The world press on the war

In Bush's postwar Iraq, a former CIA director with Israeli connections may head the Information Ministry.

Published April 4, 2003 9:02PM (EST)

United Kingdom, Brian Whitaker in the Guardian

A Pentagon lawyer who sought to have U.S. citizens imprisoned indefinitely without charge as part of the war on terrorism will supervise civil administration in Iraq once Saddam Hussein is removed.

Michael Mobbs, 54, who will take charge of 11 of the 23 Iraqi ministries, is one of several controversial appointments to the Pentagon-controlled government-in-waiting being assembled in a cluster of seaside villas in Kuwait.

Other top-level appointees include James Woolsey, a former CIA director with Israeli connections, who has long pursued a theory that Saddam Hussein, rather than Islamic militants, was behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York.

Another is Zalmay Khalilzad, who once sympathised with the Taliban but later changed tack.

During the Reagan administration, Mr Mobbs worked at the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, where he became known for his hawkish views on national security and American-Soviet relations.

On these issues he was closely aligned with the assistant defence secretary at the time, Richard Perle, who is widely regarded as chief architect of the war. Mr Mobbs later joined a Washington law firm in which Douglas Feith -- now under secretary for policy at the Pentagon -- was a partner.

In his role as a legal consultant to the Pentagon, Mr Mobbs has been working behind the scenes to help determine the legal fate of terror suspects and other detainees held by the US military in Cuba and Afghanistan.

The former CIA director James Woolsey is expected to be handed a senior role in the post-Saddam government, according to sources close to the planning process.

Mr Woolsey sits on the advisory board of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, a connection likely to arouse hostility in Iraq.

Afghan-born Zalmay Khalilzad, a former Pentagon and state department official, has been appointed as the government-in-waiting's "special envoy" to the Iraqi opposition.

His main task is to organise a conference of 250 prominent Iraqis, the equivalent of the loya jirga in Afghanistan.

In 1997, he contributed to an article in the conservative Weekly Standard, which called for regime change in Iraq under the headline "Overthrow him".

Korea, David Ignatius in the Korea Herald

Even as U.S.-led troops tighten the noose around Baghdad, a bitter diplomatic battle is taking shape over American plans for administering postwar Iraq.

The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud Faisal, outlined his concerns in an interview at his home here Wednesday night.

"We think the worst thing that could happen after a war in Iraq is a military occupation," Prince Saud said.

The Saudi official added that Arab opinion could warm toward the United States after the war if America delivers on its pledges to implement a solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and to return Iraq to its people after Saddam Hussein's regime is toppled ...

So far, civilian officials at the Pentagon with neoconservative political leanings are maintaining tight control of the postwar planning process. Critics fear their goal is to use occupied Baghdad as a platform for broader U.S. efforts to transform the Arab world -- a process Prince Saud called a recipe for "a continuous war."

A sign of the Pentagon's determination to control the process has been the delay in approving several current or former ambassadors to the ORHA team ..

These State Department veterans are all Arabic-language speakers with experience in the region -- which may make them suspect in the eyes of Pentagon civilians who may view them as overly sympathetic to the region's concerns ...

Asked what Saudi Arabia would do if America seemed to be backtracking on its pledges about postwar Iraq and Israeli-Palestinian peace, Prince Saud answered: "I would rather think of President Bush as the man that we believe he is ... a person who is stubborn in pursuing what he thinks is a good policy, and who, when he promises something, keeps it."

Israel, Aluf Benn in Haaretz

A communique received in Jerusalem from the American administration this week says the United States is operating with strong resolution to neutralize the Iraqi threat to Israel. After the war, the message continued, the United States will deal with other radical regimes in the region -- not necessarily by military means -- to moderate their activities and fight terrorism.

These current and future U.S. operations will also serve Israel, the American administration says, but have caused tensions between the United States and the Arab world. Israel, the American message says, must play its part to help ease these tensions by taking action with regard to settlements in the territories.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will meet on Sunday with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, who returned yesterday from a visit to the United States, and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz to discuss Israel's position on the international "road map" for a resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians.

The three will also discuss the recent U.S. communique, which speaks of the importance of dealing with the settlements as a means of bolstering U.S. standing in the region ...

The foreign minister reminded his American interlocutors that all of Israel's past efforts to ease the humanitarian distress in the territories had paved the way for more terror attacks. Shalom stressed Israel's demand that the process be conducted in a reciprocal manner, beginning with steps by the Palestinians to prevent terror and implement government reforms. Thereafter, Shalom told the Americans, Israel would play its part ...

Political sources in Jerusalem said they had been encouraged by Powell's speech to his European counterparts in Brussels yesterday in which he said that the United States would do all in its power to preserve the road map unchanged, but that everyone should understand that the plan would be meaningless if it wasn't accepted by both sides.

Qatar, article in Al-Jazeera

Secretary of State Colin Powell criticised Al Jazeera's coverage of the US invasion of Iraq in an interview with National Public Radio.

"Al Jazeera has an editorial line and a way of presenting news that appeals to the Arab public. They watch it and they magnify the minor successes of the (Iraqi) regime," Powell said. "They tend to portray our efforts in a negative light."

In a comment that some have taken as ominous for the Qatari-based channel, Powell added that he hopes "Al Jazeera is going to be around" to report the post-war reconstruction of Iraq.

Al Jazeera is increasingly appearing to be subject to a campaign designed at limiting its access to Western audiences. The channel's financial correspondents were banned from the New York stock exchange, its English-language website has been hacked into and two US Internet servers have refused to carry its advertising.

AOL and Yahoo have all refused to run advertisements for Al Jazeera's new English-language service citing different reasons. Yahoo put the decision down to "war-related sensitivity"; AOL offered no reason.

In light of this, Al Jazeera spokesman Jihad Ballout has directed a call to the US to sponsor a "national effort to protect the freedom of the press even more." He issued an "appeal" to authorities "to pay close attention to this."

Media pundits say the New York Stock Exchange decision smacks of a dangerous opening salvo in a game of media tit-for-tat which could see Western media's access cut off. Iraq last week ordered CNN journalists to leave Baghdad.

"Clearly it's a violation of press freedom," said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Centre for Digital Democracy, a media watchdog group in Washington.

Al Jazeera's coverage has earned it an award from British-based Index on Censorship. It was given for Al Jazeera's "apparent independence in a region where much of the media is state-run" ...

Saudi Arabia, Barbara Ferguson in the Arab News

Lt. Ramzy Azar joined the Navy because he wanted a career in emergency medicine, specializing in international disasters and public health ...

But interviewing POWs (Prisoners of War) was the last thing he ever imagined he'd have to do on board ...

He laughs and says this was his own fault. While working at Bethesda Naval Hospital, where the USNC Comfort is attached, Azar let it be known he would like to use his language skills. (Now 30, he was born in Lebanon and left the country with his parents and sister during the 1976 war.) ...

When the first group of POWs arrived, Azar said he wasn't prepared and didn't know what to expect.

Azar said the men were in pain, desperate and confused, and had no idea what was happening to them.

"As soon as I spoke to them, I saw a change in their demeanor, and saw them relax."

Azar says an emotional attachment instantly takes place between him and the men. "There's an immediate cultural bond. To them, I've become like a brother, and I'm their advocate. I'm the one looking after their wellbeing. And, because I am the person dealing with their pain and anxiety, it immediately becomes personal." ...

Azar said it's also difficult, as he must keep up his guard with the POWs. "I'm always second-guessing someone's motives. You're second-guessing that person and yourself. You start to ask yourself: 'Why, all of a sudden, am I suspicious of that person? Why do you need to be suspicious?' As we know, as military personnel, whenever you are a POW, the goal is to get out, escape and evade."

As a result, Azar said: "It's a personal struggle for all of us to adjust to that mindset. We want to care for them, and do what's best for them. But we also need to ensure that we are protected."

For this reason, he said the decision was made to soon bring 24 military police on board. "Because we anticipate more POWs will be coming on board."

Azar said they also need more translators. Currently there are only two men on board -- Azar and a American-Moroccan -- that could speak with POWs. Both men translate for both the POWs and the "civilian/detainees."

Many of the civilians are women and children who Azar and others suspect were caught in the crossfire ...

Through their conversations, Azar said they have found "an interesting assortment of detainees and POWs," including a husband and wife, a brother and sister, and a father and son.

But Azar said these discoveries have also proven to be heartbreaking: "Because they're looking for reassurances from us that their loved ones are also here. But when you have to say that you know their wife is here, but don't know where their sister is, it's heartbreaking. On one hand, it gives them hope in their lives, but it may also mean they have lost a child or a sister."

Israel, Zvi Bar'el in Haaretz

There are a lot of frayed nerves these days in the Arab states. Leaders aren't talking to other leaders, insulting messages are flying from state to state, official journalists are leveling accusations at other official journalists, young people on the campuses are just waiting for an opportunity to burst through the fences, and every day the war in Iraq gets creative new names: "war of aggression," "war of hatred," the "invasion of Iraq" and so on.

The main axis of tension runs between Egypt, Syria and Kuwait. Egypt is accused of supporting the war, Syria is accusing Kuwait of creating the conditions for the war, and Kuwait is threatening to withdraw its financial aid to Syria and Lebanon ...

Syria is finding itself in the position of the sole fighter against "the American aggression" in "the war of hatred," as it is called in Syria. In this capacity, it has already clashed with nearly every important Arab state. A week ago, for example, Syrian demonstrators in Damascus marched to the embassies of the United States and Egypt. The anti-Egyptian slogans that were chanted were no different than the slogan the demonstrators chanted against the United States. In the mouths of the demonstrators, both of them became Zionist states "that want to make the entire region Zionist." ...

At the American University in Cairo, students took down the American flag and the demonstrators chanted "Down, down U.S.A.! The CIA won't control us." The poem by Egyptian poet Amal Dankal "The Stone Cake" was read with great feeling and stirred the audience to raise fists in the air and become ecstatic. This poem was read in 1972 at demonstrations that were held at the same square at which the masses called for launching a war to get back Sinai. Among other things, the words of the poem say: "Show weapons, death will fall and the heart will scatter like a string of prayer beads ... Raise weapons and follow me, I am the repentance for tomorrow and yesterday, my banner two bones and a skull and my slogan: this morning." ...

And only Mubarak stands like a solid rock facing the criticism and continues to hold that "Egypt will act in favor of its own interests." And its interests are to maintain the close ties with the U.S. and to see Saddam, the man who wanted to be the new Nasser, disappear from history ...

"If there is anything positive in this war it lies in that at long last each Arab state is acting in its own interests," says [an] Egyptian intellectual. "We're no longer hearing about the united 'Arab voice,' summit conferences are no longer of any use, and it is already possible to lash out at one another aloud. The only pity is that the price of dividing the Arab world into individual nations will be paid by the Iraqis."

Egypt, Ayman El-Amir in Al-Ahram Weekly

With the war against Iraq entering its third week there is no sign of any serious action being taken by the UN to confront the military situation. Apart from some sheepish remarks by senior officials about humanitarian assistance the world body appears to have thrown its charter out of the window of the 38th floor office of the secretary-general, accepting the Anglo-American invasion to depose Saddam Hussein and reconstitute Iraq in America's interests. This is not the same UN that was entrusted "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war", as its charter promised six decades ago.

There was a time when any outbreak of hostilities would be immediately followed by the convening of the Security Council which would call for a cease-fire, followed by withdrawal of military forces and negotiations. Now, though, an eerie resignation has fallen on the house of nations as death and destruction rain on Iraq ...

The Bush administration is determined to pursue the war to the very end, and the UN is powerless to roll back the invasion. Denying the Anglo-American conquest legitimacy can now only be meaningful if the General Assembly acts under the "Uniting for Peace" provision, contained in a resolution adopted in 1950 at the height of the Korean war to override a certain Soviet veto. The Uniting for Peace resolution empowers the General Assembly, in the case of the Security Council being paralysed by a de facto veto, to recommend collective measures "including in the case of a breach of the peace or act of aggression the use of armed force when necessary, to maintain or restore international peace and security". In such case a special emergency session of the General Assembly could be called within 24 hours, without the Security Council being able to veto the motion ...

The United Nations can take vigorous action to deny the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq any legitimacy and deprive the perpetrators of the fruits of their aggression. Its harried officials should pause and examine the history of the world organisation, created to repel aggression and preserve international peace and security. Its founding fathers could never have imagined, in their worst nightmares, that the world body would be reduced to a New York-style "soup kitchen" for the distribution of free meals to refugees....

Hong Kong, Gregory Sinaisky in Asia Times

How to tell genuine reporting from an article manufactured to produce the desired propaganda effect? The war in Iraq provides us plenty of interesting samples for a study of disinformation techniques.

Take the article "Basra Shiites Stage Revolt, Attack Government Troops", published on March 26 in The Wall Street Journal Europe ...

The title of the article sounds quite definitive. The article starts, however, with the much less certain "Military officials said the Shiite population of Basra ... appeared to be rising". '

"Military officials" and "appeared to be" should immediately raise a red flag for a reader, especially given a mismatch with such a definitive title.

Why "officials"? Were they speaking in a chorus? ...

Why "appears to be"? There are always specific reasons why something "appears to be". For example, information about the uprising may be uncertain because it was supplied by an Iraqi defector who was not considered trustworthy and has not been confirmed from other sources. Again, every professional reporter understands that his job is to provide such details and it is exactly such details that make his reporting valuable, interesting, and memorable. If such all-important details are missing, this is a sure sign to suspect intentional disinformation.

Going further down the article, we see even more astonishing example of the same vagueness. "Reporters on the scene said that Iraqi troops were firing on the protesting citizens ..."

Now, an interesting question is, what are the visual clues allowing a reporter to distinguish, at such distance, between an uprising and, let's say, troops firing on looters or many other possible explanations for the same observation?

The only cue I can think of is not visual, but an aural cue from an editor requesting the reporter to report what we cannot explain as anything but an attempt of intentional disinformation.

Given a very specific nature of the disinformation produced in this particular case, its obvious potential effect on both resisting Iraqis and anti-war public opinion, we cannot see any other explanation for it, except that The Wall Street Journal directly collaborates with the psychological warfare department in the Pentagon. ...

To conclude: Remember the following first rule of disinformation analysis: truth is specific, lie is vague. Always look for palpable details in reporting and if the picture is not in focus, there must be reasons for it.

United Kingdom, Tom Newton Dunn for the BBC

Their faces stared up at me in black and white, snap shots of individual lives frozen in time.

Dozens and dozens of Iraqi national identity cards were spread across the chief of police's abandoned large oak desk.

All of them were men, aged between around 20 and 50 -- people's sons, husbands, brothers, or fathers.

In Saddam Hussein's Iraq, it is a crime not to carry these identity cards wherever you go, a crime punishable by imprisonment.

We stopped to think why these dozens of men did not need their ID cards anymore.

A young Royal Marine found them in a large bundle tied roughly with string during a search of Abu al Khasib's police station on Tuesday afternoon, in one of the police chief's bottom drawers gathering dust.

It almost looked like his own sick personal collection ...

The commandos and I knew there was something strange about the police station as we approached it.

Fortified by sand bags, the grim-looking two-story concrete block was one of only two buildings in the town locals did not want to go into to loot, along with the Baath Party's abandoned local headquarters.

Neither did any of the small quiet crowd who had gathered in the street to watch the men from Alpha Company force entry into it want to tell us anything about it ...

Only after darkness fell did a man in his 30s approach the gates of 40 Commando's new headquarters in an old Iraqi army barracks on the town's outskirts.

Giving his name as Dofia Abdullah, and saying he had important information, he said: "The Baath Party were bad people, they used to hurt people inside the police station.

"You say bad words about Saddam, they take you in there and you never come out ...

At almost the end of the long building's left corridor, we found the first cell.

A damp, eight foot by four foot hole with no natural or artificial light in it at all, and just a soiled pillow and filthy blanket on the floor for furniture.

It was the first of six just like it, some bigger, some even smaller, sealed by bolts from the outside attached to heavy metal or steel cage doors, and all of them disgustingly filthy ...

In another cell, a meat hook hung from the ceiling, and in another a discarded thick line of hose pipe sat idle on the floor, with no water taps for it to attach to anywhere in sight.

Only one, the biggest, had the very roughest approximation of a toilet in it, a squat hole in the ground that judging by the dark, putrid grunge over-flowing from it had not been flushed in months.

But the last room we saw upstairs, again at the end of a corridor, initially left us totally bewildered.

Unlike every other room on the second floor, it was empty, apart from two old rubber car tyres and a long electric cable lead attached to the mains supply, and still live.

The room's likely purpose was explained later, after we had asked around the Commando for a bit, by a Royal Marine officer who had spent some time in the Balkans on UN service.

He said: "Two tyres and an electric cable is something we came across a lot in Bosnia.

"The interrogator would stand on them while prodding the captive with the live cable so his own feet were insulated from the high voltage by the rubber ...

"Electrocution is not only incredibly painful, but also very frightening, and the interrogators usually get more out of the shock effect of it rather than the actual pain the burns cause."

The normally jovial and chatty troop of commandos filed out and blocked the police station's doors in total silence.

France, Henri Tincq in Le Monde

"Crusade" against "jihad"? Faced with the war in Iraq's risks of getting bogged down, the feared scenario of a religious confrontation seems already in place. From one side, calls to prayer and fasting, constant references to the Bible ... In a parallel way, Saddam Hussein is happy to drape himself in the garments of a modern Saladin and to demand God as a witness to the aggression of the "the impious" on his territory ...

One cannot do other than shiver before such a vulgar instrumentalization of the name of God and of religious themes in the Eastern cradle of the three great monotheisms.

For the reader of the Koran or the Gospel, nothing is more indefensible than this manner of invoking God in every instance, giving God's endorsement for human decisions, sometimes among those the most criminal, to confuse faith, weapons, and right.

The faithful, like the agnostic, knows that God offers no protection against the temptation of Totalitarianism ... Gott mit uns: in the name of God, people have tortured, murdered, subjugated their consciences, destroyed countries, attempted to exterminate the Jewish people.

His father an Episcopalian, George Bush Junior belongs to the United Methodist Church of the United States, as do Dick Cheney, his Vice-President, and Andrew Card, the White House Chief-of-Staff. Condoleezza Rice is herself the daughter of a minister. Even though Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld does not make a show of religious conviction, one is tempted to write that the fate of America is in the hands of a little group of Protestant bigots.

But how should the America of the depths, shaken by the cataclysm of September 11, attached to symbols as powerful as the "In God we trust" on the greenback, attached to all the affirmations about the role of the United States as a "moral and universal" nation, not identify itself with "this God who legitimizes and supports the American nation, along a Providentialist register that reaches beyond any confessional cleavages", as Sebastian Fath, a French researcher specialized in Protestantism in the United States, asks?

Even the secular Saddam Hussein has always sought to provide religious legitimacy and cover for his conflicts....

But between American Evangelical Christian fundamentalism, which is gaining in the Christian sphere, and Islamic fundamentalism, two visions clash that are both founded on cartoon discourse, savage exegesis, and perversions of sacred writings. And if the religious dimension of this war is certainly now neither the most immediate nor decisive, it could still serve tomorrow as a burning ember of unforeseeable consequences.

India, Indrajit Hazra in the Hindustan Times

For five minutes or 20 -- depending on whether you've been unconvinced or not by the arguments cited by the Bush administration for invading Iraq -- try and forget why you oppose or support the war. Much will continue to be written along that frontline, despite the fact that no matter what you read or hear, you are very unlikely to change your position on the matter now.

Instead, let's move on to the subject of the unprecedented images of war that television viewers are now spectators to. A slew of disturbing visuals has led some to coin the term 'war porno' -- more of a moral tag than a real description. But it can't be denied that as the war is piped live into households, TV viewers have been left shocked and awestruck (dictionary meaning: filled by an emotion compounded of dread and wonder) at being transported up-close and personal to the theatre of war...

Is it so surprising (and despicable, as some suggest) that TV viewers end up comparing a real war with pretend-wars? For most people -- and this is not applicable to the many who live in the real war zones of West Asia or Africa -- movies provide the only yardstick to measure a real war.

Just before the ongoing war in Iraq, young American soldiers in camps in Kuwait reportedly watched war movies (ironically, they're supposed to be 'anti-war' movies) like "We Were Soldiers," "Full Metal Jacket" and "Apocalypse Now" for inspiration. This was a strange piece of news: first-time soldiers preparing to imitate art that imitates life -- and death ...

The updated-since-the-last-update visuals of the ongoing war lacks the running thread that tells 'the story'. Part of this vacuum is filled up by commentary -- hardly of the same narrative class that a rich-in-details and as-close-to-the-real-thing that, say, "Saving Private Ryan" is ...

All this is, of course, besides the point for most people watching the war on Arab TV channels. For them, the yardstick isn't "Lawrence of Arabia" or "Band of Brothers." Al Jazeera viewers are used to seeing images that are far more disturbing than those shown in the most 'realistic' Hollywood war movies -- never mind 'real war visuals' aired on western TV channels. Unlike Americans -- who, incidentally, last witnessed a real war in their backyard during their Civil War -- their counterparts sitting in Baghdad don't need make-believe models to compare with their war coverage.

By Compiled by Laura McClure

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