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Western Press Review: Iran's Security Concerns, Attack On The UN Mission In Baghdad, Jerusalem Bus Bombing

Prague, 21 August 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Media coverage today in some of the major dailies takes a look at why seeking nuclear status is in Iran's national interests, the falling political fortunes of the Kremlin-backed administrator in Chechnya, and this week's fatal bomb attacks at UN headquarters in Iraq and a crowded bus in Jerusalem.


A contribution to "Eurasia View" from Erich Marquardt says with the removal of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the occupation of the country by U.S. and international forces, Iran now faces a possible threat on its eastern flank. The collapse of the Ba'athist regime in Baghdad, while in no way mourned by Tehran's leadership, has opened up another U.S. military-dominated front to the West. "If U.S. objectives are realized in Afghanistan and Iraq, Iran's current leadership will face a perilous future of being enveloped by unfriendly states, beholden to U.S. interests."

The current U.S. administration, under President George W. Bush, is "abnormally antagonistic" to Tehran, says Marquardt. Iran is well aware it is considered part of Bush's "axis of evil," along with North Korea and Iraq.

Marquardt says, "It is for these security concerns that the Iranian state would want to develop and acquire nuclear weapons." But "like all nuclear-armed states," Iran would likely "use its nuclear capability as a deterrent and not as an offensive weapon." Becoming a nuclear power "would increase Iran's foreign policy leverage" in dealing with the United States, Israel, "and whatever new governments may form in both Afghanistan and Iraq."

Thus, he says, "[It] is clear that developing nuclear weapons is in the national interests of Tehran." Nuclear status "would shield Iran from a variety of outside threats," including the United States and Israel but now also from new, U.S.-sanctioned governments in Kabul and Baghdad.


The "Chicago Tribune" carries an item today by Kim Murphy, in which she discusses emerging signs that the Russian-backed candidate for October elections in Chechnya may lose at the polls. Akhmad Kadyrov, head of the Kremlin-supported Chechen administration, is key to Russia's plans "to install a stable new government and emerge from a war that increasingly shows little signs of political resolution."

But Murphy says, "Even if Kadyrov wins the popular vote with Kremlin intervention [the] former religious leader has become so unpopular in the republic that some Kremlin officials now believe his presidency would almost guarantee more violence and instability." She says Kadyrov's "brutal tactics and corrupt aides have prompted many in Chechnya to fear him more than the Russians."

In a sign of the Kremlin's concern over Kadyrov's political prospects in the breakaway republic, the current administration head has been offered a post outside Chechnya in the event he loses the election.

"Meanwhile, Kadyrov and the militiamen around him are increasingly blamed by the public for the kinds of thefts, attacks and kidnappings that have drawn criticism of Russian forces in Chechnya." Kadyrov, a former Muslim cleric, "has seen his popularity plunge" since being appointed by the Kremlin in 2000.

Even so, Murphy says most analysts believe Moscow "will in the end engineer a victory for Kadyrov, if for no other reason than the lack of [a political] alternative."


Writing in "The Washington Post," Richard Cohen discusses the different motives behind this week's two fatal bombings, one at UN headquarters in Iraq, followed a few hours later by another on a Jerusalem bus. Cohen says although the UN is an independent nongovernmental organization, its mission in Baghdad was "inevitably [helping] to do the work of the United States."

America is seeking, thus far unsuccessfully, to restore basic necessities and functionality across Iraq. And Cohen says "Anyone who aids in that effort is going to be seen [as] doing the dirty work of the West."

He goes on to say that, as far as the chaos in Iraq is concerned, the U.S. administration "is paying the price of an administration that was far too cocky for its own good." Washington mistakenly believed that Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq "could be decapitated but that the body would continue to function. Instead, it collapsed."

Attacks on Israel are in a different category, Cohen says. Israel today "unmistakably squats on land that was once Palestinian -- never mind its international right to do so. [The] Palestinian grievance is real and continuing." Not all Palestinian suicide bombers are religious militants, he says. Some are "merely people who in their own way are saying they can't take it any longer."

The solution for Israel is to leave the occupied territories, build a security wall, "and wait for a new generation to accept [this] status quo." As for the U.S. mission in Iraq, basic services must be restored -- and then the running of them turned over to Iraqis.


A "Chicago Tribune" editorial today says that symbolically the attack on the UN's Baghdad headquarters was "an affront to all of the UN's member nations, by forces whose goal is to so destabilize Iraq that all outsiders are driven away." But the best outcome of the attack "would be just the opposite" -- an increase in the number of nations that are willing to help remake and rebuild the country.

The paper says two philosophies at odds with one another are currently keeping greater international cooperation from taking place in Iraq. On one hand, the U.S. administration "has refused to yield" any control over attempts to establish peace to either other nations or to the UN. On the other, the governments of many countries have said they will only consider sending peacekeepers to Iraq in accordance with a UN mandate -- and "not as supporting actors in a mission led by U.S. and British commanders." As these two views fight it out, the paper says "the net effect is that the UN and many of its most important members remain on the sidelines."

But in the wake "of Tuesday's horrific bombing, the U.S. should no longer pretend that, almost alone, it can pacify Iraq. And the major European and other governments that hold great influence within the UN should accept more responsibility for curbing the murders and atrocities now occurring in Iraq." This "current [pall] cannot be allowed to continue."


An editorial in the "International Herald Tribune" says, "Terrorists aim not just at inflicting death and devastation. They also hope to poison the emotional and political climate around their targets." This week's bombing at UN headquarters in Iraq has already inflicted the devastation, the paper says. But it must not be allowed "to further [deepen] the psychological chasm between reconstruction efforts and Iraqi civilians."

The U.S. administration must soon "commit sufficient additional resources, and, if necessary, additional troops, to prevent that. Iraqis need to see that Washington has the will and the means to get their country back on its feet. U.S. soldiers cannot be left fearing so much for their own safety that they start treating all Iraqis as potential enemies."

The "IHT" says "Unrealistically optimistic assumptions have led the White House to severely underestimate troop and spending requirements and wrongly dismiss the need for more international help through the United Nations." Efforts to provide security for Iraqis, aid workers, and U.S. troops must be redoubled, but "without creating a bunker mentality that walls foreigners off from the Iraqi population."

Washington needs to "accelerate its efforts to restore vital services and normal economic life," and implore the UN "to maintain its presence, despite the bloodshed."


Jacques Schuster in "Die Welt" also discusses terrorist attacks in both Baghdad and Jerusalem this week.

Schuster says the attack in Baghdad outstrips all previous attacks in the country, and is the largest single assault experienced by the UN. The attack in Israel, for its part, is the first massive violation of the latest truce between Israelis and Palestinians.

He sees the underlying motive behind both attacks as "a call for the Americans to go home." However, Schuster says an American withdrawal from involvement in either situation is impossible because it would "create chaos in Iraq and lead to a renewed bloodbath between Israel and Palestine."

Schuster believes there is no other solution than for the U.S. to maintain its leading role. Washington alone wields sufficient power to both advance stability in Iraq and to settle the Mideast conflict.


A commentary in the Swiss "Neue Zuercher Zeitung," on the other hand, puts its faith primarily in the UN. A central role for the UN in Iraq -- which many countries are demanding -- offers a chance to mediate a settlement between the conflicting interests of numerous actors. The United Nations offers a key opportunity -- and one that Washington should recognize -- to establish future Iraqi stability.

The paper sees a new pattern emerging from the attack on UN headquarters in Baghdad. There are various underlying motives for guerrilla attacks, it says, ranging from revenge for the death of a relative, to the defense of national independence and honor, down to an attempt to reinstate Hussein. But the "aim and manner of the attacks on the UN in Baghdad [indicate] a strategy that transcends all Iraqi nationalist resistance so far."

The commentary goes on to say the tactics and strategy underlying the UN attack and the one on the Jordanian Embassy two weeks ago points to a radical Islamic movement that is set on creating ideological confusion, general insecurity, and political chaos, which will allow it to ascend to political power. These militants are exploiting any public opposition to the U.S. occupation, to international mediators, or to independent aid organizations. The prevailing insecurity renders Iraq "an ideal battlefield for those of the Islamic faith throughout the world who hope to become martyrs in the fight against Americans."


Writing in France's "Liberation," Patrick Sabatier says the attack on the UN headquarters in Iraq had a double aim. First, the perpetrators sought to prove that Anglo-American occupation forces are incapable of opposing their "strategy of chaos." Secondly, they sought to frighten the international community out of helping Washington fulfill its aims in Iraq.

So the war continues, three months after the U.S. president declared major combat operations over on 1 May. Whether out of ignorance, arrogance, or a lack of preparation, the United States has missed its chance to conquer the "hearts and minds" of the Iraqi people by improving their quality of life after the fall of Hussein. The number of coalition soldiers is not sufficient to ensure security in a country almost the size of France, says Sabatier. And the U.S. budget cannot cover the immense costs of rebuilding the Iraqi infrastructure, not to mention the cost of the occupation.

But to abandon Iraq to civil war, another dictatorship, or chaos would be the worst of all, he says. The attacks of 11 September demonstrated the dangers inherent in failed or foundering states such as Afghanistan. An American defeat in Iraq would have grave consequences for the Middle East as well as the rest of the world. The best hope -- and even this comes with no guarantee of success, unfortunately -- would be a massive intervention by the international community, acting under a UN mandate.

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