The world press on the war

Haaretz links U.S. pro-Israeli lobbyists to Iraqi opposition leaders. Plus more news from the international press.

Published April 7, 2003 8:05PM (EDT)

Israel, Nathan Guttman in Haaretz

An unusual visitor was invited to address the annual conference held last week in Washington by AIPAC, the pro-Israeli lobby in the United States: the head of the Washington office of the Iraqi National Congress, Intifad Qanbar. The INC is one of the main opposition groups outside Iraq, and its leaders consider themselves natural candidates for leadership positions in the post-Saddam Hussein era. Qanbar's invitation to the conference reflects a first attempt to disclose the links between the American Jewish community and the Iraqi opposition, after years in which the two sides have taken pains to conceal them.

The considerations against openly disclosing the extent of cooperation are obvious -- revelation of overly close links with Jews will not serve the interests of the organizations aspiring to lead the Iraqi people. Currently, at the height of rivalry over future leadership of the country among opposition groups abroad, the domestic opposition and Iraqi citizens, it is most certainly undesirable for the Jewish lobby to forge -- or flaunt -- especially close links with any one of the groups, in a way that would cause its alienation from the others...

In the end, Intifad Qanbar did not attend the AIPAC conference...

The Jewish groups maintain quiet contacts with nearly every Iraqi opposition group, and in the past have even met with the most prominent opposition leader, Ahmed Chalabi. The main objective was an exchange of information, but there was also an attempt to persuade the Iraqis of the need for good relations with Israel and with world Jewry.

"You have to be realistic about your aims," says one Jewish activist. "You have to understand that Iraq will be an Arab state, and that it won't want to adopt a controversial foreign policy."

Nevertheless, the Jewish activists make it clear they do expect the future Iraqi regime to obligate itself not to be aggressive toward Israel and adopt the mainstream view of the Arab world, "perhaps something like the position taken by Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states," says the activist.

Sources in the Jewish community noted last week that while Chalabi's people expressed positive opinions vis-a-vis Israel in conversations with Jews, Adnan Pachachi, another opposition leader who recently founded an opposition movement that competes with the Iraqi National Congress, said last week in London that he does not expect good relations between the new Iraq and Israel, as this would be antithetical to Iraqi interests.

United Kingdom, Catherine Philp in the Times

American warplanes mistakenly bombed a frontline position of both their own Special Forces and allied Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq yesterday, in the midst of a fierce battle with Iraqi troops.

Seventeen Kurdish peshmerga and a BBC translator were killed and 45 people were wounded, Kurdish leaders said. The wounded included two Americans and Wajeeh Barzani, a senior Kurdish commander, and the younger brother of Massoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party...

Among the injured were members of a BBC television crew, led by the veteran correspondent John Simpson, who were filming at the time of the blast. Mr Simpson's translator, Kamaran Abdurazaq Muhamed, was among those killed...

Moments after the attack, John Simpson broadcast live by satellite telephone on the BBC news channel, News 24.

John Simpson: "Well it's a bit of a disaster ... I was in a convoy of eight or ten cars in northern Iraq coming up to a place that has just recently been captured. American Special Forces in a truck -- two trucks I think -- beside them, plus a very senior figure ..."

Simpson to U.S. soldier: "Shut up. I'm broadcasting! Oh yes, I'm fine -- am I bleeding?"

U.S. soldier: "Yes, you've got a cut."

Simpson: "I thought you were going to stop me. I think I've just got a bit of shrapnel in the leg, that's all. OK, I will -- thanks a lot.

"That was one of the American Special Forces medics -- I thought he was going to try to stop me reporting.

"I've counted ten or 12 bodies around us. So there are Americans dead. It was an American plane that dropped the bomb right beside us -- I saw it land about 10ft, 12ft away, I think. We were so close to the damage and -- it didn't damage us badly at any rate.

"This is just a scene from hell here. All the vehicles on fire. There are bodies burning around me, there are bodies lying around, there are bits of bodies on the ground. This is a really bad own goal by the Americans. We don't really know how many Americans are dead. There is ammunition exploding in fact from some of these cars. A very senior member of the Kurdish Republic's government who also may have been injured..."

Qatar, Cilina Nasser in Al-Jazeera

As U.S.-led troops fight the battle for Baghdad, memories of the last time an Arab capital came under siege throw up some interesting parallels.

"Almost the same thing that happened 21 years ago here in Beirut is happening now in Baghdad," said Elias Atallah, who was in charge of the resistance groups defending that city against the Israeli invasion.

In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon to eradicate the Palestine Liberation Organisation, staging ferocious air strikes that were followed by a ground offensive with tanks and bombardment from the sea.

Iraqi paramilitary groups currently fighting the U.S.-led forces are using similar light arms against the highly sophisticated U.S. machinery in southern cities. But Al Jazeera correspondent in Basra, Mohammed Abdallah, said the Iraqi fighters from the irregular militias do not loook well-trained.

Abdallah reported that residents in Basra were guiding British troops to members of the ruling Baath party and other loyalist of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

But Atallah said that such a situation will change, recalling how many people in south Lebanon threw rice as a sign of joy on the invading Israeli forces.

Palestinian militiamen had used the southern villages to launch attacks on northern Israel, exposing the residents of the south to continuous retaliatory Israeli bombardment. Therefore, they were happy to see the Palestinians leave.

"But those same people turned against the Israelis who stayed in Lebanon and became occupiers," Atallah said, expecting a similar turn of events in Iraq.

"Now, the Shia are welcoming the invading forces because they are happy to see Saddam Hussein go," he said. "They might throw on the Americans and British troops rice for one or two months, and later things will change when the troops start behaving as occupiers."

Just as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat negotiated his way out from Beirut, the Iraqi president might face the same option. "Saddam Hussein cares more about ruling Iraq than about the interests of Iraq and therefore when he will see that he can't repel the invaders, he would leave."

Such a scenario could happen by laying a tough siege on Baghdad as the Israelis did in West Beirut where they cut off water and electricity supplies and banned vegetables and meat from entering the city. The tired people then pressured Arafat and the PLO to just leave.

Ireland, Noel McAdam in the Belfast Telegraph

The choice of Northern Ireland as the venue for a gathering of the Western leaders has raised serious questions...

The juxtaposition of the meeting to prosecute a controversial war in a country which has peace within its grasp is not lost on many people...

Though another vital week in the increasingly torturous peace process lies ahead, the main focus of events today and tomorrow will be on the war in Iraq and its early aftermath...

Northern Ireland will be essentially a sideshow.

Undoubtedly the sandwiching of our own peace process between the Gulf and the even more intractable Middle Eastern situation allow all three to be signposted by spindoctors as peace-making, in its various forms....

Tony Blair for his part has long argued the peace process here has potential life as a model for other situations.

If it was Mr Bush's turn to come to his most powerful partner, Mr Blair had his reasons for choosing Hillsborough.

South Africa, Article in News24

The war on Iraq without United Nations approval should fill African countries with unease, President Thabo Mbeki contended on Monday.

"The prospect facing the people of Iraq should serve as sufficient warning that in future we too might have others descend on us, guns in hand to force-feed us [with democracy]," he said in Pretoria.

"If the U.N. does not matter ... why should we, the little countries of Africa that make up the African Union, think that we matter and will not be punished if we get out of line?..."

Mbeki said those making war on Iraq contended that they had taken up arms to transform that country into a democracy. The proposition was that democracy could be imposed -- "in much the same way that one can force-feed a person on a hunger strike."

"Presumably the argument is that whether a person ingests jollof rice voluntarily or does so because he or she is force-fed, the fact remains that they have eaten jollof rice."

Mbeki added: "I am not certain that the institution of a democratic system can be approached in the same way that we approach the consumption of jollof rice."

He said the central question that needed to be answered was how the rule book of democracy should be applied in Africa.

India, Gurcharan Das in the Times of India

Whether it is the continuing ugly massacres in Kashmir or this dreadful war in Iraq, the truth is that far too many of the trouble spots in the world are the consequence of the frontiers created ad hoc by Britain's wicked old imperialism and the legacy of its divide and quit policy.

Christopher Hitchens, the author of "Why Orwell Matters," points this out in an elegant essay in the Atlantic Monthly. In 1916, it was one Sir Mark Sykes who divided the Middle East into Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan. Six years later, Sir Percy Cox carved Kuwait out of Iraq. The year before the Irish were told they could either have an independent or a united state but not both. And as we know, it was Sir Cyril Radcliffe's pen that carved a Pakistani state in 1947 out of what had formerly been India. More recently, Lords Carrington and Owen of the British Foreign Office advanced the ethnic division of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and before Nelson Mandela came out of jail, the same Carrington wanted to split South Africa three-ways into a white Afrikaner area, a Zulu reservation, and a free for all among the others.

Marya Mannes captured this historic legacy with wonderful irony in a poem that no one reads any more. She wrote: "Borders are scratched across the hearts of men/ By strangers with a calm judicial pen,/ And when the borders bleed we watch with dread/ The lines of ink across the map turn red"...

But for us in India it was Auden's poem, 'Partition', that truly brought out our sweet sourness over Mountbatten's disengaging mission: "Unbiased at least he was when/ he arrived on his mission,/ Having never set eyes on this/ land he was called to partition/ Between two peoples fanatically at odds,/ With their different diets and/ incompatible gods./ Time, they had briefed him in/ London, is short. It's too late/ For mutual reconciliation or/ rational debate:/The only solution now lies in separation."

There certainly were Muslim losers in Palestine and elsewhere, but the big losers were the many people of the other creeds and those who believed in modernity and transcended tribalism. It is the same in today's India where amidst the fanaticism of the Hindu nationalists and the Muslim terrorists, the losers are the ordinary people who want to get on with their lives. This unhappy British colonial legacy not only holds lessons for imperial America in Iraq -- when its time comes to quit it ought not to botch things -- but it is a reminder to all of us on the sub-continent that our borders emerged from scornful bureaucratic pens, and deserve to be treated with similar contempt.

Mexico, Tovin Lapan in the Guadalajara Reporter

Tuesday, April 1 Mexico was handed the presidency of the United Nations Security Council for one month, a month that could shape the final stages of war in Iraq and the subsequent rebuilding process.

As president of the Security Council, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, Mexican ambassador to the U.N., will be mostly be an administrative figurehead, but he is in a unique position to help mend the rift between the council's hawks and doves...

Aguilar Zinser is expected to fight for U.N. control of the rebuilding process and post-war government. Mexican President Vicente Fox warned Zinser to keep a "cool head" while leading the Security Council, a veiled reference to his previous antagonistic approach in dealing with the United States...

Both Fox and the Mexican Senate urged Aguilar Zinser to push for a quick end to the war, and as much U.N. involvement in rebuilding and providing humanitarian aid as possible.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the rebuilding process will be who ends up with the rights to tap Iraq's oil reserves (second only to Saudi Arabia) ... Companies like ExxonMobile, Shell, ChevronTexaco and British Petroleum (BP), as the only organizations with the massive amount of capital needed to get Iraq's oil industry up to speed, are pushing for production-sharing agreements (PSAs).

PSAs are often adopted by law by the contracting country, and override domestic environmental, tax and safety laws for years. Any disagreements between the company and the government are settled by arbitrators not by the local courts.

Most importantly for the company, the contract gives them an ownership stake in the oil fields. PSAs have been used in Russia, Azerbajan, Ecuador, Chad and other west African countries, but never in any of the top oil-producing nations.

Iraq will be desperate for fast capital and to get the oil wells pumping again when war ends, and may be tempted to trade its future for a big advance from oil companies. However, this type of contract would go against the UN's idea of keeping control of the oil fields and profits in the hands of the Iraqi people.

Therefore, the preliminary government which makes decisions about Iraqi oil rights (whether it be U.S. or U.N. controlled) could affect how quickly the country recovers, and how much control the people have over their resources in the future.

Saudi Arabia, Barbara Ferguson in the Arab News

"The Iraqis will fight you like hell, and whip the shit out of you. But as soon as they see they're losing, they give up and we have to treat them humanely. It's hard," said Pvt. Jason Keough, who was hit by shrapnel in his amphibious vehicle while moving in on Nassiriyah.

Keough is the only Marine unhappy about the POWs being treated on board with injured Marines.

"The first day here, they put a POW right next to me in the ward. That was crazy. You can't put someone in with you when he was just out there trying to kill you. It may not have been the exact one, but it's still the enemy. Those Iraqis, they treat us like f---ing shit when they capture us, but we have to treat them humanely"...

"Look, we're not in Iraq to make it our 51st state, we're in Iraq to make the world a safer place," said Capt. Sam (Harry) Porter, 32, who was run over by a tank.

Asked about having POWs on board, Porter said: "I understand and agree with the logic. If the enemy knows they will be fairly treated, it will be easier for them to give up. But if they think they will be treated harshly or killed, they will fight like hell and take down a lot of Marines with them"...

Sgt. Sidney Young, 35, was injured by mortar fire at Umm Kasr, and also has no problem with POWs on board: "I don't care. I was in the first Gulf War, and I was in Somalia. An enemy is an enemy, you have to fight them. But when they give up, they're no longer your enemy."

He said the Iraqis were tough fighters: "I've seen them when they give up; they're usually cut up pretty badly. You feel sorry for them, but your heart also teaches you to be hard and callous, because once you let your guard down you become vulnerable and they can get you."

Sgt. Steven Zaker, 26, was injured when his group entered the Nasiriyah hospital where the chemical suits were found. He's fine with the POWs on board.

"If they're cool, it's okay. It's not their fault. I personally don't have any gripes against them. They just put me, and my group, in danger. We're all a product of our environment," he said. "If someone I don't know has done something that's not aimed directly at me, then I'm not mad at them. You have to be directly hurt to harbor a grudge against somebody. We just live in a different world."

By Compiled by Laura McClure

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