot we can do about it."

But in decades to come, she says, it will be revealed that we knew quite a bit about atrocities in the North Korean camps and once again, "no one will be able to understand how it was possible that we knew [but] failed to act."


The French daily "Le Monde" says Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is risking a major governmental crisis by confirming that he will go ahead with a plan to dismantle 17 of 21 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. Sharon also affirmed that he would not hesitate to call for early legislative elections, now scheduled for the beginning of the summer. Due to an unfavorable parliamentary majority and elements within his own government, Sharon knows that he may not be able to implement his plan.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei declared himself pleased with Sharon's announcement, in contrast to other Palestinian officials who expressed their fear that Sharon was merely launching a public relations ploy. Faced with the threat of members of the extreme right leaving the government, Sharon called for support from the Labor opposition. If some misguidedly leave the government, the prime minister said, he would be forced to assemble another coalition because the country "must be governed."

"Le Monde" notes that a survey published yesterday shows that 59 percent of Israelis approve of Sharon's plan, compared to 34 percent who don't. "But the 7,500 people living in the 21 colonies of this Palestinian territory seem committed to doing everything possible to thwart their prime minister," as do 15 of the 40 deputies in Sharon's own Likud Party.