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Western Press Review: Iraqi Reconstruction, High-Stakes 'Nuclear Poker,' And Russian-Iranian Relations

Prague, 17 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The first part of RFE/RL's press review today deals with analyses of the situation in Iraq, as inquiries continue on both sides of the Atlantic regarding false or misleading intelligence information in the run-up to war. We also take a look at Washington's high-risk "nuclear poker" game, sending humanitarian aid where it is needed most, and relations between Moscow and Tehran.


An editorial says during British Prime Minister Tony Blair's visit to Washington today he can expect to be "feted by Congress and lauded by the White House as a brave and loyal ally" for his staunch support of U.S. policy in Iraq. But the British daily says when Blair and U.S. President George W. Bush are behind closed doors, they "would be well advised to reflect carefully and honestly on the reasons why a successfully concluded, low-casualty war against a despised and now deposed tyrant is continuing to cause them such serious personal, political damage -- and retains considerable potential to do yet more."

And this damage "is not the product of political opportunism." Opposition parties in both the U.S. and Britain largely supported the war and broader regional policy. Nor is the political fallout due to "hostile media comment or malevolent journalism. Most mainstream media in both countries have toed the line to a dismayingly unquestioning extent."

Rather, the political damage in both nations arises from the public's growing perception that Bush and Blair "were not totally straight with the people they represent. At best, they were short on candor, foresight and facts. At worst, they knowingly misled."

"The Guardian" says Britain's "self-destructive kowtowing to a right-wing U.S. administration [is] exemplified by, but not confined to, Iraq." And Blair's Washington visit would be a good time for him to assert himself.


In a contribution today by former U.S. envoy James Dobbins, now of the Rand Corporation's International Security and Defense Policy Center, the reconstruction effort in Iraq is called the "most ambitious nation-building mission since World War II."

Dobbins says it is crucial that the United States involves other nations and international institutions in the effort; currently, the U.S. provides over 90 percent of the military personnel and funds for rebuilding.

"This will change only if the U.S. proves ready to share power, as [it] did in Kosovo, Bosnia and even Afghanistan," Dobbins says. "We must yield enough authority to NATO, the World Bank and the UN to give other nations a stake in the reconstruction that is commensurate with their contributions, while preserving enough American influence to keep the mission on course."

Dobbins says previous experience can shed some light on the process in Iraq. Western-led reconstruction efforts in Bosnia and Kosovo "were not perfect, and they will not exactly fit the situation in Iraq, but they are the best models we have developed so far," he says. "[And] they merit careful consideration."


An editorial in "The Daily Telegraph" discusses the results of a poll taken in Baghdad last week by Britain's YouGov polling organization. Of the 798 people surveyed, half supported the decision to topple Saddam Hussein, and only 11 percent wanted Anglo-American occupying forces to leave immediately. The paper says, however, that when asked whether it was preferable to live under Hussein's rule or Washington's, nearly 50 percent expressed no preference. The occupiers "are still on probation," says the editorial.

Three-quarters of Iraqis polled believed Iraq was more dangerous since the U.S.-led invasion, "and large majorities said they were personally affected by lack of electricity and the danger of being attacked on the streets." The paper says these findings lend even more urgency to the effort to "finish the job."

Accounting for Saddam Hussein's whereabouts might well undermine the daily insurgency encountered by Anglo-American forces, the editorial says. "Uncertainty about his fate also fills his opponents with fear that he may return and wreak hideous vengeance." And this "is deeply unsettling to the task of nation-building."

All things considered, the editorial says, Iraqis "would like the occupying powers to leave but realize that a fragile situation makes that impossible. Eleven weeks after [U.S. President] George W. Bush declared the war over, that should serve as a spur to the allies to do better."


Columnist Thomas Friedman says he finds it "disturbing" that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is getting "so tied up defending its phony reasons for going to war" (regarding intelligence on weapons of mass destruction) that it is being "distracted from fulfilling the real and valid reason for the war: to install a decent, tolerant, pluralistic, multireligious government in Iraq."

If the Bush administration wants "to win the real war," Friedman says it must concentrate on three main tasks. First, U.S. forces must "finish the war." In spite of President Bush's 1 May declaration that "major combat" in Iraq was finished, Friedman says large-scale military operations are not over yet.

Secondly, Washington "must provide massive support" for the new Iraqi Governing Council "to enable it to assume more powers as quickly as possible." Friedman says the more power the council assumes, the more clear it will become that the United States seeks liberation for Iraq and does not wish to remain an occupier.

Friedman's third point is that, with multiple mass graves already discovered in Iraq, U.S. President Bush is inexplicably "flailing around looking for Saddam [Hussein]'s unused weapons of mass destruction, when evidence of his actual mass destruction is all over the place." And yet, the U.S. Pentagon "has done almost nothing to help Iraqis properly exhume these graves, prepare evidence for a war crimes tribunal, or expose this mass murder to the world."


A contribution by Ilan Berman of the American Foreign Policy Council says militarily, Russia is Iran's "main international ally, [and is] principally responsible for its rapid re-armament and regional re-emergence."

A "major partnership" has developed between Moscow and Tehran; ideologically, the two countries have drawn closer on a number of issues "ranging from opposition to U.S. influence in the Middle East to security in Central Asia."

Fears of Iranian influence in the Caucasus prompted Moscow to "secure Tehran's good behavior in exchange for arms and nuclear assistance." And this strategy "has paid off: Iran has consistently steered clear of the Chechen conflict," despite calls from some hard-liners to assist Muslim separatists in the region.

But the Moscow-Tehran cooperation may not last for much longer, Berman says. A number of factors suggest that Iran "is emerging as a serious threat to Russian security." Tehran's "aggressive pursuit" of a nuclear arsenal and its advances in ballistic-missile development could secure a nuclear-equipped rocket by 2006. Berman says with this capability, "Iran would be able to threaten some 20 million people in the south of Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine."

The Russian-Iranian partnership "has become a perilous enterprise," says Berman. The Kremlin has thus far "ignored the growing threat posed by Iran." But the "competing interests of the two countries, coupled with Iran's nuclear advances, [suggest] that strategic ties could fall by the wayside in the not-too-distant future."


In a contribution to the "International Herald Tribune," Abbas Gullet of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies says humanitarian aid "is increasingly being guided by political agendas that favor high-profile emergencies at the expense of more invisible suffering taking place far from the media or political spotlight."

The "humanitarian ethic," he says, "is first and foremost about providing universal, unconditional help on the basis solely of need. Yet high-profile crises attract higher appeals for aid, even if other forgotten disasters are more deserving." Gullet says, "This trend must stop."

One of the first priorities for humanitarian agencies and donors "must be to invest in credible, objective assessments of humanitarian needs across the globe, so that aid is allocated to those at greatest risk, not to those at the top of the strategic and media agenda." He warns that if aid agencies "fail to provide impartial humanitarian support, they face the danger of losing their legitimacy."

Raising funds "is only half the battle," Gullet says. "The other half is to ensure that those resources are properly used."


Adrian Hamilton says the United States is engaged in a high-risk nuclear game with the "twin crises" of Iran and North Korea. Pyongyang recently claimed to have successfully reprocessed spent fuel rods into weapons-grade plutonium; Iran may be seeking to transform its civil nuclear technology into a weapons program. And it remains unclear how seriously Washington is considering taking preemptive action against these alleged nuclear facilities, as it has at times hinted it would.

The danger of hawkish rhetoric "is that is becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy," Hamilton says. The more the U.S. speaks of war, "the more urgently Iran and Korea move to gain the weaponry that would deter it, thus confirming the fears and accusations of the warmongers."

Hamilton says that "behind all the bluster" of Tehran and Pyongyang's stated nuclear ambitions, for both nations it is "as much a defense against internal upheaval as external threat."

Pyongyang needs foreign economic assistance for both energy and food. "By threatening to become a nuclear power it hopes to force America to the aid table."

The Iranian regime fears that it may be Washington's next choice for regime change. "By racing towards nuclear weaponry, it hopes to scare America into more cooperative engagement."

But Hamilton says: "In the final analysis, becoming a nuclear power is not a good option for Iran or North Korea. As the Indian experience has shown, it is a gross diversion of resources and can be easily negated by the threat of countervailing force."