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Western Press Review: How Will Iraq Affect Central Asia And The Caucasus?

Prague, 21 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Western press commentary remains focused on the ongoing military operations in Iraq, as U.S. and British ground forces penetrate the southern part of the country while aerial bombardments continue. We also take a look today at divided EU foreign policy and what a conflict in Iraq might mean for Central Asia and the Caucasus.


Britain's daily "The Independent" says it has often been noted that the "momentum of war" has "a logic of its own." Just as actual combat can send detailed military plans to the dust bin, the first few days of a conflict often alter -- or add to -- the war's objectives.

This happened during the 1999 NATO campaign in Kosovo, when the air campaign designed to end former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's ethnic-cleansing operations "provoked an exodus of refugees -- whom NATO then pledged to return to their homes." The operation in Iraq may similarly metamorphose as the campaign goes on.

The paper says in past weeks there has been "a marked shift in emphasis" in the reasons cited for the use of force in Iraq, "from the need to confront the threat Saddam Hussein posed to the rest of the world to [the] need to liberate the Iraqi people from a pitiless dictator."

Freeing Iraqis from the current regime is a "desirable and laudable aim," says "The Independent." The more the U.S. administration and its allies focus on "the welfare of the Iraqi people," the less damaging it will be for both Iraq and the rest of the world. The paper says the "unprovoked invasion of a sovereign state" such as Iraq "sets an uncertain precedent." But the ill effects will be mitigated by an emphasis on ending Baghdad's tyranny.


"The New York Times" staff writer Nicholas Kristof writes from Kuwait saying that "the biggest mistake" U.S. and allied forces made during the 1991 Gulf War was not a military miscalculation but a political one. Washington and its allies "failed to look ahead and plan adequately" for what would happen the day after the war. "This time," Kristof writes, "we urgently need to plan the peace."

Two principles may greatly improve the chances of winning and maintaining postwar peace in Iraq, he says. First, "make this an Arab victory." In the past, many Muslim nations "have reacted to defeat [by] turning inward and grasping religious fundamentalism." Kristof says, "Every invasion in the Middle East in the last two centuries [has] soured within a few years, in part because of nationalist resentment of the intruders." To avoid this outcome, Kristof says Iraqis should be "put [in] charge quickly." The 60 percent of Iraq's population that is Shi'ite should be given "their fair share of power," so this war will bring them "a genuine and historic triumph."

Secondly, says Kristof, "don't mess with Iraq's oil." He says everywhere in the Arab world people are "deeply cynical about American motives" in the Persian Gulf, assuming Washington is after Iraqi oil reserves. In order to avoid creating more hostility, the U.S. shouldn't solicit Persian Gulf oil. It is "just not worth it," he says.


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Hugh White of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and formerly of Australia's Department of Defense discusses what he calls "the five toughest choices" that will be faced by General Tommy Franks, operational commander of U.S. and allied forces in Iraq.

First, should U.S.-British forces target the regime in Baghdad or the army first? Targeting Saddam Hussein first might bring the war to a quick end, but if it fails it will allow Iraq's Republican Guard a chance to entrench in the cities.

Second, should coalition troops deploy to the north? Deploying troops in the north would weaken the push for Baghdad, says White. But no northern deployment opens the possibility that Iraqi Kurdish and Turkish forces might clash.

Next, White says General Franks must decide how to balance the use of America's "overwhelming firepower" with the need to avoid civilian casualties. "In the field," White says, it may "boil down [to] saving Iraqi lives [or] risking American, British or Australian ones."

Fourth, it must be decided whether to push quickly into Baghdad or build up slowly. A rush to the capital "promises a quicker outcome, but carries more risks."

Finally, differentiating between civilian and legitimate military targets will prove a significant challenge. "Minimizing civilian casualties is an overriding imperative," says White. Intelligence reports indicate Saddam's forces are thus planning to "shelter in civilian areas." But White says General Franks "cannot afford many targeting mistakes."


Peter Hort, writing in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," considers the impact of the war in Iraq on European integration and a common EU foreign policy. "European integration has become a problem child," he says. "Its health has deteriorated so much over the past few weeks that we must fear for the worst."

Hort says the controversy over the best way to deal with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his alleged weapons of mass destruction "has managed to axe the 50-year U.S.-German partnership." In addition, this conflict has shattered Europe's hopes that national foreign, security, and defense policies could be merged into a united European whole.

Hort accuses France of exploiting this situation to "seize a new leading role," in Europe, while relegating Germany to a supporting one.

Nevertheless, Hort says there are still not sufficient grounds to give up on the idea of a common -- and effective -- European foreign policy. But first a unity of purpose must be re-established among London, Paris, Madrid, and Berlin. European capitals must "focus on what is really essential" in promoting a permanent and shared EU policy.


"Eurasia View" takes a look at how Central Asia and the Caucasus may be affected by U.S.-led military operations in Iraq. Only Georgia, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan have firmly backed the U.S. position. Other nations "are increasingly wary" of the potential consequences. States throughout the region have increased security around U.S. and British embassies and other facilities.

Both Georgia and Kyrgyzstan have expressed concern about possible "population movements" caused by the fighting. Georgian National Security Council Secretary Tedo Japaridze said this on 19 March that radical Islamic militants currently in Iraq might seek haven in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge. Tbilisi has already been struggling to maintain control over the gorge, which has been used by Chechen separatists and Islamic militants. Kyrgyzstan's concerns center around an "uncontrolled influx" of people from neighboring countries. Bishkek has consequently increased border controls.

The Iraqi conflict may have "enormous" economic consequences for Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, says the paper. Both nations are "relying heavily" on the development of natural resources to fuel their economies, and hostilities in Iraq could push back the timetable. The Kazakh administration has also expressed concern over the potential for a significant drop in global oil and gas prices, which could cause a budget crisis for the government.

Turkmenistan remains neutral and has "refrained from commenting on the Iraq crisis." Tajikistan is the only regional country to criticize U.S. policy directly, calling the onset of hostilities a "failure in diplomacy." "Eurasia View" says amid much uncertainty over Iraq throughout the region, caution "appears to be growing."


A "Le Monde" editorial says the U.S. administration has not clearly defined what its objectives are in Iraq.

The editorial cites U.S. President George W. Bush as saying the two main objectives are to neutralize the threat posed by Iraq's President Saddam Hussein and to hand the country back into the hands of the Iraqi public. But "Le Monde" deduces that U.S. forces must thus be prepared to stay in the country for a significant amount of time. Ensuring postwar stability and installing a new representative regime will take time, the paper says, during which Iraq will essentially be a protectorate. But this task must involve the UN, says "Le Monde," as the United Nations remains "the only forum capable of legitimizing the exercise of temporary power on a sovereign and independent country."

The paper says it is still not clear whether prolonged UN weapons inspections would have eventually succeeded in disarming Iraq. The United States chose to abandon this way and resort to force, it says. But Washington should not be allowed to circumvent the UN again when it comes time to rebuild Iraq.


In connection with antiwar protests that continue sporadically around the globe, Alan Posener in "Die Welt" says German and other protesters have every right to take to the streets, as their demonstrations are an expression of democracy, and "genuine" democracy "is essentially pacifist in nature." But Posener goes on to remark that the "first victim of a war is truth," and goes on to defend U.S. policy in Iraq, accusing the demonstrators of relying on "naive slogans."

This war is not one of aggression, he says. The aim is not to subjugate and exploit the Iraqi people, but to liberate them and return the country to Iraqi control. As far as the mandate for war is concerned, Posener opines that the UN Charter, combined with the 17 resolutions on Iraq's disarmament adopted by the Security Council, have provided the legal grounds for military action aimed at ending "a danger to peace and security."

Had the "coalition of the willing" submitted an 18th resolution, which Posener says would have been rejected, the legal questions would look very different. This debate, says Posener, is really a "quirk of history." France's declaration that it would use its veto "actually sealed Saddam's fate."

(RFE/RL's Dora Slaba contributed to this report. )