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Western Press Review: The UN Draft Resolution On Iraq, Azerbaijan's Elections, And Chechnya

Prague, 5 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Media coverage today is dominated by discussion of a draft UN resolution submitted by the United States to the UN. The proposal would authorize a multilateral force for Iraq, which would nevertheless remain under overall U.S. command. Representatives from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, France, Russia, China, and the United States -- met yesterday to discuss the draft. Thus far, France and Germany have been the most vocal opponents of the plan, saying it falls short of the goal of handing over responsibility for rebuilding Iraq to a UN authority.

Other topics discussed today include upcoming elections in Azerbaijan; Iran's foundering reform movement; and how politics at the Kremlin affect Moscow's policy in Chechnya.


Writing in the "Washington Post," columnist David Ignatius says U.S. President George W. Bush has wisely acquiesced "and asked for help in Iraq from the United Nations. But he still lacks a clear strategy for restoring sovereignty to the Iraqi people so that U.S. troops can eventually leave."

Security, he says, "will remain the crucial issue in Iraq, and the addition of UN troops to handle routine peacekeeping will allow the U.S. military to concentrate on the harder task of fighting the Iraqi terrorist resistance." But foreign troops of any kind "won't put this shattered nation back together," he says.

On the diplomatic front, the United Nations "is currently planning to replace its cumbersome 'oil-for-food' program with a jury-rigged 'development fund'" for rebuilding Iraq. U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer would distribute reconstruction funds while working in consultation with multilateral organizations like the World Bank. But this does not give Iraqis control over their own economic destiny and the resultant political decision-making, Ignatius says.

If Iraqis themselves controlled this budget, "they would have to negotiate the compromises that are the essence of politics. Instead of blithely calling for 1,500 new schools, as the interim Governing Council recently did, the new provisional government would have to set priorities."

Ignatius says Bush admitted this week "that the United States doesn't have the resources, financial, or military," to rebuild Iraq alone. "Hoping for the best simply wasn't a strategy."


A news analysis in the "Boston Globe" by Stephen Glain says the U.S. decision to seek UN help in Iraq "exposes the limits of President Bush's doctrine to use force -- preemptive and unilateral when necessary -- to subdue dictators and extremists on the front lines of the war on terrorism."

Glain says, in fact, some diplomats and analysts say "the war and its aftermath have in many ways fortified groups and states aligned against the United States and Israel."

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas "appears to be on the verge of resigning or being ousted because of power struggles with leader Yasser Arafat and his inability to rein in militant Palestinian groups like Hamas." Israel, for its part, is threatening to reoccupy Palestinian territories.

Meanwhile, Iran is holding suspected key Al-Qaeda operatives. But after being branded part of the "axis of evil," Tehran "has little incentive to hand them over to U.S. officials."

In a "chaotic, postwar Iraq, militants have begun seeping into the country, well-armed and eager to join the resistance against U.S. occupation." Glain says, "Even in Afghanistan, which appeared to be stabilizing more than a year after the ejection of Al-Qaeda and its Taliban hosts, U.S. forces are engaged in escalating clashes with Islamic militants filtering back into the country."

Glain says many observers note that, "short of destroying Iraq's [Ba'athist] regime, Bush has accomplished few of his Middle East policy objectives as promoted by administration hawks."


A commentary today in the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" says Germany and France claim to be completely unified in their stance on the new U.S. proposal on Iraq submitted to the UN this week.

As French President Jacques Chirac put it, both nations are ready to review the proposal, but it seems to fall quite short of what Chirac calls "the primary objective, namely the transfer of political responsibility to an Iraqi government as soon as possible." Chirac was speaking after a meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Dresden yesterday.

However, the German daily adds, "This is only the beginning of negotiations at the UN, and it is common knowledge that the French position is likely to be modified when discussions reach a decisive juncture. France is by no means rejecting the idea of cooperating in the stabilization and rebuilding of Iraq -- it is just first stipulating some far-reaching conditions."

France is trying to ensure it has room to maneuver and, in the final analysis, Germany, too, is willing to negotiate.

The "FAZ" says the substance of their objections to the draft is similar, but the difference in tactics between Paris and Berlin shows that France and Germany do not share all of the same goals in Iraq.


An editorial in "The Chicago Tribune" says U.S. forces in Iraq "have made progress. There's an Iraqi Governing Council and a new set of Iraqi ministers to run government departments. Much of the country, particularly in the northern parts, is peaceful and on its way toward economic health. But the continuing violence -- against Americans, the UN and Iraqis who preach or practice cooperation with allied forces -- threatens the fragile peace."

The paper says it is now "time to flood Iraq with tens of thousands of troops from other countries to guard the political and economic infrastructure of the country and nurture democracy on the local level." The world as a whole "has a keen interest in seeing Iraq emerge from Saddam Hussein's dictatorship into a model democracy for a troubled region. Yet many countries that opposed the war have been content to sit on the sidelines while the U.S. and its allies struggle to achieve that."

Today, many Iraqis "are judging the occupation by whether it can deliver -- electricity, clean water, and safe streets. There are forces -- remnants of Saddam Hussein's Ba'athist Party and terrorists from around the Middle East -- who hope to sabotage those efforts. Two weeks ago, they struck at the world's heart, bombing the UN headquarters in Baghdad."

The "Tribune" asks, "What more emphatic message do UN members need that they, too, hold a huge stake in a free and stable Iraq?"


In a contribution to the "Wall Street Journal Europe," Vladimir Socor of the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies discusses Azerbaijan's crucial tasks following presidential elections in October.

Much speculation already surrounds perceived attempts by the ailing President Heidar Aliyev to install his son, Ilham, as his successor. The political opposition, on the other hand, has not been able to agree on a common candidate and has not succeeded in outlining "credible programmatic alternatives."

Whatever the election's outcome, Socor says following the election Azerbaijan will face three major challenges.

First, it must secure international funding for the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline to ensure that construction on this major energy throughway does not fall behind schedule.

Second, it must make substantial progress reclaiming six Azerbaijani provinces that have been occupied by Armenian forces since 1993. One-tenth of Azerbaijan's current population is currently displaced in these regions in what Socor calls "one of the world's heaviest refugee burdens and yet one that is increasingly overlooked by international donor organizations."

Finally, he says, efforts must continue to stem the spread of militant fundamentalist Islam.

Socor says Azerbaijan "has the potential of becoming a political and economic success story, a positive example for other Muslim countries to follow. For this, however, it will need Western support to cope with the challenges of resource development, conflict resolution and modern institution-building to accomplish the national objective: integration with the Western world."


Writing in the London-based "Financial Times," Roula Khalaf and Najmeh Bozorgmehr discuss the difficulties faced by Iran's reform movement. They say the "sweeping victories of reformists in two presidential and one parliamentary election since 1997 raised expectations beyond what the reformists could deliver." And in a nation "where every elected institution has a parallel and more powerful unelected body in the hands of hard-liners, the conservatives have easily been able to obstruct reforms."

Reformists advocating rapprochement with the West are often accused by hard-liners of being U.S. pawns. Conservatives are now gearing up to weaken the reformist hold on parliament in next year's elections. Their strategy is "to project a centrist agenda, more concerned with economic issues that they claim have been ignored by reformists" under the lead of President Mohammad Khatami.

Reformists admit Khatami's agenda has focused less on fixing Iran's "dysfunctional" economy. But their "central argument has been that respect for human rights and for the rule of law are the essential ingredients to all reforms, including on the economic front."

The authors say the "greatest risk facing the conservatives is that the disillusionment of Iraq's youth could turn into more chaotic and violent unrest. In the short term, students may be afraid to initiate new protests.... [But] diplomats say that Mr. Khatami's reform movement has dramatically changed the conscience of Iranians and the awareness of their rights to ask for democracy -- a trend that will be only temporarily subdued."


Writing in France's daily "Le Monde," Sophie Shihab says that in the winter of 1999-2000, a besieged Chechnya helped elect Russian President Vladimir Putin. No one would have thought the war would have lasted these last four years, she says. But Chechnya remains mired in a climate of terror, with night-time kidnappings and torture commonplace.

Since the first Chechen war of 1994-1996, the separatist resistance has become increasingly radicalized, Shihab says. Secular Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, elected under the aegis of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), has consistently denounced any attacks targeting civilians. But Maskhadov has been systematically marginalized by the Russian leadership and thus pushed deeper into the embrace of international Islamists, "who offer him their poisoned aid."

Young Chechens who are incapable of fleeing the raids and murders are increasingly driven to join either pro-Russian militias or the Chechen resistance.

Within Russia, political life has been stabilized for a time by an increasing authoritarianism coupled with high oil prices. But Putin's failure to make good on his election promise to "liquidate" the Chechen resistance, coupled with the suspicion that terrorist activity, is likely to increase ahead of December parliamentary elections and has led to a desperate search for things with which to pacify public opinion.

Shihab says that this perhaps explains the launch of the campaign against the oligarchs by the Kremlin's publicity agents and the high-profile crusade against Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

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