The world press on the war

While Baghdad celebrates, elsewhere in Iraq a U.S.-backed Iraqi militia is terrorizing residents.


Compiled by Laura McClure
April 9, 2003 10:58PM (UTC)

Australia, Paul McGeough in the Sydney Morning Herald

Jubilation and wholesale looting in Baghdad yesterday signalled the end of the regime of Saddam Hussein as thousands of United States troops met little or no resistance on their way into the heart of the city ...

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There were wild scenes as residents -- some in tears, others singing and dancing -- crowded on to city freeways, showering the Americans who rode into town atop their tanks with flowers and the classic Iraqi greeting for foreigners: "Welcome! Welcome in Baghdad."

"Today Baghdad is like Berlin in 1945," an egg-seller told the Herald ...

There was no sign of any arm of government. The Information Ministry, which has tried to keep the foreign press on a tight rein, was abandoned and none of the agencies that might maintain law and order was on the streets ...

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There was no word on the fate of Saddam or his sons, Uday or Qusay, all of whom were targeted in a "bunker-buster" bombing attack on a residential area in Baghdad on Tuesday.

But presuming his era had ended, a white-haired man in the inner city took a poster of Saddam and beat it with his shoe -- a traditional insult. Others gathered to spit on or kick the portrait.

"Come see, this is freedom," the man said. "This is the criminal, this is the infidel. This is the destiny of every traitor. He killed millions of us ... Oh people, this is freedom."

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But another old man who has spent the past few weeks quietly telling the Herald how much he longed for this day, said simply: "Now we dance."

The looting was on such a scale that it caused traffic jams in the eastern suburbs as huge crowds ripped all that they could from government buildings -- air-conditioning units, ceiling fans, hat-stands and anything else they could carry.

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They brought trucks and packed their cars so high that much of the loot fell off as they drove away. With great high spirits, they hijacked police cars and motorcycles, full-length curtains and sports trophies.

They used wheeled office chairs to push their loot away into the suburbs while some guarded their booty on street corners, waiting for family vehicles to return to collect it.

One of them said: "This is our peace dividend."

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When they had done with the Transport Ministry and the headquarters of the Iraqi Olympic Committee, a part of Uday Hussein's fiefdom, they torched the buildings. They stole dozens of Uday's thoroughbred horses from a nearby stables.

On Palestine Street, a favourite regime venue for rallies and shows of military and Ba'ath party support, Iraqis looted a Trade Ministry warehouse, emerging with air-conditioners, ceiling fans, refrigerators and TV sets.

Posters of Saddam were shredded, statues pushed over and many people chanted "Bush! Bush!" and "America! America!" as others tore up 250-dinar notes bearing the face of the dictator. Not far away a bare-chested young man danced in the middle of an intersection, madly swirling his shirt over his head ...

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Standing outside the blazing Olympic headquarters, 46-year-old Abu Mantazar condemned the looting. And while he celebrated the arrival of the Americans, he had a warning for them. "Before it was so bad for us -- so this makes us happy. We look forward to having a new government and an end to this mess.

"Look, the US is welcome here -- but not for long, just for a while to help the next Iraqi government get going. And after that they have no right to stay here; and while they are here they must see us as human beings and not as barrels of oil."

United Kingdom, Charles Clover in the Financial Times

Hay Al Ansar, on the outskirts of Najaf in Iraq, was glad to be rid of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party government, when the city was seized by US forces last week.

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But they appear to be just as terrified, if not more so, of their new rulers -- a little-known Iraqi militia backed by the US special forces and headquartered in a compound nearby.

The Iraqi Coalition of National Unity (ICNU), which appeared in the city last week riding on US special forces vehicles, has taken to looting and terrorising their neighbourhood with impunity, according to most residents.

"They steal and steal," said a man living near the Medresa al Tayif school, calling himself Abu Zeinab. "They threaten us, saying: 'We are with the Americans, you can do nothing to us'."

Sa'ida al Hamed, another resident, said she witnessed looting by the ICNU and other armed gangs in the city, which lost its police force when the government fled last week. One man told a US army translator on Monday that he was taken out of his house and beaten by ICNU forces when he refused to give them his car. They took it anyway.

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If true, the testimony of residents reveals a darker side to US policy in Iraq. In their distaste for peacekeeping and eagerness to hand the ruling of Iraq back to Iraqis, US forces are in danger of losing the peace as rapidly as they have won the war.

US special forces said they were looking into the complaints, which had been passed to them by US military sources. They declined, however, to discuss the formation of the group, how its members were chosen, or who they were.

The head of the ICNU, who says he is a former colonel in the Iraqi artillery forces who has been working with the underground opposition since 1996, announced on Tuesday that he was acting mayor of Najaf, and his group had taken over administration of the city.

Other Iraqi exiles, brought in by the CIA and US special forces to help assemble a local government over the next few days, say the militia is out of control.

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"They are nobody, and nobody has ever heard of them, all they have is US backing," said an Arab journalist ...

The allegations against the ICNU threaten to undermine much of the goodwill built up by US forces among the citizens of Najaf, who still cheer troops driving through the city. In an effort to curb rampant looting, US forces have begun to patrol at night ...

The city's political rivalries appear to be affecting humanitarian assistance. US special forces have objected to certain Shia leaders distributing food aid, for fear of their ties to Iran.

United Kingdom, Jason Burke in the Guardian

It took until mid-afternoon for the news from Baghdad to sink in. By 4pm, Irbil was full of pick-up trucks packed with teenagers, too young to really remember the hideous violence of Saddam's Anfal campaigns, bouncing through the potholed streets.

A column of American troops drove by them, gunners holding their M60s with one hand and waving victory signs with the other. Everywhere they went they left a trail of hooting horns and thumbs pointed skywards.

South of Pir Daoud, a tiny hamlet in the middle of a vast green plain that must be one of the biggest minefields in the world, convoys of peshmerga moved towards the front in old trucks.

The vehicles were festooned with flags, red for the KDP and green for the PUK reinforcements coming across from the eastern cities of Kurdistan. The peshmerga hung from the windows of the cabs, climbed on the roofs, hooted their horns and waved their kalashnikovs in the air. The sight of a westerner, even better a Briton or an American, provoked a frenzy of shouting and waving.

This was a day when the knowledge of impending liberation finally dawned on people.

I was here in 1991 and remember the naive hopes of the Kurds then. Caught between Saddam and the pragmatism of the west, the Kurds never got to realise those hopes. Now the same platitudes, so childish to the cynical, jaded western ear, are being shouted from the rooftops again.

Outside my hotel window, as I write this, Kurdish music is pumping from a hastily erected sound system. Tonight the hotel, and the whole of Iraqi Kurdistan, is having a party. I can only hope that they won't be disappointed again.

It has been a weird fortnight. The assembled journalistic pack in Irbil have spent daytimes at the front and evenings in the hotel garden, drinking beer and listening to the airstrikes that rattle the windows and blow open the doors.

We have all enjoyed it. Didier from the Figaro (a former French special forces soldier turned hack who is known to all as "the frog of war") has been in his element. He is not the only one. Last night CNN had a party in the hotel they have taken over.

There are two fat canaries in the lobby, the Kurdish version of a chemical weapons early warning system. One is called Diehard Two, the other is Diehard Three. Diehard One died relatively recently, though from overfeeding, not gas.

Hopefully the remaining pair can now live out a happy retirement with no special function to fulfil, but merely as tubby, stupid, yellow birds.

Lebanon, article in Al-Hayat

It was a scene for which many exiled Iraqis have yearned too long: thousands of their countrymen rushing into Baghdad's streets Wednesday, tearing down Saddam Hussein's pictures and storming the ministries and party offices that were symbols of his oppression.

"To hell with the tyrant, to millions of hells," shouted Najil Mubarak, an exiled Iraqi in Egypt, as he watched the images indicating the collapse of Saddam's regime on an Arab television network.

Some Iraqis abroad, many of them victims of Saddam's harsh rule, compared the scenes from Baghdad to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Ridha Jawad Taki, a prominent Iraqi dissident who fled Iraq in 1980, said the scenes of celebrations in Baghdad were so thrilling that he at first couldn't believe his eyes, but began to accept them as station after station kept repeating the pictures all day.

"This is a moment I was looking for all these years, it's like a dream coming true," Taki said ...

Some received the news with disbelief.

"I won't believe it until I see his (Saddam's ) corpse," said Buthaina Saad, an Iraqi living in Syria.

Ahmed al-Haboubi, a former minister in the government toppled by Saddam's Baath party 1968 military coup, said Iraqis' celebrations should wait until a democratic government is elected to replace Saddam's regime.

What worries al-Haboubi, who was elected Tuesday to the leadership of a new Iraqi opposition group, and many liberal-minded exiled Iraqis most is that their long struggle against Saddam will be in vain if his regime is replaced by opportunists who would only do America's bidding.

"There is deep fear that new parasites might be able again to make their way up," he said.

U.S. officials have said that a U.S.-led coalition probably will run Iraq for at least six months until a new government is in place. Many Iraqi dissidents have rejected that, instead urging the United Nations to administer Iraq until Iraqis can govern themselves.

Saudi Arabia, Essam Al-Ghalib in the Arab News

Six days after the "liberation: of Najaf, Iraqis of all ages continue to pack the corridors of Saddam Hussein General Hospital.

They are mostly victims of unexploded munitions that are strewn throughout various residential neighborhoods -- along streets, in family homes, in school playgrounds, in the fields belonging to farms ...

US forces have been using cluster bombs against Iraqi soldiers. But the majority of the victims are civilians, mostly children curious about the small shiny objects which are the same size as a child's hand.

Cluster bombs, as explained by an administrator at the hospital, have been dropped by the hundred. They are supposed to explode on impact. However, many do not, and lie on the street exposed to the elements.

A young Iraqi in Najaf told Arab News yesterday: "They are everywhere, and they are going off periodically. We don't even have to touch them -- they just go off by themselves, especially as the temperature rises throughout the day." ...

Dozens of these unexploded cluster bombs were lying around. The US military had been along the street and cordoned off areas with plastic tape marked "Mines" -- but only in English.

Back at Saddam Hussein General Hospital, a seven-year-old boy, the skin burned off his legs, was being turned away by the doctors. His father, distraught and with a look of desperation on his face, told Arab News as he held his son in his arms: "They say his injuries are minor compared with others here. They say that they can't waste their medication on him. They won't even give him pain killers." ...

The head of the Pediatric Department told Arab News that because of the sanctions of the last 12 years, the hospitals are in a state of near disrepair and medication is scarce.

"A few days after the shelling ended, some American medical services people came to see the hospital," he said. "They were surprised that we were open with the little medication we have. They promised they would come back with supplies, but we are still waiting. We haven't had enough electricity to run half of our equipment, our generators are old and unreliable and we have lost power several times." ...

No one Arab News spoke to was celebrating the reported news of Saddam Hussein's death. "I don't believe what we are hearing," said a 42-year-old hotel receptionist.

"Even if he is dead, it's not worth the price our children and families have paid," he added.

Saddam Hussein General Hospital alone has seen 307 deaths and treated 920 injuries. Of those, only 20 of the dead and 50 of the injured were soldiers.

Israel, Zvi Bar'el in Haaretz

The struggle over the future leadership of Iraq has begun.

The landing of the Hercules that early last week brought Ahmed Chalabi, chair of the Iraqi National Congress -- the umbrella organization of the Iraqi opposition -- to the airport near Nasriya, signaled the start of the political struggle over Iraq. Chalabi is the Pentagon's candidate to take over for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein after Iraq undergoes a preparation period under an American administration.

Chalabi is also the person whom the CIA and the State Department consider the source of this war's problems. A year ago, he explained to members of the U.S. administration that the conquest of Iraq would be "soft as butter": "The Iraqi army will collapse immediately, the officers of the Republican Guard will surrender, and the population will rebel against the regime." Chalabi, a 57-year-old former banker, and at present a businessman, is also an escaped convict from Jordan, after embezzling millions of dollars for which he was responsible as the manager of the Petra Bank. He is also a Shi'ite who annoys the extremist Shi'ite opposition organization known as the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, headed by Baqir al-Hakim ...

According to the plan, Iraq will be divided into three administrative districts that will be subordinate to retired general, Jay Garner, who will head the interim Iraqi government. The division of Iraq testifies to that same "classical" concept according to which the south is Shi'ite, the center Sunni, and the north Kurdish. The southern and northern districts will be headed by retired generals, while the central district of Baghdad will be headed by Barbara Bodin. Bodin has to her credit a long series of titles and positions, the last of which was U.S. ambassador to Yemen. She was even kidnapped in 2001 in a plane that was flying from Yemen and landed in Africa, and she conducted successful negotiations for the release of three kidnapped Americans in Yemen. She also served in Iraq in a medium-level position, and in Kuwait she was the deputy ambassador during the first Gulf War. She also served as an aide to the assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, and even passed through the Israeli desk for a short period. But alongside her experience and her academic abilities, Barbara Bodin is not a "lovable type," says an American diplomat. "She is an impulsive woman, ambitious, and her personal relations with her underlings are nothing to write a song about."

But it is not only her character that has caused several State Department officials to raise an eyebrow. "Placing a woman at the head of the Baghdad district is liable to be problematic," says the American diplomat. "Maybe it's nice to show the Iraqis American values and equal rights, but we have to remember with what kind of a society we are dealing. There's a difference between appointing a woman as an ambassador in an Arab country and appointing her as the ruler, even if temporary." A member of the Jordanian government, on the other hand, thinks Bodin's appointment "isn't more problematic that the possible appointment of Ahmed Chalabi. With Bodin the Jordanian government can at least develop political relations, but to whom will we submit a request for Chalabi's extradition if Chalabi is prime minister?" Chalabi is "necessary" to Jordan so that he can finally begin the 22-year sentence imposed on him in absentia.

United Kingdom, Chris Tryhorn in the Guardian

The International Federation of Journalists has accused U.S. military commanders of targeting non-embedded journalists and called for an international inquiry into the deaths of three journalists today in American attacks in Baghdad ...

Earlier today American troops launched an attack on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, killing Taras Protsyuk, a Ukrainian cameraman working for Reuters, and Jose Couso, a Spanish cameraman.

The U.S. said it had opened fire on the hotel, a de facto press centre for western journalists, after coming under attack from snipers.

This claim was dismissed as "absurd" by journalists working in the hotel.

U.S. troops also bombed the offices of al-Jazeera and Abu Dhabi Television, killing Tareq Ayyoub, a Palestinian Jordanian journalist working for al-Jazeera ...

The U.S. said the bombing of the al-Jazeera office was "a grave mistake" and the Arabic satellite news channel accused the U.S. of deliberately launching the attack to "cover up" its activities in Iraq ...

The IFJ compared this attack with the bombing of the Kabul offices of al-Jazeera by American forces during the war in Afghanistan in 2001. "It is impossible not to detect a sinister pattern," said [IFJ spokesman Aidan] White ...

The IFJ said there was an eyewitness testimony accusing the U.S. of deliberately firing upon clearly marked television vehicles ...

The IFJ said there should be a review of international rules after the war to improve protection for journalists.

"This war has been the most televised conflict in history," said White, "but the protection afforded to journalists and media staff is prehistoric by comparison" ...

An al-Jazeera journalist who left Baghdad a few days ago confirmed to RSF that the U.S. military had been informed of the station's whereabouts.

"It couldn't have been a mistake. We've told the Pentagon where all our offices are in Iraq and hung giant banners outside them saying 'TV'," the al-Jazeera employee said.

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.


Compiled by Laura McClure

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