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Western Press Review: Iraq's Failed 1991 Revolt, U.S.-Russian Relations, And Remembering Afghanistan

Prague, 3 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The RFE/RL Western Press Review begins today with a look at the 1991 uprising in Iraq in which, at the urging of the U.S. government, Kurds in the north and Shias in the south took up arms against the regime in Baghdad. The rebellion was subsequently crushed by Saddam Hussein's better-armed and better-equipped forces, while American troops failed to come to their assistance.

We also take a look today at the possibilities for Iraq after the conflict, U.S.-Russian relations, and the situation in Afghanistan, which continues to struggle with stability and human rights issues as the world's attention is focused on the Persian Gulf.


In a contribution to the European edition of "The Wall Street Journal," Near Eastern studies analyst and Princeton University professor Bernard Lewis offers an explanation for why many Iraqi citizens distrust the U.S.-British forces seeking to overthrow the much-feared regime of Saddam Hussein.

To understand the answer to this, Lewis says one must look at the events of 1991. "At the beginning of the Gulf War in that year, the U.S. government called on the people of Iraq to rise in rebellion and overthrow" Saddam, who "had oppressed them for so long." Iraqis "responded readily, and rebellions broke out in many parts of the country."

But in the meantime, concurrent with their victory, the U.S. agreed to a cease-fire with the defeated Iraqi leader. "In the days that followed, Saddam Hussein [crushed] the rebellion, [including] Shiites in the south and Kurds in the north, killing tens of thousands in the most brutal way, including with chemical weapons."

Lewis says it is impossible to defend the United States for abandoning those whom it had encouraged to rebel. America's Iraqi allies "saw this as a betrayal," and it has left "a legacy of caution and suspicion."

Iraqis today worry that the United States may again stop short of truly overthrowing the regime in Baghdad, and instead "reach some kind of accommodation, if not with Saddam Hussein himself, then with some like-minded [successor]" who will not offer a real alternative to life under Saddam.


Writing in the British daily "The Guardian," Dan De Luce says, "Sensing Saddam Hussein was losing his grip, the Shia Moslems of southern Iraq seized their moment in 1991 in an 'intifada' that erupted across southern cities." Tens of thousands took to the street in Basra and stormed Ba'ath Party headquarters. On the radio, the U.S. president called for a revolt against Baghdad.

"Believing they had the support of the victorious U.S.-led forces," De Luce says, Shias "were attacking Baath Party officials and freeing prisoners." But Iraqi Republican Guard and security forces "soon launched a massive counterattack." The Iraqi Army's "tanks and helicopters blasted Basra and Nassiriya and other cities, forcing the collapse of the improvised militia that had briefly seized 14 of 18 provinces."

De Luce says that today, "Twelve years after that failed rebellion, Britain and the United States are hoping for Shias in Iraq to rise up again. But the scars from the last attempt run deep, and Shia exiles say they will never forgive Washington and its allies for standing by while Baghdad exacted merciless revenge."

At least 30,000 died in the revolt. "The legacy of the failed uprising and its bloody aftermath casts a long shadow over today's 'Operation Iraqi Freedom,' and the post-Saddam peace it envisages," De Luce says. "Those who took part in the uprising are contemptuous of the governments now encouraging them to rebel once again."


A "Los Angeles Times" editorial says Afghan President Hamid Karzai "did not have much luck several weeks ago in urging the U.S. to remember Afghanistan as it entered a new war" in Iraq. But Karzai's message should now be "echoing," after the recent killings of two U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan "and the targeted slaying of an engineer with the International Committee of the Red Cross."

The paper says the United States "cannot be seen as abandoning its commitment to the nation where Al-Qaeda flourished and the Taliban still has support." Military leaders should "consider bringing in a few thousand more troops to prevent a creeping new war in Afghanistan, sponsored by warlords hostile to Karzai and with close ties to the Taliban.

"International aid organizations had warned recently that some areas were too unsafe for them to work, jeopardizing delivery of urgently needed food and medicine." The Red Cross, "which has more than 1,600 workers in Afghanistan, said it was suspending field work indefinitely."

The 5,000 peacekeepers of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have kept the capital "relatively peaceful." But the force "should have been dispatched to other cities" outside Kabul long ago.

The paper says "vast expanses of the country need more attention so rebuilding can take place." Iraq will also need rebuilding after the war. "[Doing] a better job in Afghanistan would offer hope to Iraqis that the United States will not forget the nation after it ends the bombing."


"The Washington Post" in an editorial says that before the war in Iraq was launched, U.S. President George W. Bush pledged to work in "close partnership" with international institutions, such as the UN, in efforts to rebuild Iraq and to seek Security Council approval for a postwar Iraqi administration.

"Yet," the editorial says, "a secretive Pentagon-led group is already far advanced in plans to unilaterally install a postwar regime dominated by Americans and Iraqi exiles -- one that would effectively exclude not only the United Nations but also European and Middle Eastern allies whose support will be essential to stabilizing the country."

The editorial says this approach "could compound the diplomatic damage" of the war. "Few dispute that a U.S. military administration will be needed immediately after the conflict, [which would] be turned over to Iraqis as quickly as possible." But the Pentagon's idea "would structure this supposedly limited military regime in such a way as to concentrate control over the subsequent political transition in U.S. hands, effectively limiting international participation."

"A better model is readily available," according to the editorial. British Prime Minister Tony Blair proposes "that the United Nations convene a conference to decide on the formation of a transitional government -- like the one that led to an Afghan administration after the ouster of the Taliban." This would enable "international participation in reconstruction and peacekeeping, as in Afghanistan, and allow for UN [technical] help in rebuilding institutions."


Daniel Broessler, writing in today's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," examines relations between the United States and Russia as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell meets NATO and European Union officials in Brussels today, along with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. Broessler says the relationship between the United States and Russia "has reached an all-time low since the war in Kosovo in 1999." And only the two presidents can repair the relationship, he says.

He says that whereas the dispute over going to war in Iraq almost led the White House to break off relations with Paris and Berlin, U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin maintained contact, even though they disagreed on the Iraq issue.

"Had this [relationship] been maintained, the Americans and Russians could have set an important example, proving a quarrel over a war need not make antagonists out of partners." But the experiment failed on both sides, Broessler says, for two reasons.

First, on the U.S. side, the diplomatic failure can be traced to the Bush administration's lack of tolerance for compromises. It assumed it could silence Moscow by promising economic rewards, but this did not happen.

Secondly, on the Russian side, the failure is due to Putin's ambivalence on foreign policy. Putin is aware that most Russians oppose Bush's policies, but he has maintained a diplomatic silence. He knows that fostering anti-American sentiment will fail to achieve prosperity for Russia, which is Putin's ambition. Broessler says Putin must therefore pursue a policy of criticism and cooperation, knowing that stridently opposing the United States risks undermining Russia's national interests.


In "The Washington Times," Svante Cornell of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute of Johns Hopkins University says President Vladimir Putin's Russia, while posing as a U.S. ally since the 11 September attacks, "has covertly, but systematically, counteracted American national interests in the Middle East, as well as in Central and Northeast Asia."

The U.S. administration "has been aware of Russia's actions, but downplayed rather than confronted them to keep relations at a good level. It is now time to re-evaluate Russia's role in American foreign policy and to end a potentially counterproductive policy of appeasement."

Cornell says Russian companies have been selling Iraq high-tech military equipment, incuding night-vision goggles and GPS jamming equipment. The Kremlin was informed in June 2001 but failed to act. For months, Russia claimed the companies involved did not exist, and now claims the deals went through third countries. Moscow also supplies Iran with nuclear equipment, maintains "rosy relations" with North Korea, and is seeking to create a multilateral check on U.S. power with "France in the West and China in the East."

In Central Asia, Russia has also sought to counterbalance the U.S. military presence. Cornell says it is time "to reassess Mr. Putin's sincerity when he claims to be a U.S. ally. Arming rogue states can in no way be compatible with being an American ally. Russia's help in the war on terrorism is important, but it cannot come at this price."