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Western Press Review: War, Then And Now -- Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Iraq

Prague, 5 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Our review of the press today begins with a discussion of war, past and present. We take a look at the conflict in Chechnya, a war Russia may lose by winning it; reconsidering the indictment of Croatian General Ante Gotovina for alleged war crimes in the former Yugoslavia; negotiating with Iran over its alleged nuclear program; and whether seeking a democratic future for Iraq will ultimately be in vain?


Writing in "The Washington Times," Jeffrey Kuhner, who is currently writing a book on the Croatian-Serbian conflict in the former Yugoslavia, discusses the indictment of Croatian General Ante Gotovina. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is currently reconsidering its 2001 indictment of Gotovina for his so-called "command responsibility" over alleged war crimes during a 1995 Croatian offensive. The operation, known as Operation Storm, took place with the approval of then-U.S. President Bill Clinton and succeeded in regaining Croatian territories annexed for Serbia by forces loyal to former President Slobodan Milosevic.

Kuhner says Washington approved the Croatian offensive because it "rightly viewed Croatia as providing the strategic balance of power that would finally put an end to Mr. Milosevic's rampage." Not only did it regain Croatian territory, "it also prevented a Srebrenica-style massacre from occurring in Bihac." Gotovina's troops "smashed the Serbian lines encircling the city, causing Mr. Milosevic's forces to retreat to their stronghold of Banja Luka."

Kuhner writes: "General Gotovina is not a war criminal. Instead, he is a hero who finally accomplished what the United Nations and Western diplomacy had failed to do after nearly four years of [bloodshed]: Deliver a fatal blow to Mr. Milosevic's revanchist ambitions."

"It now seems that the tribunal is also finally coming around to that same conclusion," Kuhner says. Prosecution testimony at Milosevic's trial at The Hague has revealed the expulsion of Krajina Serbs attributed to Gotovina was, in fact, ordered by Milosevic.


In a contribution to "The New York Times," journalist Anne Nivat says Chechen voices "are not being heard in the rest of Russia: the Kremlin has so restricted news coverage of Chechnya that outsiders have little idea what is happening here."

The Chechen capital, Grozny, is "a ruin," Nivat says. Suicide bombings and shootings are frequent, soldiers "are everywhere," the availability of electricity and water is "sporadic." "There is an atmosphere of stalemate: the Russians and the rebels can't negotiate, and neither side can win."

The increasing frequency of Chechen suicide attacks, some carried out by women, "are signs of desperation," Nivat says. As the situation in Chechnya continues to stagnate, "suicide attacks by young Chechen women, and others, will continue."

Nivat writes: "The Chechens I've talked with are longing for an end to the war, but their sympathies are clearly with the separatists. Although at the start of the fighting in the early 1990s there were Russian supporters here, that support was driven out by hatred as the war dragged on."

Today, it "seems as if there is not a single family who has not lost someone in the conflict. The Chechens now consider the Russians invaders who are incapable of following the rules of war by making efforts to spare civilians."


As rumors continue to fly concerning the health of Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev, a "Stratfor" (Strategic Forecasting LLC) commentary says, "regardless of [Aliev's] condition, no one disputes that the president's time is rapidly coming to a close. When he dies, Azerbaijan is due for a long-delayed bout of instability that could well paralyze the country's young petroleum industry."

The small country is at the geopolitical and oil-rich center of the region, "Stratfor" says. In order to secure Baku's independence and his own power, Aliyev personally brokered large-scale direct foreign investments from numerous international energy firms. Their presence in the country has "made any regional player think twice before moving too boldly against Azerbaijani interests."

But many of these deals depend on Aliev's own survival, the commentary says. His attempts to cement his own power have resulted in military, judiciary, and parliamentary institutions that are all "toothless." Aliyev himself "has held the country together with a mortar of intimidation, guile and sheer force of personality. Without that mortar, vying interests that include a panoply of foreign and domestic players could tear the country apart in a bid for dominance."

And the expected rise of the younger Aliyev to power does not bode well, according to "Stratfor." "Simply put," it says, "Ilham Aliyev lacks his father's charisma, political skills, contacts, experience, stature, intelligence and authority."


A commentary in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" contemplates the future of Azerbaijan under the rule of Ilham Aliev, son of ailing President Heidar Aliev. In a move to ensure his son succeeds him, the elder Aliyev had Ilham confirmed as the new prime minister yesterday. According to the Azerbaijani Constitution, the prime minister automatically succeeds the president should he become incapacitated or die.

The paper says that Azerbaijan is following in the tradition of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, where presidents Nursultan Nazarbaev and Askar Akaev, respectively, have also ensured the continuation of their dynasties through political maneuverings. So has President Aliyev now paved the way to solidifying his family's rule in Azeri-Turkish Azerbaijan. "This guarantees a continuity of the authority going back to the Soviet era," the paper says, "since Heidar Aliyev was the only Muslim member of the Politburo in communist times and, in addition, KGB chief of his republic."

There is much that can be said against Heidar Aliev, the commentary continues, but unlike his predecessor -- who ruled following the establishment of an independent republic -- Aliyev had maintained Azerbaijani stability since 1994. Now, the paper says, the country may sink into chaos.


In a contribution to the "Los Angeles Times," Edward Luttwak of the Center for Strategic and International Studies writes: "By now it should be obvious that no significant population group in Iraq wants the democracy that the Bush administration is striving so hard to establish." Educated sectors of the "Baghdad elite" may "admire democracy in theory but fiercely oppose it in practice because they do not want to be ruled by the Shiite majority." He says a majority of Shi'ites "are illiterate or almost so, and the only leaders they recognize are their imams and ayatollahs."

These religious clerics differ on many issues, but all "insist that Iraq must be governed by Islamic law, not by the will of an elected assembly that might violate religion as they see it by legislating equal rights for women, freedom of speech or the right to drink alcohol."

Luttwak says, "In other words, the most likely leaders of a majority of Iraqis reject [the] very idea of inalienable human rights, the fundamental premise of any worthwhile democracy."

Thus, he says it would be "an astonishing achievement of cultural transformation" if a democracy were established in Iraq in the next 30 years. Since the United States cannot remain involved in Iraq for that amount of time, Luttwak says, it must push for the formation of an elected government after a constitution is drafted by Iraq's new Governing Council.

"[The] time has come to prepare the next-best exit strategy," he says. "If equipped with an adequate security force, there is no reason why the Governing Council cannot be left to rule on its own."


A commentary in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" discusses U.S. reluctance to concede to UN involvement in Iraq. "While U.S. soldiers are meeting their death daily in Iraq and reconstruction is at a standstill because of the dangerous situation, the [U.S.] administration hesitates to ask for help from the UN."

Apparently, the paper says, neo-conservative resistance within the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is so great that it is unlikely the UN will adopt a new resolution on Iraq before autumn.

And yet, says the commentary, the U.S. can only win by involving the United Nations. It could count on new contingents of soldiers from Turkey, India, Pakistan and even from France and Germany, and would gain much more money for reconstruction. Moreover, Bush could mollify criticism of his policy at home and would also demonstrate to the rest of the world that he appreciates cooperation. This would serve to mitigate anti-Americanism in the Arab world.

And in the worst-case scenario, if all fails in Iraq, the Americans would have an excuse and could blame the failure on the United Nations.

But in spite of these arguments, the commentary says U.S. hawks are finding it difficult to approach the Security Council. They are reluctant to concede to the United Nations, instead adhering to a policy that has prompted Democrat Senator Joseph Biden to ask: "What are we giving up? The right to be shot on our own?"


Charles Lambroschini, writing in "Le Figaro," says with the conquest of Iraq, the United States has in effect completed the encirclement of Iran. All Iran's neighbors are, to varying degrees, allied with Washington. Tehran's mullahs are now faced with the option of negotiating with the U.S. or seeking sanctuary in the development of a nuclear capability. Iran is now, on all sides, on the defensive.

The first point of contention with Washington in the asylum Iran granted to Saif al-Adel, Al-Qaeda's No.3 man. The United States demands the extradition of this former Egyptian officer, who it claims has direct connections with terrorist networks. Thus, Iran is accused of aiding those linked to Osama bin Laden. But the truth is more subtle, Lambroschini says. Realpolitik considerations lie behind Tehran's so-called cooperation with these elements, but now it is forced to bargain with Washington.

The second major schism between Washington and Tehran is Iran's encouragement of Shi'a elements in Iraq. To loosen America's grip, Tehran's best option is to seek the development of an Islamic Shi'a sister state in Iraq. Unfortunately for Tehran's mullahs, Iraqi clerics seem to advocate a separation between the Koran and the state, a model that could endanger the position of Tehran's ruling clerics.

So Iran is left with a dangerous nuclear option. In spite of its denials, Iran is close to developing a nuclear capability, now seen as the only viable way to deter Washington from making Tehran share the fate of Baghdad.

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