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Western Press Review: Iraq's Dubious Progress, Tehran's Nuclear Ambitions, And Persistent Challenges In Afghanistan

Prague, 3 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Several major dailies today run items suggesting the U.S. response in Iraq has been inadequate, given the persistent insecurity evidenced by recent high-profile bombings and the lack of basic civilian services such as potable water and electricity. Others, ahead of next week's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting in Vienna, take a look at Tehran's alleged attempts to develop a nuclear capability. Commentary also focuses on attempts by the smaller EU nations to win a bigger say within the union, and the tenuous situation in Afghanistan, amid reports Taliban members are regrouping in the country.


A "Los Angeles Times" editorial says the appointment this week of "the first post-Saddam Hussein Cabinet should mark a significant advance toward getting Iraq governed by Iraqis." One of the top priorities of the 24-member cabinet, which was selected by the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), "will be to persuade their fellow citizens that they are not puppets of the U.S.-led occupation forces." Many Iraqis "have criticized Governing Council members as U.S. lackeys since their appointment in July," and some council members now seek to distance themselves from the American occupation. The paper says "they should continue" to emphasize this difference, "and the Cabinet should do it too."

Training more Iraqi police and eventually putting Iraqis in charge of security is also an important priority. The paper suggests Anglo-American occupation forces "need to cede as much authority as possible to the Cabinet as fast as possible." Iraqis "will be more comfortable under the rule of their fellow citizens than invaders," while nations that opposed the U.S.-led war "may be more likely to provide aid to an Iraqi government" than a Western occupation.


An editorial in today's "Wall Street Journal Europe" discusses the meeting in Prague this week of 15 smaller EU members and aspirant members to discuss how to secure their influence under the new EU draft constitution. The EU's small countries "don't want to get pushed around by the giants," and will demand a revision of the draft constitution next month.

The "Journal" says while this challenge is not being taken well by Paris or Berlin, the debate "well serves the long-term interests of the EU," as the draft has much room for improvement. Several of the future EU members are concerned that efforts to strengthen the EU common defense will weaken NATO. "Not surprisingly," says the paper, the Prague participants also "want to bolster the powers of small countries inside the bloc." They reject the constitution's proposal to limit the number of European commissioners to 15, instead of giving each member one representative. Some also wish to maintain the six-month rotating presidency, which the draft constitution would replace with a single EU president. The "Journal" says the constitution's attempts to streamline these processes "have some merit, although it is understandable that small countries are concerned that big countries are trying to shut them out."

The paper goes on to suggest the draft's "glaring failure to limit and define the [European] Commission's powers" should also be addressed, while the EU parliament should be transformed into "a legitimate democratic check."


Writing in the "Christian Science Monitor," John Hughes of the "Desert Morning News" says the coming week will again bring Tehran's alleged nuclear program into the spotlight. On 8 September, the board of governors of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will meet in Vienna to discuss Iran's nuclear ambitions. Hughes says "suspicion has been heightened" by a report released last week stating that UN inspectors had found traces of highly enriched uranium at an Iranian nuclear site. Iran claims the traces were present in the materials before it acquired the equipment in question.

At next week's meeting the United States "is expected to argue [that] Iran should be found in noncompliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty," to which Tehran is a signatory. Such a finding could result in the UN levying sanctions or other penal actions by the Security Council.

"All this is going on at a time of considerable political instability in Iran," writes Hughes. "The influence of its conservative clerics upon a new generation of modern Iranians is diminishing. [Thousands] of young Iranians have dared in recent months to demonstrate against the regime." As it is "otherwise absorbed in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. seems content to let this play out without attempting any overt intervention. That is a sensible posture," he says. But proof of Iran's atomic ambitions "could harden U.S. policy," which is why the findings of the Vienna conference will be crucial.


A "New York Times" editorial today says Afghanistan "is paying a heavy price for the [U.S.] administration's reluctant and miserly approach to nation-building." The central government in Kabul "is bankrupt and powerless. The economy remains inert. And now the Taliban appears to be making a deadly and alarming comeback."

More "coherent, better-financed policies" are "badly needed," the paper says.

The Taliban could not have regrouped in the country so successfully "if postwar governance had been wiser." Taliban leaders initially managed to escape the U.S.-led military campaign, then re-entered the country, mainly in the south and east. In these regions, "the Tajik-dominated national government is weak and resented."

The Taliban has now "rebuilt a guerrilla army that is wreaking havoc. Afghans who cooperate with the Kabul government are targeted for assassination. International aid workers have been told to stay away for their own safety."

Afghanistan's reconstruction "needs to be substantially accelerated," says the paper. Recent moves to increase U.S. aid and dispatch more advisers to the country are "welcome, but probably not enough."


Manfred Pantfoerder in the German daily "Die Welt" looks at the implications of the acquittal yesterday of radical Islamic cleric Abu Bakar Bashir by an Indonesian court, which the author says will have "far-reaching implications far beyond Indonesia."

Bashir is widely suspected of being the spiritual leader of Al-Qaeda's Southeast Asia affiliate, Jemaah Islamiyah, and is suspected of ordering a series of terrorist attacks in Indonesia and plotting to assassinate the Indonesian president. The court decided the prosecutors had not proven that Bashir was the head of Jemaah Islamiyah. He was, however, found guilty of aiding and abetting treason, based on his support of the organization's goal to establish an Islamic state, and sentenced to four years in prison.

Pantfoerder says the moderate sentence evidences the court's shortcomings, as this trial was seen worldwide as a test of Jakarta's antiterrorist skills. As the largest Muslim country in the world, he says Indonesia has become something of a safe haven for extremists. Last year's attack on tourists on the island of Bali finally revealed the dimensions of the region's terrorist threat.

Even though the Indonesian government has adopted antiterrorist laws, Pantfoerder says this trial "demonstrates the ambivalence in Jakarta toward terrorists" -- which gives Washington additional impetus to rely only on its own resources in fighting terrorism.


Writing in France's "Le Figaro," Pierre Rousselin says five months after the symbolic fall of Saddam Hussein on 9 April, the Anglo-American occupation has finally created a new government in Iraq. But the first Iraqi cabinet of the post-Hussein era lacks legitimacy, he says.

Its 25 members were appointed on 1 September by the Iraqi Governing Council, which owes its own existence to the occupation authorities. Thus it cannot claim to be representative, nor democratically elected.

"But at least it exists," says Rousselin. If it functions and is able to achieve real results, it may ultimately be seen as the debut of legitimacy in Iraq and may eventually herald the country's first steps on the path to progress. Of course, this must be achieved without the cabinet seeming to be merely a tool of the occupying powers.

But the recent past is not encouraging, says Rousselin. Since the end of the war and before the formation of the cabinet, the members of the Iraqi Governing Council were notable for their passivity. None of these former Iraqi opposition figures took real risks to exhort their countrymen to seize the opportunity to reconstruct their country.

Perhaps this is because the prolonged exile of many council members had cut them off from the realities of the country, he suggests. Or perhaps the disordered attempts of the U.S.-led occupation were incapable of putting in charge the personalities capable of taking on such responsibilities.


Writing in "The Boston Globe," columnist James Carroll says the United States has already lost the war in Iraq. None of its expected benefits has come to pass, he says. Instead, the "most radical elements of various fascist movements in the Arab world have been energized by the invasion of Iraq. [Instead] of undermining extremism, Washington has sponsored its next phase."

Before the war, he says, "the threat of America's overwhelming military dominance could intimidate, but now such force has been shown to be extremely limited in what it can actually accomplish." But as the calls increase for reinforcements to be sent, Carroll says this would be an "age-old mistake." Increasing force only increases resistance, he says.

"High-tech weaponry can kill unwilling human beings, but it cannot force them to embrace an unwanted idea. As rekindled North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs prove, Washington's rhetoric of 'evil' [is] self-defeating."

Carroll says the United States "must admit that it has made a terrible mistake in Iraq, and it must move quickly to undo it. That means the United States must yield not only command of the occupation force, but participation in it. The United States must renounce any claim to power or even influence over Iraq, including Iraqi oil."

He writes: "With the United States thus removed from the Iraqi crucible, those who have rallied to oppose the great Satan will lose their raison d'etre, and the Iraqi people themselves can take responsibility for rebuilding their wrecked nation."


Commenting in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Stefan Kornelius views America's confused Iraqi policy as what he calls "a war against reality." He says "men will die in Baghdad as long as the administration fails to agrees on a workable policy."

Assistance from other countries will be forthcoming only provided that the status of these forces is clarified. Kornelius says: "Nobody wants to act in Iraq as an occupation force." Moreover, the clearest signal is coming from Iraq itself. The killing of Shi'a cleric Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim on 29 August only confirmed fears of persistent chaos in the country.

"The U.S. occupation has left a power vacuum," he writes, "which was first followed by plundering and now by a number of religiously motivated assassinations, mafia murders and sabotage."

Kornelius asks: "To what degree does Iraq have to disintegrate before Washington grasps the dimensions of its task?" U.S. president George W. Bush is not doing enough to help Iraq. "He is not making sufficient demands on his own administration, and he is not developing any political vision of how to rebuild and enable Iraq to stand on its own feet."

Kornelius then questions when the Bush administration will realize the extent of its obligations. Perhaps this will be more clear at the UN General Assembly later this month, or perhaps when Congress takes a vote on the new U.S. budget. Or maybe this realization will have to wait until the next assassination in Iraq or until after the next U.S. presidential election in 2004 -- provided Bush is still in office, says Kornelius.

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