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Western Press Review: Commentary Scrutinizes New Iraq Leadership

Prague, 2 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan says this week's formation of an interim Iraqi government was an important step, but acknowledged that the process to reach that point had been imperfect. Western newspapers reviewed today examine that process critically.


"The Guardian" editorializes that much of what the world public saw in the process was an elaborate show. "[U.S. President] George [W.] Bush's grand plan to bring democracy to Iraq underwent a shambolic start with the charade that accompanied the selection of a new Iraqi president yesterday. First, the American choice, Adnan Pachachi, had to be offered the job in the knowledge that he would prudently decline -- a face-saving way to avoid an outright snub to the United States. Only then could the choice of the Iraqi Governing Council, Ghazi al-Yawir, be approved.

"Yet the price for the [Governing] Council getting its way was promptly its own instant dissolution, apparently because U.S. administrator Paul Bremer, who had favored Mr. Pachachi, does not like being thwarted. Earlier, he had even tried to stop the council from meeting. The handpicked council had begun -- out of patriotism, as well as self-preservation -- to show greater independence with open criticism of the U.S. slaughter in Fallujah and its torture regime in Abu Ghurayb. The insistence that it should pack up early is a case of the emperor drawing attention to his own lack of clothes."


In an editorial, Britain's "The Independent" perceives what it calls "a success of sorts." The newspaper says: "It has taken a month of hard politicking and a week of even harder bargaining between the Coalition Provisional Authority, the Iraqi Governing Council and the UN for Iraq finally to get a new government to take the country to elections after the official handover of sovereignty on 30 June. Not that the Governing Council, which got its way on most of the key appointments, was ready to wait until then. Barely had the new Prime Minister Iyad Allawi announced a president of his and his colleagues' choice in Ghazi al-Yawir than the council wound itself up with immediate effect."

The editorial concludes: "That no one yesterday disowned the interim government, even among the Shi'a clergy, marks a success of sorts. That no one in Iraq seemed ready to rush out with enthusiastic support remains reason for caution. This is a process which will require many more steps, some backward as well as forward, before Iraq can emerge as a fully sovereign and independent country."


Fretting that the new governing body is like the old, but with a new face, "The New York Times" says in an editorial that the confused process may become the interim government's first high hurdle. The newspaper says: "For weeks, Washington encouraged the world to believe that the United Nations was putting together Iraq's new interim government. Instead, the most critical appointments were made by the outgoing Iraqi Governing Council, an American-appointed body heavy with exile politicians that has limited public support and a dismal record of nonperformance. That messy process will now become the interim government's first burden as it tries to set up elections for a legislature and constitutional assembly early next year."

The editorial says: "The end of the Governing Council concludes a chapter of unpopular, ineffectual governance that failed to stem a growing insurgency and did little to lay the groundwork for a workable democracy. Although the new governing body looks uncomfortably like the old one with a new name and a few added powers, it must be helped to do better."


In an editorial, "The Washington Post" says much the same: "Lakhdar Brahimi worked no miracles in the appointment of Iraq's new government. The veteran United Nations envoy had been cast by the Bush administration as a one-man nation-builder who would somehow produce an administration that was broadly representative and capable of taking over sovereignty from the U.S.-led occupation.

"In the end, hemmed in by hovering U.S. officials and their present and former Iraqi allies, Mr. Brahimi acquiesced to a cabinet led by the same former exiles and Kurdish politicians who populated the discredited Iraqi Governing Council. Perhaps he had few alternatives: Iraq appears nearly bereft of political leaders who are popular, capable and willing to cooperate with the U.S. plans for political transition. Maybe, too, Mr. Brahimi's endorsement, and that of the United Nations, will help the new administration establish itself.

"But Iraq's interim leaders will have to act quickly and skillfully if they are to gain enough authority to carry out their primary mission, which is to prepare for national elections six months from now."


Britain's "Financial Times" editorializes that the government-picking process was "stormier" than anticipated. It says the next test will be elections, where the UN role must be a starring one.

The editorial says, "Iraq still has far to go to sovereign self-rule. But at least it now has an interim government-in-waiting, which has already supplanted the Iraqi Governing Council and which will replace the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority at the end of this month. The interim government's emergence proved stormier and speedier than expected, but this may enhance its credibility at home and at the United Nations that must endorse the new arrangement."

The newspaper concludes: "The next, and even more important, milestone in Iraq will be the elections. And here there is an indisputable role for the UN, in helping register voters and ensuring that Iraq's three main communities -- Shi'a, Sunni and Kurd -- can all participate equally in the process of electing a real government, not selecting an interim one."


"The Wall Street Journal Europe" concurs with the other commentary when it says in an editorial, "It's too early to call yesterday's naming of an interim but sovereign Iraqi government a turning point in the country's struggle to escape from Saddam Hussein's despotism."

But the newspaper reaches out in a new direction, saying: "But it's hard to see it as anything other than good news. President Bush can talk about broadening the Iraq coalition all he wants, but we're far more likely to find dependable allies in Baghdad than in Paris or Moscow. Finally, he's decided to trust Iraqis with a little control."

The editorial says also: "The greatest wild card here is the perception of the Iraqi people, especially because [interim Prime Minister Iyad] Allawi and his list of ministers reads like a roster of longtime CIA assets in Iraq. This association shouldn't taint these people, who had to take anti-Saddam [Hussein] allies where they could. But it could make it somewhat harder for the government to prove itself in the eyes of Iraqis. At least the CIA won't be among those trying to undermine this interim government, the way it did [Governing Council member Ahmad] Chalabi and the Governing Council."


In an analysis, "The Washington Post" staff writers Robin Wright and Mike Allen suggest that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush may be too pleased too soon at the past few days' political developments in Iraq. They write: "With the introduction of both a new Iraqi government and a new UN draft resolution, the Bush administration senses the beginning of the end to its controversial and costly intervention in Iraq. But the relief visible at the White House yesterday may be short-lived, for the United States still faces serious obstacles."

The writers say that U.S. public opinion has placed Bush in "a politically perilous" position: "A 'Washington Post'-ABC News poll released last week showed that 58 percent of Americans disapproved of his handling of Iraq, a politically perilous figure.

"Bush aides contended over the weekend that the president has bottomed out politically. They told White House allies in Washington that the new government would mark a turning point by showing progress and would strengthen Bush for his meetings with European leaders later this week by putting Iraq's postwar future on a multinational track.

"Yet through 30 June and beyond, the United States will enter a much more complex phase on Iraq. For the past year, the U.S.-led coalition has technically had sole authority over Iraq. With the appointment of the interim government and a return to the United Nations, the United States begins to cede formal control over what happens next."


"The Washington Times" columnist Frank J. Gaffney Jr. writes that a "relentlessly unfavorable" press has contributed to pressures that led the Bush government into "dubious tactical decisions" in Iraq.

Gaffney writes: "Suddenly, the heretofore unthinkable seems not so impossible. Domestic political considerations driven by declining polls and negative reporting have prompted the Bush administration to take a series of dubious tactical decisions in Iraq. These have, in turn, contributed to a worsening situation on the ground there, featuring continuing physical insecurity, political turmoil and demoralization of U.S. forces. Amplified by relentlessly unfavorable press accounts and increasingly shrill Democratic criticism, these developments have given rise to still more dubious tactical decisions, an emboldened opposition on the ground and more bad news to report."

The columnist says: "This dynamic has produced in the midst of this election year a sense in some quarters that an early U.S. exit may not only be inevitable but desirable. After all, a growing number of Americans seem to be under the illusion that, as with Vietnam, we can end the war simply by bailing out of Iraq."


Foreign policy scholar Moises Naim, editor of "Foreign Policy Magazine," writes today in the "Financial Times" that an insufficiently critical U.S. press shares the blame with Bush for the errors of the Iraq invasion and occupation.

Naim writes: "Nothing, it would seem, could have stopped the Bush administration from pursuing its long-standing plans against Saddam Hussein. But placing responsibility for the Iraq debacle solely on George W. Bush's shoulders is too simple and even potentially dangerous -- too simple because it blurs the responsibilities of others who contributed to an environment in which bad new ideas were embraced just as easily as good, while proved ones were shed. It is also dangerous because the conditions that facilitated this environment, namely terrorism, will not disappear."

The commentator writes: "Therefore it is important to learn that whatever the threat, no government should be afforded the latitude enjoyed by the Bush administration. The media -- both reporters and commentators -- are prime culprits here. The promise that democracy would spread from a liberated Iraq, for example, was as poorly scrutinized as the notion advanced by the administration that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the war on terror."

Naim concludes that the terror attacks of 11 September 2001, were enablers also of the Bush government's ability to carry out its intentions toward Iraq. "But neither the evildoers nor the war on terrorism will go away. What needs to go is the tragic alchemy that allows time-tested principles to be too easily discarded in favor of bad ideas. New approaches are surely needed. But they should not be embraced at the expense of the very principles that make wars worth fighting."


In an editorial, "The Irish Times" urges that the benefit of any doubt be turned on the new Iraqi governing body. The newspaper says: "Yesterday's announcement of Iraq's new interim government, together with the dissolution of the Iraqi Governing Council appointed by the U.S.-led coalition occupying the country, opens the way for an intensive set of negotiations at the United Nations Security Council on a resolution to determine the new government's powers.

"Despite well-founded suspicions that the U.S. has dominated this process, it would be wrong to prejudge these negotiations. Sovereignty is to be formally transferred to the new administration on 30 June. Major military and political difficulties faced by the coalition may make it open to accept a resolution giving the interim government more independence than expected, ahead of elections planned for January next."


Under the headline "The Fog Persists in Iraq," the "Los Angeles Times" editorializes: "As the military and security situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the United States and the United Nations have pinned ever-higher expectations on the appointment of a new interim government. That process, completed Tuesday, did not go quite as either the United States and the UN expected. The future of Iraq is not much clearer, and the popular legitimacy of the new government is an unknown.

"The politicians of the old U.S.-picked Iraqi Governing Council simply outflanked the UN special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, in forcing their own choices for a Shi'a prime minister, Iyad Allawi, and a Sunni, Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir, for the more ceremonial post of president. One of the two deputy prime ministers will be a Kurd."

The editorial concludes: "Allawi's cabinet is neatly divided among Iraq's diverse and competing groups. Whether its members can even be protected from assassination precedes the question of whether they can govern effectively. That, in a nutshell, is the continuing U.S. problem in Iraq."