Accessibility links

Breaking News

Western Press Review: Timing The Transfer Of Power In Iraq, EU Financial Scandal, And Russian Foreign Policy

Prague, 23 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The debate over when sovereign power should be transferred to the Iraqi Governing Council continues as council members are in New York to claim Iraq's seat at the UN when the General Assembly convenes today. U.S. President George W. Bush will speak at the Assembly and outline U.S. plans for Iraq, including a possible expanded UN role.

Russian foreign policy and the European Union's latest financial scandal are also topics of media interest today.


"The Daily Telegraph" discusses the Iraqi Governing Council's attempt to claim Iraq's seat at the United Nations as the General Assembly convenes today.

"Objectors will argue that the Council is Washington's creature, its 25 members having been appointed by the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, and that it lacks the legitimacy which only democratic elections can give." This contention "is true," says the paper, "but at least the Council is a step towards representative government in Iraq."

As a governing body "created for the transition between the fall of Saddam Hussein and the holding of elections under a new constitution," it is "much better that the Council, currently under the presidency of Ahmad Chalabi, should occupy the UN seat rather than the diplomatic flotsam of the previous regime."

The conflicting interests of Iraq's Sunnis, Shi'a and Kurds will make the run-up to the constitutional convention fraught with domestic tensions, and the "Telegraph" warns of the "dangers of rushing [the] complex and delicate process" of transferring power to Iraqis.

The UN, it says, should "help with writing the constitution and overseeing elections." As U.S. President George W. Bush speaks to the UN General Assembly today, he "must persuade members that failure in Iraq would be a disaster not just for the occupying powers but for the cause of democracy across the world. In so doing, it would help [if] he gave a clearer idea of when power might be fully transferred."

"In the current dispute between Washington and Paris over a new UN Security Council resolution on Iraq, both sides have an obligation to transcend past resentments," says an editorial in "The Boston Globe." "A great deal is at stake for Iraq and the international community."

The main point of contention continues to be when sovereign power should be transferred to the Iraqi Governing Council. Paris would prefer power to be transferred immediately, while the U.S. administration warns that control should not be devolved until a new Iraqi constitution is approved by a referendum and a government has been elected under that constitution.

The paper says, "the reality is that Iraqis are losing patience with an American-led occupation that has been maddeningly slow to provide security, electricity, clean water and jobs." The U.S. might benefit from transferring power to an interim Iraqi government, it says.

"The argument of those who paint the Americans as colonialist occupiers would be undercut." Other nations "that might be reluctant to contribute reconstruction funds to a U.S. occupation of Iraq would have no excuse not to pledge money to a sovereign Iraqi authority. And more countries would be willing to send soldiers or help train Iraqi police."

The Iraqi Governing Council could still cooperate with the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority on civilian administration, says the paper. But the U.S. administration "should heed Iraqi pleas for partnership with a sovereign provisional government in Iraq."


An editorial in Britain's "The Independent" calls the European Union's latest financial scandal "depressing," coming as it does "[at] a time when the European Union needs to project an image of competence and integrity." An official report on how 920,000 euros disappeared from EU records into a "secret slush fund" will be presented to European Commission President Romano Prodi tomorrow.

"So far there has been little sign of anyone in Brussels taking much responsibility for what goes on in the commission, and that has to change," says the paper. A broader problem with the European Commission is that "it is not only perceived as being bureaucratic with a tendency towards corruption, but that it is not even very effective at its political role as the mechanism which gives small countries as well as large a role in the development of the Union."

Sweden's rejection of the euro in a referendum earlier this month highlighted that, increasingly, the EU "appears to be a club run by the larger powers for the benefit of the big powers -- Germany, Britain France and, intermittently, Italy." The weekend summit in Berlin between the French, German, and British leaders "was [a] perfect illustration of the trend."

Thus, says the paper, the "traditional ways of power-broking roll on much as before."


The lead editorial in Britain's "The Guardian" today says the U.S. plan to privatize the Iraqi economy -- including selling off Iraq's state assets, eliminating tariffs on imports and giving tax breaks -- is a big mistake.

The plan is designed to lure foreign investments and revive Iraq's dilapidated industries. But "The Guardian" says such a plan is "doomed to fail." When Russia -- also a vast, socialist, centralized economy -- attempted a similar "shock therapy" cure in 1992, the result "was economic devastation, rampant corruption and the rise of a powerful class of businessmen, the oligarchs."

Reconstructing Iraq will take cash, the paper says. And Iraqi oil production -- the country's most promising source of revenue -- has failed to get back on its feet due to a persistent lack of security. So the occupying powers are now seeking to sell off assets to private-sector capital from abroad. But these plans "have no popular mandate," the paper points out. "It would have been better to wait for an elected Iraqi government to produce a national economic plan."

Moreover, any thoughts of "a rapid transition to a free market in Iraq must be tempered by the fact that most of the population is dependent on state handouts. [In] privatizing Iraq's industries, one would expect businesses to become profitable -- by raising prices or cutting costs and staff. The outcome could be unemployment and inflation, a recipe for chaos."


In the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung," Wolfgang Koydl likens U.S. President George W. Bush's policies in Iraq to Hurricane Isabel, which hit the U.S. last week, causing significant damage to several coastal areas.

Koydl says, "It is only when the storm is over that you realize the damage and the heavy price of rebuilding. President Bush also seems to be up to his neck in water with the Iraqi operation, both at home and with the international community."

Yet, says Koydl, "Bush will not admit to any mistakes. Above all, he will not accede to the French proposal to quickly replace U.S. occupation with an Iraqi civilian administration." Moreover, in his attitude toward the UN's role in Iraq, he says, "there hardly seems to be any shift from his former position."

Koydl explains Bush's tough attitude as being based on the one hand on ideological reasons -- Americans are not accustomed to calling for help as long as they can manage on their own.

Secondly, and more pragmatically, Bush has to consider how much help he is likely to receive. "Europe does not want to send troops or money," says Koydl. "America remains responsible for Iraq whether it likes it or not."

Russia, for its part, takes a very "liberal attitude" toward a new UN resolution on Iraq. Russian President Vladimir Putin has not even excluded sending troops to the Persian Gulf. Even though Russia has no money to spare, it could significantly influence Iraq's future economy when it comes to debt forgiveness.


In a contribution to "The Wall Street Journal Europe," independent defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer says Russia today is implementing simultaneously two very "different and incompatible" foreign policies.

A "Russophile" group involves former KGB sources close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and other members of the security services, as well as the Defense and Foreign ministries. Felgenhauer says, "Frustration over low wages in the military, intelligence community and security services -- as well as frustration over the demise of the Soviet empire and Russian weakness since then -- have created a massive nationalist backlash" within these groups. They want "to restore 'Great Russia' -- a Soviet-style rigid authoritarian secret police state with strict censorship and rigged elections" that Felgenhauer says would also be "xenophobic, anti-American and anti-Semitic."

The opposing pro-Western faction in Russia "wants to build a mildly authoritarian state with 'controlled' democracy, a moderately liberal market economy, with a pro-American, pro-Western foreign policy." But Felgenhauer reminds us, it is these "same officials and oligarchs [who] helped build the present corrupt, authoritarian Russia."

These are no "pro-democracy, free-market idealists," he says.

And above these two competing factions Putin acts as "the ultimate arbiter, who can shift the balance at any time."

Felgenhauer says the West "must not mince words when confronting Mr. Putin: A dictatorial, police-state, nationalistic Russia [will] become an international pariah." The U.S. administration's "policy of forgiving Russia at any price to gain immediate short-lived concessions only helps fascistic figures and forces trying to take over my nation."


Writing in "The New York Times," analyst David Brooks says recent UN Security Council negotiations are beginning to "resemble one of those horrible divorces in which the children get ignored because the parents are caught up in the psychodrama of each other's perfidies."

There are "the usual Franco-American dramatics" and "the Germans trying to make everyone like them. Meanwhile, the actual needs of actual Iraqis never seem to come in for much discussion."

The reconstruction of Iraq "is too important to be left to the foreign policy types, who are trained to think too abstractly to grapple with the problems that matter," Brooks says. We need "to create an apolitical reservist force, made up of businesspeople, administrators and police officers who have concrete experience in moving societies from dictatorship to democracy."

The positive developments in Iraq "are taking place far below the level of grand strategy." On 21 September, "bankers and civil servants from 11 Central and Eastern European countries came to Iraq to describe the lessons they had learned in moving from tyranny to democracy. Every day, UN humanitarian workers [risk] their lives to feed and clothe Iraqis. Every day, U.S. military officers spend millions of dollars building schools and tackling neighborhood issues."

Citing a recent Zogby poll indicating 70 percent of Iraqis expect their lives to improve over the next five years, Brooks says it is the aforementioned everyday contributions "that [give] Iraqis hope."

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