The world press on Iraq

Guardian: "For centuries, pillage by invading armies was a normal part of warfare. Now we call it economic development."


United Kingdom, Brian Whitaker in the Guardian

For centuries, pillage by invading armies was a normal part of warfare: a way in which to reward badly-paid or unpaid troops for risking their lives in battle.

Nowadays, at least in more civilized countries, we do not let armies rampage for booty. We leave the pillaging to men in suits, and we don’t call it pillaging any more. We call it economic development.

Today, the men in suits are gathering at Olympia, in London, for a two-day conference and exhibition entitled Doing Business in Iraq. Protesters will be gathering outside.

The event, which is sponsored by the U.S.-Iraq business council, is one of a series being held in different parts of the world over the coming 12 months…

This fits in neatly with plans announced in June by Paul Bremer, the head of Iraq’s provisional authority, to sell off the country’s state-owned industries (excluding, for the time being, oil, gas and minerals) and turn it into a U.S.-style capitalist wonderland.

Last month, Mr. Bremer issued CPA order number 39, giving foreign investors unrestricted rights to establish businesses in Iraq and/or buy up Iraqi companies.

The order also allows foreign investors to repatriate profits, dividends, interest and royalties immediately and in full. In other words, they can make a fast buck if they want to, without putting anything back.

While few would disagree that Iraq’s industry needs modernization and restructuring, two questions arise: has Mr. Bremer the legal powers to do this, and is he going about it in the right way?

He has already acknowledged that his plans will create large-scale unemployment, at least in the short term. His earlier decision to disband the Iraqi army exacerbated the country’s fragile security situation by leaving several hundred thousand disgruntled ex-soldiers with nothing better to do than cause trouble.

That is now widely regarded as a major blunder, and Mr. Bremer now seems intent on repeating the exercise with the civilian population. According to the U.N., the current level of unemployment in Iraq is around 50-60 percent: the last thing the country needs is more job losses.

Germany, Bernhard Zand in Der Spiegel

The early onset of darkness makes walking home from his office a dangerous undertaking, but the Iraqi fall also brings the prospect of excitement into Feisal al-Chudeiri’s daily routine. The duck hunt begins in the meadows along the Tigris in late October, and in November al-Chudeiri and his friends plan to hunt buzzards in the desert. The 38-year-old millionaire from Baghdad is not worried about his personal future.

His family, one of the oldest in the land of two rivers, has seen the Ottomans, the British and Saddam Hussein come and go. Since 1772, the family has traded in dates, tea and spices, and in 1881 it founded the first steamship company on the Euphrates River. “Things don’t throw us off track that easily,” says the junior head of the Karady Group, “but I doubt that this applies to the rest of the Iraqis.”

Four sheets of paper bearing the sober heading “Law on the Regulation of Foreign Investment” sit on Chudeiri’s desk. “The Americans have already made quite a few mistakes in Iraq,” he says gloomily, “but this law is their biggest mistake so far. It has the effect of dynamite.”

Minister of Finance Kamil al-Kilani has promised that the law, only recently put into force by US Administrator Paul Bremer, will liberate Iraq from a planned economy, open the country to the global market, bring technology to the Tigris, and create jobs.

In truth, the package of reforms promises foreign interests virtually unlimited access to the country’s most profitable industries. Beginning next year, foreign nationals will be able to acquire full ownership of local firms, and even a few banks, and it will be possible to siphon off profits to other countries without restrictions.

The British business publication, The Economist, praised the new law for fulfilling the “wish list of international investors,” and called Bremer’s creation a “capitalist dream.”…

Iraqis, however, are incensed at what they fear is a sell-off of their country … All of this affects chicken farmer Mohammed Hussein. In March, the 39-year-old still employed a work force of about 70 people. Now only four men pass the time of day in his shut-down slaughterhouse, where hundreds of thousands of chickens were once processed. Hussein says he has nothing against the market economy, but that he cannot hope to compete against foreigners. He says that today it costs about a thousand dollars to produce a ton of chicken meat in Iraq, while frozen imported chicken from overseas can be had for only $480. “I always believed that the only victims in this business were the chickens,” complains the poultry baron, “but now it’s my turn to be slaughtered.”

Lebanon, Jihad Al Khazen in Al-Hayat

Al-Hayat won the biggest share of awards at the Dubai Press Club, during its third meeting last week … Earlier, my colleague George Semaan, editor-in-chief, had run the most exciting sessions of the forum, as it addressed the situation in Iraq and examined its case through the Arab media war coverage…

Several people and I thought that the Arab satellite networks covered war much better than the international ones, particularly the American ones, which aired incomplete images, sometimes even false ones, regarding the course of the war. They also practiced self-censorship to please the American troops, knowing that they also submitted to other censorship terms.

I admit that I had never imagined myself saying that the Arab media has beaten the Western one in relating facts of a major event such as war on Iraq. However, this did happen and some of the foreign journalists who were present at the session did not like it, so they objected but I did not seem to find any logic or objectivity in their arguments, but rather the behavior of a Prima Donna, or the first ballerina.

I know that the superiority of the Arab satellite channels in covering the war on Iraq was an exception, as we are underdeveloped in everything, and always look for new reasons to sink lower. And yet, none of the 500 participants at the Third Arab Media Forum, whether the media professionals or guests, some of whom are most eminent in their fields, noticed any sort of underdevelopment…

I shall return holding in my heart the memory of baby Fatima who had on her chest the picture of her father Tareq Ayoub, Al Jazeera’s reporter who was killed in Iraq. I escorted her mother to receive the honoring prize of the late colleague. I fought the tears in my eyes, but I saw one welling up in the eye of Sheikh Abdullah bin Zeid, the UAE Information Minister, as he held the baby girl in his arms.

United Kingdom, Rory McCarthy in the Guardian

The first they hear of Specialist Brian Wilhelm is an indecipherable crackle over the walkie-talkies. It is an early October afternoon and the Black Hawk pilots and paramedics of the 54th Medical Company, one of the U.S. army’s medevac units, are lounging in a small, chilled wooden hut. A camouflage net shades them from the relentless sun, and the comforts of Gatorade and chocolate snacks tempt the young soldiers to forget for a moment the bloody trials of postwar Iraq. On a small television the medics are watching re-runs of Scrubs, an U.S. sitcom about overworked junior doctors. The helicopter pilots, with a swagger all their own, are playing Black Hawk Down, a shoot ‘em up computer game based on the infamous American military operation in Mogadishu a decade ago which left 18 of their comrades dead.

“First up,” shouts the voice on the radio, calling the priority medevac team to work. A convoy from the army’s Eigth Infantry Regiment has come under attack yet again just outside this base at Balad, in the heart of resistance country north of Baghdad. A soldier is down, alive but badly wounded. A smoke flare marks the exact spot by a pontoon over the Tigris river. It’s a “hot LZ”, says the voice on the radio: the Iraqis are still shooting.

This is the hidden story of America’s military adventure in Iraq…

The military has never admitted the total number of soldiers injured so far, though the figure appears to run into the thousands. At the combat hospital in Balad, one of a handful of military medical centres in Iraq, a total of 1,088 patients were admitted for treatment between May and the end of August. As many as 916 had to be evacuated, although not all suffered combat injuries (soldiers who break their ankles in football games are also sent home to recover). One report last month said 6,000 US soldiers had already been evacuated home, of whom more than 1,000 were designated “wounded in action” — twice the toll for the first Gulf war…

In the quiet after the terrible casualties, there is little encouragement to question the reasons for war. “We are here doing our job. It is part of the risk we take,” [a surgeon] says. “If being in the army was easy, there would be a lot more soldiers around.”

United Arab Emirates, M. J. Akbar in the Gulf News

It must be a suffocating moment for Blair when a journal as pro-war as The Economist headlines a cover story featuring Blair and Bush with the caption “Wielders of mass deception?”

The television news on Friday was marked by two funeral ceremonies. One was in London at St. Paul’s. Just how much the perception of the Iraq war has changed in Britain since Saddam Hussain’s statue was brought down by US troops in Baghdad is evident in how this event changed.

It was first envisaged as a “victory parade”, in the manner that Margaret Thatcher celebrated the triumph in the Falklands over Argentina, or US President George W. Bush promoted the official end of conflict in April. This was scaled down to a glittering parade through London, before morphing gradually into a mere “thanksgiving service”.

When it became evident that there was little to thank for, the event became, more simply, “A Service of Remembrance, Iraq 2003″. And, in a fine and moving British gesture, the service not only remembered the 51 British and 315 Americans who have died, but also all those who died in Saddam Hussain’s armed forces, as well as the thousands of Iraqi civilians who have lost their lives in this brutal conflict…

The second funeral shown on television on Friday took place in Baghdad: it was in some ways a celebration of two Iraqis who had given their lives in another suicide mission against the American occupation and its fellow travellers.

Crowds unafraid of being recorded by cameras chanted “Allah-o-Akbar” as they took the cortege towards the burial ground. A young man with a sophisticated gun in his hand and grim determination on his face led the procession. Bush and Blair have created an enemy that never was. You can see this truth etched in their eyes. Tony Blair may win another election, but he has lost his people.

Canada, John Geddes in Maclean’s

Their widows wept. A bagpiper played an old, sad song. The faces of comrades were ashen. Memorial services for fallen soldiers are, of course, painfully unique to the families and friends of the dead; but what they offer the nation is familiar ritual, perhaps a feeling of closure. This time, though, the sombre images from a hockey arena in Pembroke, Ont., where Cpl. Robbie Beerenfenger and Sgt. Rob Short were mourned, could not carry the solace of finality. Instead, the news from Afghanistan, where they were killed the previous week by a land mine, reminded anyone paying attention that routine bloodshed in that unfortunate country is far from at an end…

Getting rid of the Taliban was an essential post-Sept. 11 goal: the regime harboured al-Qaeda terrorists. Yet the promised follow-up to that initial victory has taken the lustre off a good start. The aid group CARE estimates that at least US$20 billion is needed in the next four years to begin rebuilding the country. Only about one-quarter of that has been pledged.

Competing with Iraq for attention is a major problem. Washington’s latest plans suggest Kabul’s needs have been relegated to very much a second-tier priority. Of the U.S. $87 billion that President George W. Bush has asked Congress to approve for military and rebuilding costs in Iraq and Afghanistan, just $800 million is earmarked for Afghan reconstruction. “There is a large disconnect,” says Asif Rahimi, an Afghan working for CARE Canada in Ottawa. “The world community thinks you can do a cheap job in Afghanistan and be finished with the business.” With the transitional government of President Hamid Karzai aiming to finalize a new constitution late this year and hold elections in 2004, more aid is needed — with military support to ensure it can be delivered…

Afghans can only hope that Canada, and other rich nations, don’t soon grow weary of their enormous problems and turn away.

Nigeria, Dele Sobowale in the Vanguard

Pardon me for putting you through a simple test in international relations. But the questions that follow are designed to expose one of the greatest lies the world has been subjected to in the last 60 or more years. Here they go:

1. Which country was established by the total annihilation of the native inhabitants who were non-white people by the settlers who were mostly white people?

2. Which country was the recipient of most of the slaves from Africa during the slave trade and continued slavery within its borders long after it was stopped worldwide?

3. Which country produced the first nuclear weapon and used it to annihilate over two million non-white people during the second world war?

4. Which country has the largest arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in the world today?

Now you have two choices : a) America or b) Iraq.

If your answer is America then you must be a dummy; after all, the American President and the British Prime Minister have been telling their intelligent people that they went to war with Iraq because it is the country that poses the most danger to the world. But a recent CIA report has once again confirmed what this column has maintained all along namely: the allegation of weapons of mass destruction was a bogus lie which Bush and Blair have concocted to wage an unjust war.

Which reminds me of Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), who said: “The great masses of the people … more easily fall victims to a great lie than to a small one”. The man must be smiling in his grave as the leaders of countries which stopped him in 1945 from colonizing the world adopt his methods.

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