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Western Press Review: 'Justice' In Iraq, Islamicism In Central Asia, And Doing Business With Hussein

Prague, 24 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Our review of the Western media today begins with a debate on the U.S. administration's methods of "bringing justice" to members of the former Iraqi regime. We also take a look at the popularity of insurgent Islamic movements in Central Asia, Serbia and Montenegro's bid to join the European Union, President Vladimir Putin's Russia, Polish operations in Iraq, and the international corporate community's willingness to do business with the former regime of Saddam Hussein.


The British "Guardian" today discusses intermittent attempts by U.S. forces to assassinate Saddam Hussein and his two sons with precision attacks. On 18 June, a missile strike targeted a convoy near the Iraqi-Syrian border suspected of containing senior officials from Hussein's toppled government. The attack wounded several Syrian border guards, as well as nearby Iraqis. It is not known if Hussein or his sons were in the convoy.

The "Guardian" says the U.S. administration seems to feel "entitled to launch a Hellfire missile whenever it sees some unidentified vehicles headed for Syria." But the paper says "what seems lost [is] any scruple as to whether the U.S. is justified" in launching such attacks. Many innocent Iraqis -- or Syrians -- may lose their lives as unintended victims of these attacks. Moreover, the goal of the war, as U.S. President George W. Bush "reiterated time and again in the run-up, was to 'bring to justice' the Iraqi leader and his associates." To "obliterate" Hussein "with an anti-tank weapon is a policy of vengeance, not of justice."

The paper goes on to say that, due to their timing, the assassination strikes of 19 March and 7 April "could perhaps be regarded as part of the military action." But this "is not a reasonable claim today when the U.S., as an 'occupying force' under The Hague and Geneva conventions, must accept much stricter constraints."

The U.S. Pentagon (Defense Department) is not entitled to "kill indiscriminately," says the paper.


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," Professor Barry Carter of Georgetown University remarks that Anglo-American forces have been taking into custody several former officials of the Iraqi regime. And yet the coalition "doesn't appear to have well-developed plans for trying these prisoners," he says, adding that Iraq's "worst offenders should be held accountable for their crimes at the earliest possible date."

One possibility would be trial by military tribunal. The Geneva Convention for prisoners of war requires that military trials of POWs proceed in the same manner as would the trials of members of the U.S. military, including the "extensive due-process protections." But the sight of U.S. military officials judging senior Iraqis would appear too much to be "victor's justice," says Carter.

A second option would be to allow Iraq's own courts to try these Iraqi officials, although Carter says Iraq's courts "will need years to rebuild and re-establish" their credibility.

Carter instead suggests that an international criminal court be set up specifically to deal with Iraq's war crimes and crimes against humanity. "The U.S. and the world community have a history of supporting international tribunals at the end of wars or civil wars -- from the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals after World War Two to the more recent International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda."

He says in bringing to justice former Iraqi officials, the U.S. administration "would do well to recognize the importance of international cooperation."


Writing in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Berhard Kueppers views the prospect of entry into the European Union by Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, and Macedonia as a long, ongoing process, the realization of which remains in the distant future since the region is still "a persistent trouble area."

The western Balkans has to contend with its socialist heritage and the consequences of ethnic wars, as well as flourishing organized crime. The international community has worked hard to stabilize the situation by sending NATO peacekeepers, establishing a UN protectorate in Kosovo, and experimenting in Bosnia to create a new type of state. The EU has taken on the role of mediator between Serbia and Montenegro.

"Thanks to these efforts," says Kueppers, "former rump Yugoslavia is still intact."

Nevertheless, the situation is far from stable, and the road to the EU is a long and dangerous one. "The people may lose patience in waiting for EU membership and the promise of prosperity, freedom to travel and work in the West. Aggressive frustration could bring a populist leadership to power once more."

In this connection, Kueppers quotes EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana: "If we fail in the Balkans, then we fail altogether."


Writing in London's "Financial Times," Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay of the Brookings Institution note that U.S. President George W. Bush has accused those "asking awkward questions" about Iraq's missing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) of being guilty of "revising" history.

"But if anyone is revising history, it is the U.S. president," say the authors. "Iraq's WMD program was the test case for Mr. Bush's doctrine of pre-emption. The Iraqi threat was 'grave and growing,' Mr. Bush declared."

Bush claimed on the eve of war that military intelligence "leaves no doubt" that the Iraqi regime possesses "some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld even went so far as to say that U.S. sources knew where the weapons were.

But 90 days after major military operations were winding down, no biological, chemical, or nuclear elements have been found. "Yet rather than asking why U.S. intelligence was wrong, Mr. Bush now claims that the war was about freeing the Iraqi people. No doubt Iraqis are better off without Mr. Hussein," say the authors. But even the hawkish deputy defense secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, has agreed that Hussein's ouster alone was not enough to justify U.S. intervention.

There are "disturbing" indications the U.S. administration exaggerated the case for war, say Daalder and Lindsay. They say, "In a democracy, it matters whether the people can believe what their leaders tell them," or whether "the facts on the ground do not match what leaders say."


Writing in "Die Welt," Gerhard Gnauck discusses Polish General Lieutenant Andrezej Tyszkiewicz, describing him as a "parlor general" who has been entrusted with the command of a multinational division in a central-southern section of Iraq of 80,000 square kilometers.

Although originally there were doubts as to whether Poland would be capable of shouldering this peacekeeping task, presented as a reward for supporting the U.S. in its war against Iraq, now it seems that Tyszkiewicz, who is "sitting in a former Saddam Hussein palace beside the ruins of Babylon," is the right man for the job. He speaks good English and Russian and was a military attache in Turkey. Moreover, Polish troops have experience in peacekeeping in the Balkans.

However, says Gnauck, the responsibility of being in charge of an occupation zone may be "not so much a reward but a burden." Polish politicians fear the assignment -- planned for one year -- is more likely to last five years, and although little is said about casualties, "the possibility of coffins returning to Poland are very real."

In fact, instead of Poles taking pride in this task, there is widespread and genuine apprehension.


A report in "Jane's Islamic Affairs Analyst" by T. Kuzio looks at the popularity of insurgent Islamic movements in Central Asia. Many Islamic fundamentalist groups have support in the region for three main reasons.

First, the authoritarian regimes that are prevalent throughout Central Asia "have driven the democratic opposition underground or destroyed them." In some cases, the only viable political alternative "to the authoritarian, former communist elites [are] Islamic groups, some of which do not flinch at using violent methods to achieve their aims."

Secondly, says Kuzio, poverty "is endemic to the regimes," even though some Central Asian states have copious oil and gas reserves. Corruption is widespread.

Finally, there is the influence of Russia on the region. Moscow has at times played Central Asia's authoritarian regimes and its Islamic insurgencies against one another. The Kremlin has provided "security guarantees" for autocratic leaders. But when these leaders are reluctant to embrace Russian aid, Moscow has also "turned a blind eye -- or covertly supported -- violent Islamic movements. In doing so, Russia hopes that the regimes will embrace security agreements with Russia."


Writing in France's "Le Monde," Laure Belot discusses some of the financial deals Iraq had with companies from all over the world prior to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Multinational companies often sought to find "holes in the net" of UN sanctions, Belot says. The six annual International Fairs of Baghdad -- the most recent of which was launched in November, even as the U.S. was ratcheting up the pressure at the UN -- was always a great political barometer of Iraq's financial relations with nations around the globe. Each year, multinationals from all over the world in search of contracts were welcomed by Hussein.

And for six years, Belot says, Baghdad played its role to perfection, despite the sanctions. While the UN controlled what type of goods Iraq could receive in exchange for oil, Iraq had "carte blanche to choose its company suppliers." But the United States and Britain, who were "wildly opposed to the regime" in Baghdad, received little in the way of these billions of euros' worth of contracts.

And yet, many Anglo-American companies would do deals in Iraq through their French subsidiaries or other third-party brokers. Belot cites UN sources as indicating that up to $500 million in U.S. contracts and up to $87 million in British contracts have followed this circuitous path into Iraq since 1998.

Texas energy giant Halliburton, formerly chaired by current U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, was one of the companies that benefited.


An editorial in the British "Independent" says the arrival today of Russian President Vladimir Putin on a full state visit to London "is a historic moment. It confirms the premium that the president and British Prime Minister [Tony] Blair place on the Anglo-Russian relationship."

But there are important issues the two leaders must address, the paper says. One is how the West can help Russia maintain the pace of its recovery since the collapse of the Soviet Union. There has been "considerable economic progress," "The Independent" says, as Putin has reformed the tax system and the national debt. He has also begun to crack down on the mafia and Russia's infamous oligarchs. Major multinationals have begun investing in the country.

But the problems remain "formidable," says the editorial, including "the disturbing way in which the broadcast media is influenced by the state and [Putin's] stubborn refusal to deal compassionately with the Chechens' claims for autonomy."

"The Independent" expresses the hope that Blair will take this opportunity to appeal to his Russian friend's conscience.


An editorial in "The Washington Post" criticizes the decision last week by Russia's Press Ministry to close down "Russia's only remaining independent television station with a national reach -- and [replace] it with a sports channel."

"The decision was perfectly legal, as all of the Russian government's moves to gain control of the press have been," the paper remarks. "This isn't censorship, exactly, but it might as well be: The result is that all Russian television channels are now under federal control [and] there are no more outlets for independent broadcast journalists."

But the "Post" says "there are signs that censorship may become more overt" in Russia. Last week the Duma, the lower house of parliament, voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bill that would let authorities penalize and ultimately shutter news organizations considered biased in their coverage. If the Russian president signs the bill, it could signal the end of the current era, in which [Putin] has used tax laws, subsidies, and corruption charges to limit criticism, and the opening of a new era in which he uses more overt methods" to undermine dissent.

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