Staff writer David Ignatius writes from Baghdad of Iraq's new prime minister, Iyad Allawi. Since becoming the steward of a newly sovereign Iraq after the 28 June transfer of power from the U.S.-led coalition, Allawi has conducted several secret meetings with Iraqi insurgents. Allawi says he has offered some of the combatants amnesty and encouraged them to get involved in Iraq's fledgling political process regardless of their personal ideologies, whether Islamist, nationalist, or other.
Allawi describes his discussions with the insurgents as "frank and open." He has told lingering Saddam Hussein supporters that Hussein's era is a thing of the past and that they should be ready to take part in Iraq's future. Allawi says he told them, "The Iraqi people have decided to move with the cause of democracy, and this is what we are going to do."
And Allawi says this approach has already had some results, namely in provoking a split between Iraqi insurgents and the foreign jihadists that have entered the country to fight the U.S.-led coalition.
"The practical steps Allawi described [on 13 July] are just a beginning," Ignatius says, adding that he feels "confident, after many visits to this country since the war began, that this is a direction most Iraqis want to move."
THE MOSCOW TIMES
"For the second time in his presidency, Vladimir Putin summoned all the country's ambassadors to Moscow [on 12 June]," says an editorial in Moscow's English-language daily. Putin's main message was simple: to work to "improve Russia's image abroad -- the nation's economic interests depend on it."
The paper says it is true that many of the images of post-Soviet Russia as the "Wild East" were formed during the "total anarchy of the early 1990s" and are now outdated.
But it also true that Putin himself is partially responsible for Russia's negative image abroad. The paper says the "legal assault on Yukos highlights selective law enforcement; already limited media pluralism has taken a fresh bashing; the war in Chechnya grinds on; and, as ["Forbes" Moscow Editor] Paul Klebnikov's killing tragically reminded us, contract murders are all too common and all too rarely brought to justice."
In short, the paper says, "Russia does not project a pretty image."
In the absence of real policies to address these looming issues, what Putin was really telling the ambassadors to do was "damage control."
"Putin told them to show more independence from Moscow. But having made their careers in the rigid Soviet diplomatic machine, many ambassadors prefer to keep their heads down and wait for detailed instructions from their superiors," the paper says. "It is increasingly apparent that it is Putin's image of Russia which is out of touch with reality."
Russia's influence in the world "is not a question of good or bad diplomacy -- or even PR [public relations]. Russia's ambassadors will never be able to whitewash abuses in Chechnya or selective justice. Only the Kremlin can, and should, address these issues to remove the grounds for criticism, both domestically and abroad."
A contribution from Edward Djerejian discusses U.S. diplomatic efforts in the Middle East. The U.S. administration of President George W. Bush is attempting to mitigate the forces of extremism and allow moderation to prevail. But "[to] meet that challenge, U.S. policies must reflect knowledge of the forces at play in the Middle East."
Unfortunately, he says, support for U.S. policies in the region has taken a downturn. "Yet, there remains a respect and even admiration for some American values: liberty, equality of opportunity and scientific and economic accomplishments," even while the outstanding issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iraq and the need for regional political and economic reform continue to loom large in Middle Eastern minds.
Djerejian says, "Like it or not, Arabs and most Muslims see America as biased towards Israel, as an occupier not a liberator in Iraq, and as an accomplice of many autocratic regimes in Arab and Muslim countries."
The United States "must take the lead in galvanizing a truly multilateral diplomatic effort to address fully these key challenges at the political, economic, social and cultural levels. The Muslim world is experiencing an ideological struggle between extremists and moderates and the international community has a vital stake in its outcome."
Djerejian says, first, the diplomatic "Quartet -- the U.S., EU, Russia and the UN -- should take steps to capitalize on Israel's withdrawal plan from Gaza. In Iraq, public security and economic progress must be restored under a duly elected, representative government. And throughout the region, a main Western policy objective should be to encourage democratic reform and the establishment of independent judiciaries.
In making these issues the cornerstones of its Middle East policy, the U.S. administration "can set forth a renewed sense of strategic direction in U.S. policy toward the Arab and Muslim world."
Many are dissatisfied with the government of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, and they are letting this be known with violence, writes Marie-France Calle in the French daily. As the fateful 9 October date approaches for presidential elections, on one side are the remnants of the Taliban, who have never ceased fighting their guerrilla war. And there are also the Afghan warlords, who maintained a low profile in the initial months after the fall of Kabul but who have now reasserted their traditional influence over Afghan society.
These and other difficulties await Karzai when he wins the presidential election in October, for the result of this forced attempt to establish democracy in Afghanistan is already determined, Calle says. Scheduled for within a month of the U.S. presidential election and with Karzai as the only viable candidate, the first Afghan elections are a bit of a joke.
In recent weeks, there have been some inroads, however. General Mohammad Akram Khakrezwal, named by Karzai to establish control over the city of Mazar-e Sharif, succeeded in undermining the influence of warlords in the area with his force of 200 police officers. The general moved to dismantle illegal roadblocks, introduce a gun license and prohibit tinted-glass windows in vehicles -- all very unpopular provisions, says Calle.
But since 4 July, Akram has been confined to his residence, after followers of warlord Mohammad Atta took over his offices by force. Atta then left for Kabul, where he welcomed a delegation of tribal leaders, all of whom are similarly dissatisfied with Akram's initiatives.
In an interview in "The New York Times," Karzai denounced the warlords and promised to meet them with force if persuasion does not work. But Calle says while it is almost certain that Atta did not read Karzai's threats in "The New York Times," he can count on the support of his men on the ground to meet any threat to his influence.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL EUROPE
"The shooting on a Moscow street of 'Forbes' Russia editor Paul Klebnikov [on 9 July] demonstrates the extent to which, despite talk about Russia becoming a normal country, the society is still a hostage to organized crime," says author David Satter, who wrote a book on the rise of the Russian "criminal state."
The slaying of Klebnikov, an American of Russian descent, "is likely to inspire a temporary flurry of activity on the part of the Russian authorities" and elicit official pledges that the killers will be brought to justice, says Satter. But the problem, he says, "is not only that such assurances have been repeated numerous times in the past in similar cases -- with no results -- but that the lawlessness in Russia is actually necessary to consolidate the increasing authoritarianism of the [President Vladimir] Putin regime."
If Russia had "[a] genuine respect for law," Satter says, "not only would criminality be sharply reduced but the regime would have to give up its drive for dictatorial control."
Until now, he says, "the Putin regime's complacency toward organized crime and the slow strangulation of political pluralism that it facilitates have evoked little reaction from the U.S. The murder of Mr. Klebnikov needs to change that policy."
American reporters "have enjoyed a seeming immunity from the attacks that have made Russia one of the deadliest countries for journalists. If the U.S. does not react forcefully, however, even that limited immunity will be gone."
As for Russia, the authorities "will do nothing to find Paul Klebnikov's murderers and a system will be confirmed [that] weds the country's future to dictatorship and organized crime."