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Western Press Review: UN Resolution On Iraq; Diplomatic Divisions Between The U.S. And The Rest Of The World; And Abu Ghurayb

Prague, 10 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Among the topics being debated in the press today is the new UN resolution on Iraq, which more clearly outlines plans for Iraqi sovereignty after 30 June; the need to recruit troops from Muslim countries to help stabilize Iraq; the great diplomatic divide that remains between the United States and the rest of the world; and the Abu Ghurayb prison scandal, as questions persist over how far up the chain of command responsibility goes for the abuse of detainees.


"Iraqis are highly skeptical that the U.S. occupation will, as promised, end on 30 June and predict worse fighting to come if real power is not handed over," writes Patrick Cockburn in the British "The Independent." He says there was "no echo yesterday on the streets of Baghdad of the optimism on display in New York," as the UN unanimously passed a resolution outlining Iraqi sovereignty.

Both Shi'a and Sunni Iraqis said that "they longed for the violence to end but they [did] not believe that the U.S. would hand over real power," Cockburn says. And persistent doubts about the scheduled return of sovereignty at the end of June "are expressed at every level."

Iraqi cynicism over the new UN resolution "is rooted in a feeling that no promises made by the U.S. since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein have been kept." And an "unmissable reminder of the slow rate of improvement of living conditions comes from the continuing electricity blackouts as Baghdad swelters under the summer sun."

Cockburn says, "A year ago the new interim government might have had a chance of success. Now it may be too late. The guerrilla movement, though fragmented, has put down deep roots. It can cut, almost at will, the roads around Baghdad."

The U.S. presence in Iraq is "politically weak," he says, which circumscribes its freedom of movement. Despite the superior force capability of the U.S. contingent, if it "tries to crush its enemies militarily[,] it will shatter the fragile interim government it is trying to put in place."


An editorial today calls the new UN resolution on Iraq "a clear diplomatic advance" but adds that it was to be expected that the UN would support a text calling for an end "to the overt occupation of Iraq by the [U.S.] military."

Nevertheless, says the paper, "Washington's diplomacy in the past five weeks has been encouraging. The administration has recognized, however reluctantly, that the United Nations' endorsement is crucial to its hopes for a smooth transition in Iraq and an eventual American withdrawal.” This “overdue enlightenment” could be seen especially “in a newfound willingness to compromise with countries like France, Germany and Russia to maximize international support."

The main benefit of the resolution is the international legitimacy that it grants to Iraq's interim government, which was appointed last week on the advice of UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi but determined in large part by the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council. And the transitional governing body "will need all the help it can get if it is to have any chance of leading Iraq to free and representative elections."

Unfortunately, the paper says, recent progress "cannot undo everything that went before: [U.S. President George W.] Bush's disastrous decision to rush into the invasion without Security Council endorsement, the ineptly planned occupation and all the damage those policies have done to Iraq and the Middle East, and to American relationships around the world."


An editorial today discusses the importance of recruiting Muslim troops to help stabilize Iraq. The unanimous passage of a UN resolution on Iraq this week might indicate that "a long spell of insurgency and scandal" has given way to more optimistic possibilities for the future. But the paper says that whether or not the new legitimacy conferred by the resolution will mean an increase in troop contributions will depend largely on "how sovereign the new Iraqi government appears in the eyes of Iraqis and those nations which might consider sending troops."

Iraq's new prime minister, Iyad Allawi, "has himself invited more countries to join the multinational forces in Iraq, specifically requesting the assistance of Muslim nations." The paper says a "Muslim contribution -- no matter how small -- would be an important symbolic addition to the 33-country multinational force, helping to correct the appearance of a mainly Christian force in a Muslim land."

But deploying forces from neighboring countries might be problematic, as each of Iraq's neighbors has vested interests in the country. Other potential Muslim force contributors "are unlikely to help until they see sovereignty in practice" in Iraq. The paper lists Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Egypt as the most likely Muslim countries to contribute troops.

Allawi's call for more forces, "along with the reinforced UN resolution and improving situation on the ground, could produce some surprising results," says the paper. "Perhaps even NATO, which meets later this month, might ante up."


Columnist William Pfaff says the United States got what it wanted with the passage of a new UN resolution on Iraq on 8 June. What the resolution means for Iraq remains uncertain, however, as the new interim Iraqi administration in Baghdad "is transparently an American creation."

But Pfaff suggests the resolution is unlikely to translate into concrete help from the international community. He says the U.S. administration, "which has badly wanted help on the ground in Iraq, finds itself isolated, so far as the Middle East is concerned." He adds: "International indignation toward Washington's Iraq policy has been replaced by international apathy."

Washington's appeal for assistance "is treated as irrelevant by most members of the European Union. Its concerns remain important, since the United States is powerful. [But] arguing with Washington about the fundamental issues of policy is taken to be useless."

Iraq, he says, "is considered by the rest of the world to belong to Washington, which will do what it wants."

Pfaff suggests that even in its requests for increased international participation in Iraq, Washington's methods are unilateralist. "The help the United States wants is help on its own terms, as part of its own war on terror. Its failure to get that help is the result above all of disagreement -- but of distrust as well."

During D-Day commemorations in Europe last week, the reception given the U.S. president was "polite but cool," Pfaff says. "The two sides are not only marching to different drummers, they are headed on different compass azimuths."


An editorial today discusses the refusal of the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush to declassify Justice Department memos regarding the interrogation techniques used on prisoners captured in Afghanistan and Iraq. The scandal over prisoner abuses at Iraq's Abu Ghurayb prison has intensified concern that the U.S. administration might have, on some level, semi-officially sanctioned interrogation methods of dubious legality.

The paper writes: "The Bush administration assures the country, and the world, that it is complying with U.S. and international laws banning torture and maltreatment of prisoners. But, breaking with a practice of openness that had lasted for decades, it has classified as secret and refused to disclose the techniques of interrogation it is using on foreign detainees at U.S. prisons at Guantanamo Bay[, Cuba,] and in Afghanistan and Iraq."

But the "deeply disturbing truth," the paper says, is that the Defense Department produced a document in 2003 in which the U.S. president "was declared empowered to disregard U.S. and international law and order the torture of foreign prisoners. Moreover, interrogators following the president's orders were declared immune from punishment. Torture itself was narrowly redefined, so that techniques that inflict pain and mental suffering could be deemed legal."

But there "is no justification, legal or moral," for these decisions, says the paper. This is "the logic of criminal regimes, of dictatorships around the world that sanction torture on grounds of 'national security.'"

The reports "that serving U.S. officials have officially endorsed principles once advanced by [former Chilean leader] Augusto Pinochet brings shame on American democracy."


In a separate item published by the paper today, columnist Richard Cohen says he wonders why the Justice Department, busy as it is, "went to all the trouble of coming up with definitions of torture that might be permissible under U.S. law when no one was supposedly considering torturing Al-Qaeda prisoners in the first place. A 50-page memo is not an hour's work. It's clear someone had torture in mind. The Defense Department and the CIA were looking for guidance."

The U.S. administration "constantly reminds us that there's a war on," says Cohen. But this is mistaken, he says. There are really two wars taking place. "One is being fought by soldiers in combat, and the other is being fought for the hearts and minds of people who are not yet [U.S.] enemies. However badly the administration has botched the first war" in its inability to find Osama bin Laden, "it has done even worse with the second." The U.S. has been dismissive of international institutions and laws, has "appeared pugnacious and unilateralist, permitted the abuse of POWs and others at [Abu Ghurayb], and now toyed in some fashion with torture."

Cohen continues: "The Bush administration has shamed us all, reducing us to the level of those governments that also have wonderful laws forbidding torture, but condone it anyway."


Laure Mandeville, writing in France's "Le Figaro," says between the deep identity crisis engendered by the 1 May enlargement of the European Union, widespread fear related to terrorism and the divisions caused by the war in Iraq, it is not surprising that Euroskepticism is on the rise.

As a sign of the times, the 10-13 June elections for the European Parliament have done little to galvanize the public. In certain countries known for their Euro-skepticism, such as Britain or the Czech Republic, voter participation can be expected to reach no more than 20 percent, Mandeville says.

In Western Europe, noting the governments' difficulties in addressing the challenges of immigration, Islamism, and terrorism, many Europeans are beginning to wonder whether the new Europe does not weaken these efforts rather than strengthen them. In Great Britain, which is gripped with a real anti-Europe fever, the U.K. Independence Party is calling for Britain's withdrawal from the EU and curries favor with 18 percent of the voting public. To the east, political parties repeatedly promise that they will defend the national interest vis-a-vis Brussels.

But what is even more disturbing in the East is the rising popularity of populist movements without a clear pro- or anti-European message, but which are managing to unite diverse and dissatisfied fringe groups. The dismissal of Lithuania's populist president, Rolandas Paksas, and the rise of the also populist Work Party is one of several indications that a pitched battle is taking place on the political scenes to the east -- with reverberations for Brussels.