The world press on the war

Haaretz: "What was born this week in Baghdad was a new Middle East."

Published April 11, 2003 5:47PM (EDT)

Israel, Ari Shavit in Haaretz

No, it was not like the fall of the Berlin Wall ...

Nonetheless, the comparison between the toppling of Saddam's statue in Baghdad on Wednesday afternoon and the fall of the Soviet monuments of 13 years ago is not entirely superficial. Both cases constitute historic moments. Both events are the noisy collapse of a tyranny, seemingly incomprehensible moments of mass liberation.

This is not only about Iraq, of course. It's not only about Saddam and his regime. It's about the entire region. This time it's for real, and not a fiction: What was born this week in Baghdad was a new Middle East.

Nobody yet knows what it will look like; nobody yet knows what demons could erupt from within it; but one thing is clear: It won't be what it has been for the last 50 years. It won't be a region ruled by a series of petrified and corrupt tyrannies. What had existed here for the last 50 years won't be here anymore.

The chill of anxiety crept down the spine of every Arab dictator this week; and it was a justified chill. The persons who conceived and planned and executed the war for Iraqi freedom -- a pretentious term that suddenly doesn't sound so ridiculous -- are very serious Americans. They are merciless, ruthless and unsentimental. They are convinced that their life's mission is to save the West, and they do not mean to fail in their efforts.

Damascus is in line; so is Riyadh, perhaps even Cairo; and the turn of the Yesha Council is sure to come too. The entire Middle East is now on the Americans' operating table. The entire Middle East is now going to feel the surgical scalpel of Washington's neo-conservatives.

Now, everything depends on the Arab societies; everything rests on the Arab public -- the Arab demos, liberated during the last few weeks in Iraq by the U.S. Marines. The Marines granted the Arab world an opportunity they have never before been given ...

Thus, what began this week puts not only 24 million Iraqis to the test, but 250 million other Arabs too. Will they manage to form free societies? Will they manage to run their lives in a democratic and rational manner?

Qatar, Issnder El Amrani in Al-Jazeera

For Mamdouh, the music that comes out of his creaky radio is one of the few respites from the dense, noisy Cairo traffic.

Since the beginning of the war, the young taxi driver has been transfixed by two things on the air.

The first, of course, are the news updates on the ravages of the war, to which he listens while muttering about American injustice and Arab impotence.

The other is an old and little-known Umm Kulthoum song called "Baghdad" -- a song that is played throughout the day on local stations.

"It's on the radio all the time," says Mamdouh. "I love it."

"Baghdad" is one of the lesser-known songs in Umm Kulthoum's vast repertoire, which includes one-hour epics on themes of love, nationalism and loss. It was originally performed in 1958, two years after Egypt had successfully fought off an attack of the Suez Canal by Israel, Britain and France and Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser was a powerful symbol of Arab strength and unity ...

Forty-five years later, listening to "Baghdad" is a bitter sweet experience, combining nostalgia for that bygone era with despair over the current state of the region ...

The government, nervous about a level of street activism unseen in a generation, is clamping down on any public activities, political or cultural.

Even at a peaceful sit-in organized by the Actor's Syndicate earlier this week was a source of anguish for security forces. The event, which featured some 50 actors and singers and guest-starred exiled Iraqi crooner Kazem Al Saher, was surrounded by over 150 black-clad riot control police ...

Like many Iraqi artists, he has been unable to return to Saddam Hussein's Iraq for years and often sings of the pain of exile in his songs. That is a trait he shares with the poet Al Bayati, who died in Damascus in 1999 leaving these words behind:

"On the last day,
I kissed my sheikh's tomb
And said so long,
And went.
Baghdad is no longer
But a graveyard for the beloved
And a love poem that I lost."

Bangladesh, Zayd Almer Khan in the Weekly Holiday

Into the fourth week of their invasion, the Anglo-American aggressors are yet to be attacked by the dreaded chemical weapons of Saddam. American generals, then disappointed by Iraq's non-usage of their supposed stock of chemical arsenal, warned rather wishfully at the beginning of the campaign that Saddam was saving his chemicals till the invaders crossed the Tigris into Baghdad. Today there are still no signs of such warfare -- "not a whiff!" as The Guardian puts it.

As for the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that America insists Iraq possess by the hundreds, Hans Blix had said when the war began, "They are sending in 250,000 troops to find something that isn't there." The special forces sent in by the US to seize Iraq's WMD arsenal are yet to find any evidences of their existence even after having examined the twelve locations that were earmarked by the Pentagon as the most likely places to find them ...

So the Anglo-Americans have drawn blanks on both counts of suspicion, leaving them bare of even the slightest justification for the invasion. What they don't seem to be short of is hypocrisy.... In their 'crusade' to disarm Iraq of its supposed stock of WMD, the Americans have been anything but shy in flaunting the capabilities of their own arsenal of WMD. Television footage continues to bring us video evidences of sortie after sortie of aerial strikes and missile attacks, leaving craters 60-feet wide, and killing civilians while at it. Somehow, this hypocrisy has gone largely ignored. What will be difficult to ignore is America's proposed use of chemical warfare in Iraq.

Last week George W. Bush signed an executive order authorising the use of teargas in Iraq, overriding the Geneva protocol on chemical warfare. Teargas, pepper spray and other incapacitants may be legally used on your own territory for the purposes of policing, but they may not be used in another country to control or defeat the enemy ... The convention clearly marks all chemicals as 'instruments of terrorists'. By its decision to resort to chemical warfare, the US will irrefutably remove the remaining moral difference that it insists remains between itself and Saddam -- that the latter is a terrorist.

Singapore, Janadas Devan in Straits Times

'U.S. satellite surveillance is so sophisticated it can now provide transcripts of high-level meetings before they are held,' wrote New York Times columnist William Safire before going on to describe what British Prime Minister Tony Blair and United States President George W. Bush were likely to say to each other at their Belfast summit.

Mr Safire, though, used a 'made in USA' receiver. Not surprisingly, he heard only the part of the conversation where a triumphant Mr Bush bested Mr Blair in argument, ending with this snatch:

Mr Blair: Churchill did say, 'In war, resolution ... In victory, magnanimity ...'

Mr Bush: And 'In peace, goodwill'.

(At Blair's aghast expression...) Condoleezza briefed me on that one.

Using a neutral receiver, here's the rest of the dialogue:

Mr Blair: We can teach you a thing or two about the bitter lessons of empire ...

First, don't assume the burden of empire, if you can help it; and if you can't, don't assume it by yourself ...

You don't want to own this problem yourself. Everything you set up in Iraq -- interim authority, new constitution, new army -- will be smeared by you, and therefore lack credibility in Arab eyes. If this is going to work, it must have the legitimacy which only the UN can confer. You have the legitimacy of force; that is not the same as the legitimacy of right. You get the UN in, all Arabs, including Iraqis, will be convinced you've come to liberate, not conquer. Don't be fooled by Iraqi cheers. Lebanese cheered the invading Israelis too, before turning on them.

You know Kipling?

Mr Bush: Yah, 'White Man's burden'. Condoleezza briefed me on that too. But she told me to say 'Democracy's burden'.

Mr Blair: Democracy shamocracy. Here's what Kipling said about the burden, the part that people forget:

Take up the White Man's burden,
Send forth the best ye breed,
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need ...
Take up the White Man's burden
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard.

Mr Bush (alarmed): Condoleezza didn't tell me about that part. ('Condi...,' he screams.)

South Africa, Beatriz Lecumberri in IOL

With no police or government to speak of and its basic infrastructure battered by war, the southern Iraqi city of Basra was sinking into anarchy on Thursday, with rampant looting, murders and petty crime.

"Let's say I had a problem with someone in the past. Now I come with a gun and kill him. Nobody's there to do anything about it. That's the situation we're in," explained Aya, a housewife.

While most celebrated the end of Saddam Hussein, many here fear that Iraq's second city has been reduced to a town of thieves and criminals, with British troops either unable or unwilling to stop it ...

"We're getting patients who were hurt in the looting, stabbed by their neighbours, hit by bullets in squabbles between members of (Saddam's) Baath Party and their rivals," said Muayad Jumah Lefta, a doctor at the city's largest hospital.

"The British are responsible for this," he seethed.

He said even the hospital was targeted, with the doctors themselves fending off the thieves until a group of British soldiers arrived Wednesday and took up a position on the roof.

British forces say they are doing all they can in a very difficult situation. They note that soldiers are fanning out to strategic sites across the city and express hope the unrest will be under control within days.

The Royal Marines' Seventh Armoured Brigade has arrested several looters who tried to head out of the town with trucks packed with food ...

Near the port, the Iraqi ship Al-Jansaa is still smoldering from bombing. But that didn't prevent looters from climbing onboard.

"They don't even know what they want to take. They're stealing for the sake of stealing. It's madness," said a resident who saw the scene.

India, Manoj Joshi in the Times of India

The Anglo-American victory in Iraq is now near. But they have yet to win over world opinion as to the justness of their cause ...

There are larger fears that the action is the forerunner of a more aggressive US that will now take recourse to military action at will.

Secretary of State Colin Powell's statement on Thursday that "The US does not have some plan or some list with nations on the list that we're going to go attack one after another" is welcome. But since it was made to Pakistan TV, it was more by way of reassurance to a jittery Islamabad, rather than delineating future US policy.

The best indicator of the future course will be the American actions in Iraq now ...

The task of providing an Iraqi government that meets the Lincolnian criteria of 'for the people, of the people and by the people', is not an easy one ...

After the killing of a pro-American Shia cleric in Najaf, the prospects of Iraqi exiles taking up the reins of authority do not look good ...

As it is, for the task of running everyday administration -- traffic police, municipal services, ports, railways, power stations -- the US will have to accept the existing setup, even if their personnel have had links to the previous regime. This was the problem that the allies faced in Germany and Japan after World War II and never quite successfully resolved.

United Kingdom, article in the BBC News

There was rich symbolism in the way Iraqis celebrated the fall of Baghdad -- some hurled shoes while others brandished small clay discs. What do these actions and symbols represent?

Hitting with shoes:

... Locals vented their anger at Saddam Hussein by attacking effigies of the man -- with their shoes. The imagery is strong -- shoes are a symbol of "dirt and degradation" in the Arab world, says Professor Faleh Jabar, a writer on Iraqi culture.

"Going into someone's house or a mosque, you would always take your shoes off first. Shoes are used to beat servants, thieves, prostitutes; it indicates servility. Were you to beat your children, this would be done with a stick or the hand, but never shoes."

Clay discs:

Some of the most fervent celebrants were Baghdad's Shia Muslims, who had been oppressed by Saddam Hussein's regime. The clay discs they were brandishing are called "turbas" and are made from the sacred soil of Najaf, where Imam Ali, the founder of the Shia movement, is buried.

A praying Shia will place the disc in front of him to stop his head touching the ground as he bows to pray. Although turbas were not banned from sight by the regime, "people did not show them because that would be tantamount to political provocation," says Mr. Jabar ...


Green flags and "old Iraqi" flags were waved. Green is simply the colour of Islam while the Iraqi flags in question have not been seen since before the last Gulf War. In 1991 Saddam Hussein re-drew the flag to include the words "Allahu Akbar" -- God is Great -- in Arabic script ...


Much has already been made of the thumbs-up gesture that British and American soldiers have received from "welcoming" Iraqis. Unlike in many western cultures, in the Middle East the thumbs-up can be an insult, roughly translating as "up yours". But the US Army's Defense Language Institute says that after the first Gulf War, the gesture was adopted by some Iraqis, along with the ok sign, as a "symbol of co-operation and freedom".

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.

By Compiled by Laura McClure

Related Topics ------------------------------------------