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Western Press Review: Plans Remain 'Vague' For Postwar Iraq; Russia's 'Forgotten War' In Chechnya

Prague, 28 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The Western media's attention remains riveted on developments in Iraq, as U.S. and British troops continue to move north toward Baghdad, where they are widely expected to meet Iraqi Republican Guard forces.

We also take a look at the possibilities for Iraq after the war, why the U.S.-British mission has failed to win over the "hearts and minds" of most of the world, and last week's (23 March) controversial referendum in Chechnya.


An editorial in "The Daily Telegraph" says plans for a postwar Iraq remain "disappointingly vague." At a press conference that followed the Camp David summit between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush yesterday, the two leaders "gave little clue" as to what kind of Iraqi government or administration can be expected after the war.

Bush vaguely described "a form chosen by the Iraqi people, not imposed by outsiders." Blair spoke of the need to involve the UN in postwar Iraq, but the paper says he "declined to be specific," instead referring to the necessity of adjusting to what would be found on the ground when the fighting ends.

But the paper says it is understandable that the two leaders avoided supporting any particular candidates to head a postwar administration. After all, "a country already divided between Shi'as, Sunnis, Kurds and Turkmen [makes] it extremely hard to discern who could provide a unifying political force." And any leader backed by the U.S.-British coalition runs the risk of being viewed as a Western puppet.

"The Daily Telegraph" says, "It would be foolish to underestimate the difficulties" involved in identifying a potential Iraqi leader "who could both unite many different factions and avoid the stigma of being seen as an allied puppet." But the paper says the more the allies "shirk this decision, the more they will be seen as an occupying force, rather than as the servants of Iraq's own liberation."


An editorial in "The Boston Globe" today says even if the war in Iraq ends in a best-case scenario, even if Iraqis celebrate the end of President Saddam Hussein's regime and suffer a minimum of casualties, "the United States will still need to show the rest of the world that it has not been waging a colonialist war for world domination or to steal Iraq's oil reserves. To many Americans, this notion might seem ridiculous. But in the Mideast, much of Western Europe, Russia, and China, the attribution of imperialist motives to Washington has become conventional wisdom."

The editorial says the U.S. administration's behavior is partly to blame for this widespread suspicion of America's motives. "Officials in the [President George W.] Bush administration have at times acted in ways that seem to confirm allegations about U.S. neo-colonialist intentions, showing disdain for the cooperative institutions and arrangements that defined the international order of the past half-century."

Thus, one goal for U.S. policymakers after the war must be "to demonstrate that their primary war aim was not to project U.S. power but to empower the people of Iraq."

Avoiding an extended occupation of Iraq will be essential. "For a short time, U.S. and coalition troops might be needed to preserve Iraq's territorial integrity, locate and dismantle Saddam's weapons of mass destruction capabilities, and prevent score-settling" or other inter-Iraqi fighting. But the paper says, "the sooner Iraqis can assume political and administrative responsibility for themselves, the better."


In "The New York Times," Nicholas Kristof, writing from Kuwait, says the war in Iraq that "the world sees is different from the one Americans are viewing." Newspaper coverage in areas throughout the Muslim world support Saddam Hussein's resistance to U.S.-British forces.

"Muslim figures who sided with the U.S. after 9/11 [the 11 September attacks] and denounced Osama bin Laden are now urging 'jihad' against Americans." Kristof writes, "Within the U.S. as well, the war has been destructive, further pulverizing the civility of discourse."

He says those who, like himself, were against launching this war must now accept that that debate is history. The "relevant issue" is now how to get out of this war and how to avoid such "preemptive" wars in the future. Moreover, "Creating a postwar Iraq that is free and flourishing is also the one way to recoup the damage this war has already done to America's image and interests."

Kristof cautions that U.S. military planners must continue to be exceedingly careful to avoid civilian casualties whenever possible. He says military strikes that carry with them a high price in unintended civilian deaths or injuries are not only tragic, they will also "inflame Iraqi nationalism and make postwar Iraq incomparably more difficult to govern."


In a commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Elise Kissling looks at the European Union's efforts to forge a common foreign policy. She says the EU "is facing its biggest test ever" now that the 15 members are split over the U.S.-led war against Iraq. She says the EU "is also reeling from the new trans-Atlantic divide that has brought the United Nations and NATO to their knees."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's position is particularly precarious since the U.S. has openly admitted that it is "pursuing a divide-and-conquer strategy toward Europe," which has made it difficult for Blair to convince the British public that he has been acting in his country's best interest in supporting U.S. policy in Iraq.

Moreover, Blair is being left out in the cold by important EU members. He has not been invited to tomorrow's meeting on a common defense strategy to be attended by Germany, France, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

Yet, says Kissling, this EU strategy will not work for long unless this group is able to convince all EU members that a joint foreign policy and an integrated military will serve them well.


Stefan Ulrich's commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" regards it as imperative that the United Nations collaborates with U.S.-British forces in the aftermath of war in Iraq.

Ulrich says conflicts already are arising between the United Nations, Britain, the U.S., the French, and the Germans, which are all interested in what can be gained from a postwar Iraq. The interest, of course, says Ulrich, stems from issues of "power and authority, ideals concerning a new order, dogmatism, and economic interests."

In the end, the Iraqi people might become the victims of a power play in the Security Council. But they have already suffered too much, says Ulrich. He says the first priority now is to make way for the UN to provide speedy aid to rebuild the country and introduce democracy.


Writing in Britain's "Financial Times," Alan Beattie says putting Iraq on a "self-sustaining" economic path after the war "will be essential to establishing it as a beacon of prosperity and stability in the Arab world." However, "Western governments and international institutions appear to lack both a detailed knowledge of the scale of Iraq's economic disintegration and a strategy to reverse it."

Beattie says, "The key to reconstruction will be to restore and boost oil production, in order to earn enough [to] feed the population while creating some surplus to contribute towards investment." But he cites analysts as saying several years and roughly $5 billion in investment will be needed to do so, prompting some experts to suggest the short-term potential for oil to spur Iraq's recovery has been greatly overestimated. Thus the responsibility for jump-starting Iraq's economy may be placed -- at least initially -- mainly on foreign aid.

Spurring growth and development in Iraq "will require a multifaceted solution to the country's problems." But international agencies "with expertise in economic reconstruction," such as the International Monetary Fund, have yet to formulate a workable plan. The World Bank and United Nations are "loath to risk accusations of political bias by starting on grandiose Iraq reconstruction plans before the end of the war."

Thus, "[the] onus for planning economic reconstruction for the moment...falls largely to the U.S." Beattie says a "coordinated reconstruction plan with broad political backing" is sorely needed.


"The New York Times" in an editorial reprinted in today's "International Herald Tribune" discusses the 23 March referendum in Chechnya, in which Chechen voters elected to stay within the Russian Federation in exchange for a degree of autonomy. The paper says these referendum results may have merely been a "despairing cry for peace" from "an exhausted and battered people" who would consider voting "for anything that sounds like it might end their misery."

Restoring peace will be "an enormously difficult task," says the editorial. "The impoverished and undisciplined Russian Army has often sunk to the lowest forms of armed banditry, and the Chechen rebels have often turned to atrocity and terror."

"The massive coverage of the war in Iraq and the passions it has aroused stand in stark contrast to the anonymity of Chechen suffering," the paper continues. "A decade of fighting in the Muslim republic, with a brief interruption between 1996 and 1999, has taken 200,000 lives and created 150,000 refugees, all in a tiny land with a registered voting population of about 540,000."

"The New York Times" says Russian President Vladimir Putin must, "first and foremost, [impose] stern and immediate control over Russian forces in Chechnya, putting an end to the kidnappings, murders and other flagrant violations of human rights. Putin must also show he is prepared to talk to [Chechen separatist leader Aslan] Maskhadov."

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