The world press on the war

As U.S.-Syria relations deteriorate, a British newscaster protests that the Syrian president "only recently had tea with the Queen."


Compiled by Laura McClure
April 15, 2003 10:32PM (UTC)

Pakistan, editorial in Dawn

One never thought America would turn its attention on its next Arab target so soon. The situation in Iraq is still fluid. But the heat is already being turned on Syria ...

At times, Bush administration officials have denied that they had a list which they would pursue after the Saddam regime was toppled. Secretary of State Colin Powell was among those who recently denied that the US had any such plans. Yet, the recent spate of threats to Damascus suggests that the hawks once again are trying to sideline the moderates led by Powell ...

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Is the stage now being set for another drama of death and destruction in another Arab country?

This time the "coalition" could even include Israel, which already is there -- though behind the scenes -- in the Iraqi war. Even those Arab states which cooperated with the US in the Iraqi war will now find it impossible to sit on the sidelines, much less collaborate with the US.

United Kingdom, Adrian Hamilton in the Independent

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"I have made it clear, and I repeat, that Syria is not 'next on the list'," declared Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday in a tone that sounded anything but confident.

His nervousness was understandable, for Syria seems all too clearly in the American sights, as over the weekend, starting with Donald Rumsfeld and going on to the Secretary of State Colin Powell and finally President Bush himself, one warning after another has been sounded against the Syrian regime for harbouring Iraqi leaders and having developed weapons of mass distraction of its own.

It was only by the skin of its teeth and Tony Blair's urgings that Syria escaped being included in President Bush's "axis of evil speech" last year. As the countdown to war with Iraq developed this year, Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, started openly to bracket Syria as a potential enemy. Told about this by an aide fearful of a widening war, President Bush is supposed to have looked up from his papers and simply said "good".

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That is not a view shared by London, where the accession to power in Syria of Bashar Assad, the British-educated son of the wily President Hafez al-Assad, had in 2000 given rise to fond hopes of a London-Damascus axis to bring peaceful reform to the Middle East. "But Assad and his wife have only recently had tea with the Queen," gasped a ruffled TV announcer when Washington's war of words began in the middle of last week.

At this moment, the US is probably not planning to direct its armies to wheel left from Baghdad to march on Damascus. But the sense of threat, and the menacing tone of the references to "regime change", are far too carefully orchestrated to put down to pique at Syria's vociferous and unrelenting denunciation of the invasion of Iraq or specific concerns about escaping Iraqi bigwigs ...

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The dilemma over Syria is the same as in other parts of the Middle East in the post-11 September world -- to confront or engage ...

Engage with Damascus and you can hope for change with some stability. Pull it down and you may threaten to reap the whirlwind. That is the dilemma facing London as it reacts to the chorus of threatening voices coming from Washington. It's a dilemma, however, that seems to trouble Tony Blair far more than President Bush.

Israel, editorial in Haaretz

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A dozen years ago, George Bush, the 41st president of the United States, and father of the current president, managed to enlist Hafez Assad, the former Syrian president and the father of the current one, into the coalition against Iraq. That was a purposeful alliance, which led to, among other things, the Madrid Peace Conference on the Middle East.

The relations between the sons who rose to power in Washington and Damascus is tense. George W. Bush went to war against Saddam Hussein, while Bashar Assad helped Saddam's regime with military supplies and granting shelter to escaping members of the regime.

In addition to his complaints concerning Syrian cooperation with Saddam Hussein and his associates, Bush mentioned on Sunday, in response to a question, the chemical weapons in Syrian hands.

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This is not new. Syria has missile batteries and rockets armed with chemical and possibly biological warheads, as well as the capability of manufacturing such payloads. The Syrians say these weapons are meant as a deterrence to balance the nuclear power they attribute to Israel. As opposed to Iraq in its war against Iran, and even the Egyptians in their war 40 years ago in Yemen, Syria has never used chemical weapons. ...

The situation that has emerged on Israel's northern front -- from the moment the Iraqi threat was neutralized, thus eliminating the eastern front -- justifies opening a diplomatic, not a military, campaign. Syria, bound by Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon, is now more isolated than ever before. It cannot count on the Russians, who were unable to help Saddam, nor on Egypt, its partner in the Yom Kippur War but which chose peace with Israel. This opens the way for an Israeli initiative to renew peace talks that were cut off three years ago at the meeting of Hafez Assad and President Clinton in Geneva.

Renewing the Israeli-Syrian talks, based on the framework set by Barak, Clinton and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Shara at Shepherdstown, could thaw the tension between Washington and Damascus and bring Israel closer to another peace agreement that would have an impact on the contacts with the Palestinians.

The price Israel would have to pay, a withdrawal from the Golan, should not deter the Sharon government from renewing the negotiations.

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Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Alkhereiji in the Arab News

Eighteen Iraqi civilians were injured, many seriously, in the mostly Shiite district of Al-Ha'ab in the northwest of Baghdad yesterday morning when one of them stepped on an unexploded grenade or shell. Arab News discovered that the area had either been used as a storage facility by the Iraqi military, or was occupied by an active unit which abandoned it as US troops closed in on the city ...

Within half an hour, a large convoy of US troops did indeed reach the area. They quickly started to co-operate in a scene that was replayed across the capital as US troops and local police started jointly patrolling the streets yesterday to quell the lawlessness that has engulfed the capital since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime. Most stores and government offices remained closed. Residents were seen collecting and burning garbage, and the buses were running ...

Several hundred Iraqi police officers in plainclothes and uniform reported to the Iraqi police academy yesterday morning in response to calls for joint patrols.

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Iraqi Police Lt. Col. Haitham Al-Ani told Arab News the US troops and the Iraqis would patrol in separate cars and that the Iraqi police would not be allowed to carry guns. US military patrols were seen in many neighborhoods as the Marines spread out initially concentrating at key spots.

Local men, desperate to see calm return, helped the Marines translate and point out those who were guilty of crimes.

Looting appeared to be easing, whether because the best plunder was already gone, or because of more Marine patrols, along with checkpoints and vigilante groups thrown together by Iraqi residents. Looters have ransacked and burned parts of Baghdad, stealing even priceless archaeological treasures from Iraq's national museum. Even the Islamic Library was on fire.

Elsewhere in the city, a number of looters were caught by American troops at the Republic Palace in the center of Baghdad, close to the downtown area of Sanak. The looters were not hurt and were escorted politely by the US military.

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Ghana, editorial in the Accra Mail

Messrs. Bush and Blair, the victors in this war of the willing, who now regard themselves as conquerors, have decided to give the UN a "vital role".

The UN has always played a vital role in the affairs of the comity of civilized nations, so what did their Dublin declaration of "vital role" in Iraq mean?

The US and UK are undermining the UN for this short term victory. The effect of a weakened UN may not be immediately apparent but the long term effects would be catastrophic to all of us.

The priority therefore should not be only the reconstruction of Iraq but also the rebuilding of the UN. This must start with the US and UK for it was these two countries that lost patience with the UN and decided to go it alone in disarming Iraq.

The casus belli itself is now confusing. What was the UN resolution about? Disarm Iraq? Cause a regime change?

Overthrow a dictator? Liberate Iraq? Free the Iraqi people? These are now being so freely used interchangeably by the US and UK that it is difficult to discern what is what.

Now that they have done all of that; can they come down to the other pressing reality: the relevance of the UN?

Whatever they may think, to some of us, the UN cannot be irrelevant, no matter its imperfections.

International law on how nations relate to one another is intricately bound with the UN system and to treat that with contempt, the US and UK would render themselves as outlaw states.

Germany, Claus Christian Malzahn in Der Spiegel

There are no iron bars in Captain Arthur West's prison -- only sun, sand, and barbed wire. Using bulldozers the engineers have leveled an area equal to 15 soccer fields in the middle of Iraq's central desert, piled up walls of earth, creating a couple of dozen parcels. These are filling up with more and more men and are guarded by American MPs. "Within a week we'll have about 6,000 POWs here," says the stocky Captain West, wiping the sweat from his brow.

The prisoners are wearing civilian clothes; they crouch close together as though trying to form a human fortress. The hot wind blowing through the barbed wire produces a singing sound. "Suddenly they were all standing outside the camp and surrendering," West says, shaking his head. "We didn't even see them coming. But they didn't want to fight any more." ...

Ali is a deserter. He and his family wanted to flee from Baghdad by car. He was able to avoid the checkpoints manned by Saddam's henchmen. Then he saw the Americans who were shouting something at him. Ali didn't understand what they were saying. He was afraid and stepped on the gas.

Ali speaks hurriedly in broken English; tears run down his cheeks. "My older sister, shot. My younger sister and my parents, in the car. The tank."

Ali's car was rammed by an American tank after he himself was hit by bullets and his older sister was shot to death. His parents and a five-year old sister were run over by a tank. Toward the end of the war the Americans used tanks against any cars trying to break through the checkpoints, cars that might possibly be loaded with explosives and driven by suicide bombers. ...

Colonel Kevin Canestrini is the head of the MASH unit; the doctors on his staff saved Ali's life after American Marines killed the rest of his family. Canestrini listens to Ali's story and remains silent. Ali asks incredulously, "What happened?" The officer, seemingly embarrassed, checks Ali's readings on a digital readout screen next to the bed.

"I don't know how to console the man," says Canestrini whose unit is stationed in Kaiserslautern, Germany. "Nobody will be able to do that very soon."

Jamaica, David Jessop in the Jamaica Observer

The outcome of the war in Iraq paints a stark picture ... of the Caribbean's absolute lack of power in today's world. The governments of the Anglophone Caribbean that opposed the war from the perspective of principle, multilateralism, non-alignment and nationalism, have retained the moral high ground, but have annoyed the US.

The evidence for this is contained in a statement made on April 4 to journalists by Otto Reich, the Presidential envoy for the Americas in the National Security Council who reports directly the President's National Security Adviser. Mr Reich, never a friend of the Anglophone Caribbean and a sworn enemy of Cuba, noted that Caricom's stance did not necessarily reflect the opinions of all of the peoples of the region, but "of a few public officials". He said that he was disappointed with Caricom's criticism of the war and urged regional leaders to study "the consequence of their words".

If we are to believe Mr Reich's words, the US seems now quite prepared to appeal in public over the heads of democratically elected governments to the Caribbean people to endorse US policies.

Mr Reich and others like him in Washington miss a truly important point about the Anglophone Caribbean that the US should prize. What sets it apart is its heightened sense of social justice, the widespread political involvement of all its citizens and a belief that the state still has an important role to play in people's lives. Democracies should be nurtured, not criticised.

Hong Kong, Ian Urbina in Asia Times

When it comes to file-keeping, the Baathists of Iraq were often referred to as the "Prussians of the Middle East". Saddam Hussein's officials kept impeccable and detailed records on virtually all realms of government and society. But as looting grips Baghdad and throngs of civilians rush government buildings to exact retribution in whatever small way they can, the fate of these records is an open question. ...

Allegedly, these files contain indications of covert payments to various African countries to procure pro-Iraq votes at the UN. ...

Others have said that it is US indiscretions that are at root in Washington's concern over the files. ...

Additionally, US officials are looking for proof that Russian and French firms may have skirted the UN weapons embargo of Iraq over the years, possibly by shipping materiel to third party countries, ultimately destined for Saddam. ...

Other countries may have their own people on the job as well. Last week, a Russian diplomatic convoy came under US fire as it evacuated Baghdad....

Within Russia there is speculation that the passengers in the convoy were possibly carrying sensitive records which Moscow wants to keep out of American hands. The Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta broke the story, reporting that there was a high-stakes race going on between the CIA and the SVR (Russian foreign intelligence). "One was taking out classified Iraqi archives, and the other was trying to hamper it by force."

Both the US and the Russians maintain differing explanations of the events. Alexander Vershbow, US ambassador to Russia, stated that the convoy decided to change its course at the last minute, which is why it ended up being in the wrong place at the wrong time. ...

The fight for Baghdad seems to be over. But clearly the struggle to plumb the city's wealth of information is still an open contest. In the long run, this race may be one of the most consequential if the US is going to find evidence of weapons of mass destruction. This race may also be the deciding factor in ultimately bringing Saddam and/or henchmen to their day in court.

Kenya, King'ori Choto in the Daily Nation

Recently, while trying to trace the causes of America's military campaign in Iraq, I stumbled upon an interesting piece I had read earlier in a December 2002 issue of Newsweek magazine. In it, columnist Fareed Zakaria wrote of Governor George Bush thus:

"During the campaign, Governor Bush said little about foreign affairs but consistently struck one theme: America is overcommitted around the world, he said, pushes its weight around too much, and tells other countries how to run their affairs too often. We need to scale back, be humble and get out of the nation-building business".

It is striking just how much Candidate Bush has morphed into the President Bush we are now seeing leading an America that has taken to pushing its weight around by defying international opinion, and is all too often nowadays telling other nations how to run their affairs.

Far from being 'humble', scaling back and getting out of the nation-building business, America today is at the peak of its military arrogance, displays unbridled geopolitical expansionism, and is on the brink of its second nation-building exercise in two years. ...

For Africa, the war has been another harsh reminder of how the continent's pressing problems are of little relevance to the West and that ours is a fragile lot caught up in the vortex of Western interests.

Thailand, Thirayuth Boonmi in the Nation

It should be made clear from the start that my proposed concept is neither anti-Western nor non-Western but post-Western. It is my conviction the present century would not be another American century as many American writers have hoped for and neither an Asian century as predicted by some scholars but rather a multi-polar, multi-cultural post-Western century.

Despite a swift victory over Iraq, the self isolating and brute force war reflects a declining US political and military influence in the world.

The US economy, which has been on a downward spiral for the past two years, is likely to be repeatedly in the doldrums. Culturally speaking, a visible change is transpiring, be it in areas of film, music, high arts, sports, travel and leisure, food, fashion and beyond. China, Japan, Korea, India, Latin America, Africa as well as Southeast Asia have revealed their presence and are acquiring more cultural space. In a few decade's time, we shall witness greater balance among various cultures. ...

However, Western hegemony dwells deep into the monopoly of meanings of life that goes beyond mere knowledge, be it the grand question of what is the purpose, the pursuit or the reproduction of one's life. It controls the way we think of our careers, our dreams, imagination, taste for architecture and design, clothing, our notion of what is beautiful, and even our intimate sexual desires.

It's unbelievable that it also controls our view of what constitutes good politics and progressive society. Those who do not play by the rules will be discredited. This is why the philosophies of the Lord Buddha or Lao Tzu are not regarded as philosophy in the Socratic sense of the word but a religion or a cult.

India, Satish Jacob in Outlook India

The ease with which Baghdad was taken over shouldn't make us forget what the city endured through the 21 days of war.

Baghdad in popular imagination is synonymous with learning and refinement. Now it appears devastated, in contrast to what I had read about the city as a child. I knew it as the city of Harun Al-Rashid, under whom Baghdad enjoyed fabled glory and wealth, becoming one of the richest cities in the world, its wharves lined with ships bringing porcelain from China, spices from India, ivory, gold and Nubian slaves from Africa and pearls and weapons from Arabia. To see the city brutalised and bombed is deeply painful. ...

With looting going on around me, I'm being asked for ridiculous amounts of money for minor errands. I had wanted to send a letter to Amman where some money and a satellite phone were waiting for me. The Iraqi I spoke to demanded $100 to do it. As it was, every foreign journalist in Baghdad had to get an accreditation from the ministry of information. It meant shelling out $3,500 for a press pass that lasted only 10 days. ...

Since the ministry has been bombed out of existence, that's at least one expense less. And it's wonderful to also get rid of the minders from the ministry who'd dog us everywhere.

Journalists were allowed to stay in only one of the three government-run hotels -- Al Mansour, Al Rasheed or Palestine. Al Rasheed is everyone's favourite. It was verboten because it was on the Americans' hit list. Its crime: a portrait of George Bush Sr on the floor at the entrance. The portrait was drawn by a young female artist during the first Gulf War. This kind of stuff maddens the Americans. Mind you, the Iraqis made a concession of sorts, covering it with an elegant carpet. Oddly enough, Al Rasheed was spared. One theory is that General Tommy Franks wants to use it as his headquarters in post-war Iraq.


Compiled by Laura McClure

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