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Western Press Review: U.S.-British Bombing of Iraq

Prague, 19 February 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Much of the Western press commentary over the weekend and today focuses on Friday's bombing of Iraqi air defense targets by U.S. and British air forces. Many U.S. editorials support the strikes as a necessary move in the face of an unsuccessful sanction regime, while a number of European comments are more critical, particularly of the participation of British warplanes.


An editorial appearing in yesterday's Washington Post calls the strikes against anti-aircraft weapons near Baghdad a "welcome reinvigoration of a policy that had been allowed to slide." It writes that the cease-fire that followed the Gulf War was contingent on Saddam destroying his weapons of mass destruction, a term with which he has never complied. It writes: "Today the threat [Saddam] poses to the region, and to U.S. interests there, is increasing." The editorial argues that time has shown that even strictly enforced sanctions are not enough: "The new [U.S. administration] is right to seriously consider all options -- including aid to the Iraqi opposition and stricter enforcement of the no-fly zones."


Also in the Washington Post, David Ignatius writes that United Nations sanctions in Iraq have made life harder for the average Iraqi but have not kept Saddam from profiting on oil sales.

Ignatius says Iraq successfully earns more than $1 billion a year by smuggling oil to neighbor states like Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Jordan. Moreover a number of unknown companies -- based in countries like Belarus and Malaysia -- have emerged in recent months as the main buyers of Iraqi crude. In the end, Ignatius writes, the "overwhelming majority" of Iraqi oil is sold to American companies in third-party deals. He writes: "If America and its allies can find a way to cut off money to the military and secret police that prop up [Saddam Hussein's] regime, they will win. Otherwise they will continue their 10-year losing streak -- no matter how often they bomb Iraqi radar installations."


An editorial in today's Wall Street Journal Europe applauds the bombing as an appropriate tactical move in light of what it calls the "foundering" regime of United Nations sanctions and weapons inspections. The editorial goes on to criticize the outpouring of public condemnation from countries such as France and Russia -- who "put trade with oil-rich Iraq above any worries about terrorist threats from Baghdad" -- and commend Britain for its loyal cooperation in the mission. It concludes by calling on Tony Blair to help craft a more effective Iraqi policy during his U.S. visit at the end of this week: "Sanctions are a poor weapon for forcing errant countries to behave. But abandoning the sanctions regime now would be tantamount to giving Saddam a blank check to rebuild his forces and his chemical-, biological- and probably nuclear-weapons stockpiles."


The British Guardian daily is more critical of what it considers an unbalanced Blair-Bush partnership. Peter Preston writes today that Blair's role is not just to shuttle messages from the U.S. to Europe; he should be interpreting Europe for the U.S. as well, particularly as Saddam continues to threaten global security. He writes "America, with power but too little wisdom, has begun to see its 'ideals' and 'cultural influence' as the only shows in town," and concludes: "What the new boy in the White House and his ancient advisers need to realize is that a partnership which excludes everyone but London and Tel Aviv is no partnership at all. What Tony Blair needs to realize is that standing mutely by his man is a recipe for strife -- and for another Saddam, and another, waiting to strike."


An editorial in today's British Financial Times calls the attacks on Iraqi air defense systems "painfully inevitable," and says: "[The strikes] have provoked much condemnation around the world. But as a tactical response that sent a firm signal that Washington would not flinch from taking military action when required, they were necessary. It goes on to say, however, that the strikes cannot disguise a decade of ineffective policy against Saddam Hussein's regime. It writes: "Mr Bush can ill afford to concede a propaganda victory to Baghdad when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in such a dangerous phase."

The editorial concludes by urging Secretary of State Colin Powell, who is due to visit the region later this week, to make clear that the U.S. is ready to reassess its policy towards Iraq. It says: "By exploring the alternatives, Washington would usefully acknowledge that Mr Saddam must not be allowed to win over international opinion."


A comment in the Financial Times urges the U.S. to look at the bigger Middle East picture as it moves to craft a new policy on Iraq. Stephen Fidler and Roula Khalaf write that "Bush has more important interests in the region than unseating Saddam."

The writers look to statements by Powell for clues on how a new U.S. Iraqi policy might evolve. A likely change is in the UN sanctions. Fidler and Khalaf write that a new sanctions regime will probably allow imports to rebuild infrastructure and foreign investment in the oil industry.

The authors cite Meghan O'Sullivan of the Washington-based Brookings Institute, who believes such an approach "would allow containment of the Iraqi leader while easing the perception internationally that the sanctions hurt the Iraqi people and satisfying commercial interests that want the embargo lifted, particularly in France and Russia."


Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger, writing in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, says Bush's claim that the airstrikes were a routine operation to protect U.S. and British patrols enforcing the no-fly zones in southern and northern Iraq is "not convincing." He writes: "Mr. Bush is redrawing U.S. policy in the Middle East, moving stability in the Gulf region to center stage."

Frankenberger adds that the political move is "not without risk." He writes: "[Saddam] has already had some success in restoring his position in the Arab political world. The dictator can portray himself and the Iraqi people -- whom he is oppressing -- as victims of American aggression, taking advantage of the widespread anger among Arabs over Israel's treatment of the Palestinians."

He concludes: "It is likely that only a clever combination of cautious economic openness, political isolation, and military vigilance offers a way out."


Andrea Nuesse writes in a Frankfurter Rundschau analysis that she doubts whether the latest attack will move Iraq to accept the U.S. and British control flights. One thing is clear: that this has led to closing the ranks of the Arab world a little more. "The people in the Arab lands who since the declaration of the Intifada expressed unique solidarity with the people of Palestine are now spreading to Iraq. The conflicts in Israel and the U.S. policy against Iraq are intermingling more and more and merging into a single theme: so much so that the burial of a Palestinian shot by the Israelis in Hebron on Saturday turned into a demonstration in support of Iraq."

(Dora Slaba contributed to today's press review)