War of words

Sydney Herald reporter on U.S.-Iraq battle: "More like a massacre than a fight." Plus other news from the international press.

Published March 22, 2003 6:51PM (EST)

Australia, Lindsay Murdoch in the Sydney Morning Herald

One of the first encounters of the ground war was more like a massacre than a fight.

The Iraqi gunners fired first, soon after U. S. President George Bush announced the attack on Saddam Hussein was under way.

It was a fatal mistake.

Within hours, the Iraqi gunners and their Russian-made 122mm howitzers were destroyed as the Americans unleashed an artillery barrage that shook the ground and lit up the night sky with orange flashes.

"Dead bodies are everywhere," a U.S. officer reported by radio.

Later in the day, the American firepower was turned on Safwan Hill, an Iraqi military observation post a couple of kilometres across the border. About six hours after U.S. Marines and their 155mm howitzer guns pulled up at the border, they opened up with a deafening barrage. Safwan Hill went up in a huge fireball and the Iraqi observation post was obliterated.

"I pity anybody who's in there," a Marine sergeant said. "We told them to surrender."

Marine Cobra helicopter gunships firing Hellfire missiles swept in low from the south. Then the Marine howitzers, with a range of 30 kilometres, opened a sustained barrage over the next eight hours. They were supported by U.S. Navy aircraft, which dropped 40,000 pounds of explosives and napalm, a U.S. officer told the Herald.

A legal expert at the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva said the use of napalm or fuel air bombs was not illegal "per se" because the United States was not a signatory to the 1980 weapons convention that prohibits and restricts certain weapons. "But the United States has to apply the basic principles of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and take all precautions to protect civilians. In the case of napalm and fuel air bombs, these are special precautions because these are area weapons, not specific weapons," said Dominique Loye, the committee's advisor on weapons and IHL.

Egypt, Hani Shukrallah in Al-Ahram Weekly

"Shock and Awe", as American journalist Sandy Tolan explains, is the brainchild of Harlan Ullman, veteran military strategist and co-author of the 1996 book "Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance". The doctrine recommends "nearly incomprehensible levels of massive destruction" to achieve an "overwhelming level of shock and awe against an adversary on an immediate or sufficiently timely basis to paralyze its will to carry on."

The doctrine was inspired by the impact of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and "the comatose and glazed expressions of survivors of the great bombardments of World War I and the attendant horrors and death of trench warfare."

The levels of death and destruction the application of this doctrine...will wreak on Iraq and its population of 20 million is likely to prove as "unprecedented and incomprehensible" as Keating promises ...

The duration of the war and its likely death toll remain as impossible to predict as the regional and global ramifications of what is likely to become a lengthy U.S. military occupation of Iraq. The one thing that is certain is that these ramifications will be of such momentous proportions as to change the face not just of the region, but of the world....

On board USS Abraham Lincoln, U.S. naval commander in the Gulf, Vice Admiral Timothy Keating, addressed hundreds of his men telling them: "When it's all done ... and they rewrite history, because that is what you are going to do, your names will be written in gold on those pages."

Before that gilding begins history will have to be effaced, not rewritten. An illegal war waged in blatant violation of the U.N. Charter and of international law; a war against which 30 million people throughout the world have already demonstrated on streets from Los Angeles to Tokyo; a war in which opinion polls in virtually all the world's nations, with the exception of the US and Israel, have produced a definitive 'no' -- how can such a war be recorded except in infamy? And this is before the body count.

India, C. Raja Mohan in the Hindu

In the unusual war America has undertaken, there are no low-cost options. That is the message from the first day of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

But the idea of using air power for delicate political surgery remains a dream. Air power is a powerful hammer that can achieve an increasing range of military objectives; but a scalpel of a surgeon it is not...

America's objective of regime change in this war mandates the maintenance of a distinction between the leadership and the civilian population in its military operations. Mr. Hussein's strategy is to muddy this.

The Iraqi leader knows that the only way he can put the U.S. in the political dock is by pointing to the civilian casualties in this war. Mistakes by the U.S. intelligence in identifying the targets in the next few days will feed into this strategy of Mr. Hussein.

In the end this war is likely to be decided by the Iraqi people themselves. If they rally behind their leader, the war would become one of untenable U.S. occupation. If they see it as an opportunity for liberation, Americans have a huge political triumph awaiting them...

China, Op-ed in People's Daily

The military action taking place now is a clear breach of the U.N. charter and hence a violation of international law.

By bombing Iraq, the attackers have tested the fundamental dogma of international law, perhaps to the point of its destruction.

The disdain for the world body, shown by the United States, has challenged the efforts of the past half-century to create an effective international structure to replace perpetual war with perpetual peace.

If attempts to create such international structure are abandoned, nations will have to depend for their security on military might.

This would inevitably lead to more being spent on swords and less on ploughshares.

This war is not only about Iraq, and it should be stopped immediately.

Germany, Article in Der Spiegel

... Everything points to a Pyrrhic victory.

Against the background of its overwhelming military might, Washington may find the unipolar world to be rather comfortable at the moment. U.S. President Bush is on top of the world -- an entirely different scenario than on that traumatic September day 18 months ago, as the world's most powerful politician was forced to spend hours circling over American airspace in Air Force One, his advisors unable to agree on where to land.

But signs of a possible long-term decline of the hyper-power, the United States, are popping up everywhere: Bush and Co. could be overtaxing themselves. The greatest risk for the United States is probably what historian Kennedy calls "imperial overextending," which has resulted in the downfall of vast empires, from the Habsburgs, through the British Empire, to the multiracial state of the Soviet Union....

The "Roman model" of decline is not far behind. Not unlike the empire of the Caesars, the empire of the Bushists could also decay from within. America has begun, smugly and even self-destructively, to forsake its own ideals in its own country. The civil rights, of which those in the land of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington are so proud, are beginning to soften....

And Saddam Hussein? He will be deposed, and yet he has achieved far more than he could ever have hoped: the Western world split in two, its principles in disarray. As he once told a biographer, "I am not interested in anything they write about me today, but in what they will saying about Saddam in 500 years." And now the dictator has the opportunity to at least go down in the annals of history as an important destroyer.

Israel, Yoel Marcus in Haaretz

When war ends and we leave our sealed rooms, there's a good chance we'll discover a new world out there ...

Those who claim that Israel is putting all its eggs in the American basket will no longer be able to say that our salvation lies in Europe. An American victory in Iraq (our brains are not wired to accept the possibility of any other outcome) will prove that there is no world power willing and able to fight terrorism apart from America. To quote a prime minister rather famous in these parts, we are talking about one of the most justified wars of our generation.

This war will not only change the world order, but trigger an earthquake in this region. A red line will be drawn between the "good guys" and the "bad guys." Those who harbor terror will be forced to decide where they stand. Terrorist breeding grounds will be fumigated. But above all, as a prerequisite for continuing the war on terror, America, joined by its new allies and Islamic countries with a U.S. connection, will want to dry up the dangerous swamps in this region. Our conflict, in which the Islamic suicide bomber was born, sits high on that list.

In any constellation created after the war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will have to be addressed. It's no coincidence that at the Azores summit, where the Saddam ultimatum was decided upon, Bush and Blair publicly pledged to implement the road map that will lead to a resolution of the conflict and the establishment of a Palestinian state....

In America, there are two opinions on this matter: One is that right after the war, the president will have to focus on the economic recession in his own country so he won't end up like his father, who won the war but lost the presidency. To get elected, he needs the Jews and the conservative Christians who support Israel's current policies. According to this view, if matters around here are kept on a low flame, he won't come at us with an ax.

The other opinion is that the war on Iraq, and the pressure exerted by Britain and the Arabs who supported the president, will create a situation in which he has to pay up. Bush committed himself publicly and personally to this second path....

After Iraq, Bush will be in a great hurry to do some housekeeping in the Middle East. Sharon can brag from today until tomorrow about how well the two of them get along, but he's making a big mistake if he thinks the president will let him take his time. Bush's road map has very clear dates and objectives. After winning a war at who knows what cost in human life, Bush won't be nice -- and you can bet your bottom dollar he won't be patient.

United Arab Emirates, Patrick Seale in the Gulf News

Washington is intoxicated by the vision of imposing a Pax Americana on the Arab world....

With bases across the region from Oman to Central Asia, America is now seeking to recreate the British Empire at its apogee. The occupation of Iraq, a major Arab country at the strategic heart of the region, will allow the United States to control the resources of the Middle East and reshape its geopolitics to its advantage - or so the Anglo-American strategists hope.

But if things go badly, history may well judge the war to be a criminal enterprise -- unjustified, unprovoked, illegitimate, catastrophic for the Iraqi victims of the conflict and destructive of the rules of international relations as they have evolved over the past half century.

The fatal flaw is that this is not a purely American project. Rather it must be seen as the culmination of America's strategic partnership with Israel which began 36 years ago when, in 1967, President Charles de Gaulle told Israel that it would lose French support if it attacked its Arab neighbors.

Much of the ideological justification and political pressure for war against Iraq has come from right-wing American Zionists, many of them Jews, closely allied to Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and occupying influential positions both inside and outside the Bush administration. It is neither exaggeration, nor anti-Semitism, as they would have it, to say that this is a Bush-Sharon war against Iraq.

The terrorist attacks on the United States of September 11, 2001 gave these advocates of American empire and of the U.S.-Israeli alliance their chance. They were able to make the inexperienced President George W. Bush, who came to power after a questionable election, the vehicle for their agenda.

The result is the war we are now witnessing. The ultimate objective is to change the map of the Middle East by destroying or intimidating all the enemies of the US and Israel. If America's empire turns out to be benevolent, which is most improbable, the Arabs may accept it for a while. But they will always resist Israel's domination of their region. That is the flaw in the project.

Jamaica, Editorial in the Jamaica Observer

Hardly anyone would doubt that America, with its vastly superior technology and military might, will easily overcome Iraq in the war that President Bush has ordained against Saddam Hussein.

The real difficulty will be ensuring ... that it is not a peace to end all peace.

Iraq, after all, is itself an unnatural construct, fashioned from the European expansion in the Middle East early in the 20th century and the final dismemberment of the old Ottoman Empire. Its disparate groups of Kurds, Shiite and Sunni Moslems and Marsh Arabs have rarely had coinciding interests, and any national identity has by and large come from a central government unrestrained by democratic niceties.

Although America has argued that the removal of Saddam will usher in democracy and a new order in the Middle East, we are not clear if this democratization will apply to its allies, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates.

And with anti-Americanism swelling in the Middle East, President Bush will have to do more than talk about a new road map to peace in the region and for an independent Palestinian state ...

These are difficult issues, but they are not the only ones that the Cheney-Bush White House and the U.S. State Department will have to face.

The rent in the Atlantic alliance over America's unilateral war ... could signal the disintegration of NATO and a re-assertion of Europe, led by France. Britain may eventually be the odd man out in this new Europe, which would see itself as the counterpoint to American power. In this dispensation, Britain would likely find its place fully, and permanently, in an Anglo-American relationship.

The best bet for America is that this war goes swiftly and, in so far as war can be, cleanly. Otherwise the peace, when it comes, may be elusive.

Turkey, Ilnur Cevik in the Turkish Daily News

This is the first administration in Turkish history that has managed to ruin Turkey's ties with the United States -- and the EU -- in such a short time span ...

The notorious government motion that was supposed to define the Turkish involvement in the Iraq war has been turned into a nonentity by the United States telling Turkey "we only want overflight rights and the rest is meaningless."

This means the United States did not even request using Turkish bases or deploying troops in Turkey. They simply gave the elbow to Turkey, leaving Ankara empty-handed, with no economic relief to cushion the negative effects of the war.

On Wednesday the United States simply made a statement saying it will support the Turkish economy as long as Turkey sticks to the IMF and World Bank programs. They did not mention any new economic package, which is to be expected when you are so uncooperative with Washington.

Well done gentlemen! No other administration could have performed this miracle of ruining our ties with the United States and the EU at the same time.

There is even gossip that the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) leadership is in fact Islamist -- and moved to finish off Turkey's relations with the West in both the United States and Europe. We doubt this.

All we can say is that they listened to the wrong people: those who kept on telling them the Americans could not launch a war against Iraq without Turkey, and those who urged them to use Byzantium tactics to bargain with the Americans.

Russia, Pavel Felgenhauer in the Moscow Times

The Iraqi problem is out of the hands of the diplomats, as generals, servicemen and women take over the show. Considering the total mess the diplomats have made, any change may be for the better.

As the United States this week finally and firmly assumed its role as undisputed world hegemon, the old world order created in 1945 began to fold. It was France and Russia that gave the existing system the kiss of death by exposing its emptiness and fundamental immorality.

During the Cold War, the international order was based on a balance of power between East and West that was reflected in the U.N. Security Council -- where each side had the capacity to block the other.

Of course, during the Cold War there were many local wars in which East or West bypassed the official rules to subvert enemy client states. Some nasty regimes were forcibly replaced by others that were often even less humane, although ideologically different. But the balance between East and West, reflected in the Security Council, together with the principle of absolute sovereignty, helped keep an array of bloody dictatorships in power for decades.

The recent fracas in the Security Council over Iraq was mostly about the limits of sovereignty.

After the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Brezhnev doctrine of limited sovereignty was formulated proclaiming the right of the Soviet Union to invade satellite states in order to support pro-Moscow "socialist" regimes. Now a new Bush-Brezhnev doctrine of limited sovereignty may become the basis of international law. The United States now claims a sovereign right to invade any other country to change a nasty regime, if the president and Congress agree to it. The U.N., France, Russia and other "veto holders" can go and get stuffed if they do not like this new emerging world order.

In Moscow, the United States' bypassing of the U.N. created some panic. Many in the Russian elite are saying: After the United States goes to Baghdad, then kicks Iran and North Korea into submission, then strangles the Belarussian dictatorship, maybe it will decide to forcibly correct Russia's behavior.

By Compiled by Laura McClure

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Iraq War