The world press on the war

Arab News: "The Arab media succeeded in deceiving the people."

Published April 21, 2003 8:58PM (EDT)

Saudi Arabia, Abdulhamid Al-Ansary in the Arab News

So now that the first breath of freedom has been seen, where are all the things the Arab media promised us before the war? Where are the decisive moments and the invading forces buried under Baghdad's walls? Where are the inner-city war and the street-by-street battles?

The Arab media succeeded in deceiving the people ... Fatwas succeeded -- "Rise up for jihad!" -- in burying some misguided volunteers and suicide bombers ... What are the masses now saying in their happiness to see an end to the tyrant whose photograph they rip apart and beat with their sandals? Only yesterday, they fell in line, actively demonstrating in the street with his photograph, repeating "Here we are, ready to sacrifice ourselves with our souls and blood for you!" And he led them into defeat!...

It was the Arab media itself which claimed that the aims of the war were to destroy Iraq, put an end to its capabilities, and, in the end, to occupy it. It did not for a moment consider the role of Iraq's ruler in the destruction and ruin of the country over a period of more than thirty years. It did not consider how he had destroyed the country's environment, education, health and legal systems. He also set oil wells on fire and destroyed bridges, and he transformed the cities, especially in the south, into wretchedness, deprived even of clean drinking water.

Not one satellite channel had the courage to transmit scenes of welcome to the coalition troops in the liberated cities...

Furthermore, respectable newspapers were not considered to be devout if they did not cover the sorrowful and tragic accident of the journalists who were killed by the coalition forces -- in order, they said, to silence Arab satellite stations. Again, the question: Is it possible for the Arab media to be objective?

In my view, it is not possible because the Arab media is controlled by the prevailing general atmosphere and by people who have been fed on the slogans of incitement and inflammatory propaganda for more than half a century. They are captives of those who fed them and brought them up, those who controlled their mentality in which long-standing imaginary ideas, fables and superstitions were planted.

Hong Kong, Paul Belden in the Asia Times

The imam was on fire. "None of us want an occupation of an Islamic country!" he seethed over the (very loud) loudspeakers of the Abu Hanifah mosque in the capital during Salat al-Juma prayers last Friday afternoon...

Thousands strong when the sermon began, the crowd had been expanding by the minute, overflowing the mosque and taking over every available speck of pavement on Omar Abduaziz Street in the northwestern Adhamiya district...

Many were holding signs that read "Shi'ite blood and Sunni blood is the same!" and "Leave our country, we want peace!" and "Iraqis didn't let you here" in both English and Arabic. Emotions were running high.

And now -- unaccountably, incredibly, unbelievably -- into this Cecil B DeMille epic nightmare scene wandered a lightly armed foot patrol of about half a dozen U.S. Marines gawking about like farmboys come to see New York. God knows what they were thinking...

The crowd surged in to enclose them, and they immediately went into a sort of mobile defensive crouch, keeping in a tight circular formation with their gunbarrels out covering a 360-degree horizon, and backing slowly down the street, looking tense and scared.

People started shouting things at them, mostly in Arabic, until somebody who knew English asked them what they thought they were doing here. The soldier in charge gave the stock talking-points reply to this sort of question -- they'd come to deliver food and medicine to the Iraqi people -- and it was a miracle there wasn't a bloodbath...

Eventually, several cooler heads, all of them Iraqi -- and, in particular, an old man who said his name was Fa'iz, who had the look of authority, with a white turban and a long flowing white beard and handlebar moustache -- gently shooed away the gawking children, quietly urged the angry Iraqis to back up, and lightly persuaded the soldiers to consider their best interest and not linger.

So this is what freedom looks like to Iraqis -- the freedom to preach about kicking out the infidel invaders and running their own country. From an American point of view, it certainly wasn't pretty.

But that's the way of freedom -- once you unleash it, it can be hard to control, and dangerous to try.

Canada, Alexandre Trudeau in Macleans

Saddam was a great thief, so in a way it's fitting that what's left of his regime is being plundered...

It's a sad reality, but a great many of the so-called thieves are the desperately poor people of Saddam City, an area known locally as Thora...

Thora has become dangerous. As Omar and I head deeper into its streets we encounter numerous unofficial gunmen. "This is not good," Omar says. We drive on, through checkpoints made of bricks and trash. We play it cool at yet another checkpoint, passing through while calmly waving to the gunmen. It doesn't work: Omar looks in the rearview mirror, sees one of the men raise his weapon, then quickly throws his hands up as a signal of submission.

The man heads for me and growls something. "Canadian journalist!" Omar and I both repeat. He opens the door and yanks me out. With a wave of his Kalashnikov, he motions toward a mud wall, then shoves me. Omar stands by the car shouting a man's name: "Sayid Mortaba." He is an important religious figure in Thora -- and a friend of Omar's ... Another man arrives; he speaks English ... "You are Sayid Mortaba's friend? Where does he live, then?" I don't know the address, but, eager to get out of this place, I try to bluff, saying I would be happy to show him. The English-speaker slyly says: "Of course, but first come with us."

He and the Kalashnikov-toting man lead me deep into a dusty laneway. Am I being taken away to be slaughtered? We arrive at a scene of devastation. Amid the mud shanties, there is a space filled with rubble. "This was his house," says the English-speaker, motioning to the gunman. "This was his family. Three children are under there."

I turn to the gunman and say I'm sorry. He silently surveys the mess. "I used to be a teacher," the English-speaker tells me. "This makes no sense. Why bomb Thora?" I am taken to a home to drink tea with them. Sitting across from the gunman, I see that this broken man, still cradling his gun, has no shoes. He has been going barefoot through the trash-filled streets. "I am sorry that I was going to kill you," he finally tells me. "When I have a house again, you will come stay with me."

Australia, Andrew Bolt in the Herald-Sun

What relief for the Left. Iraq's National Museum has been looted!

Never mind that the deed was done by Iraqis themselves -- here's proof at last that the liberation of 23 million Iraqis was a mistake, the ghastly work of burger-eating barbarians.

Forget Saddam's torture chambers, now smashed open. Forget the Iraqis in freed Basra, digging with their bare hands for some hidden chamber where their relatives may have been left by the fleeing secret police.

No, the wrecked museum told the true tale.

This "exposes the brilliant architects of this war of shock and awe for the inept, naive and limited leaders they are," gloated the lead letter of Tuesday's The Age.

As Paul McGeough, Baghdad correspondent for The Age and the fiercely anti-war Sydney Morning Herald, put it: "After witnessing three weeks of attacks on Baghdad and almost a week of looting -- especially of the Iraq National Museum -- questions about where the criminality lies become blurred."

Or not, says one of McGeough's SMH colleagues, bile-bloated commentator Alan Ramsey, who ranted: "[Prime Minister John] Howard, in his own way, is every bit the despot Saddam was."

Are these people mad? More tears are now shed for broken relics than were ever cried for the broken children Saddam gassed at Halabja.

But these are really just tears of rage from the Left, which has been humiliated by the welcome Iraqis gave to their American liberators -- a welcome it neither predicted nor wanted. So now we see, too, the manic search for "proof" that this was no victory at all...

"The king is gone, but evil reigns in a land of fear and revenge," screamed the front page of Saturday's SMH, lingering over horror stories of looting -- looting largely restricted to monuments of Saddam's thieving regime and which is already being stamped out by Iraqis themselves, now organising themselves, as we'd hoped...

"If this is liberty, it's far from perfect," snapped ABC presenter John Highfield on the very morning after a crowd of cheering Iraqis helped tear down a giant statue of Saddam in the centre of free Baghdad...

Fine, but as they snipe at those who liberated Iraq, remember whose soldiers gave those Baghdad reporters -- and Iraqis themselves -- their new freedom to condemn the philistines who broke those old plates.

Pakistan, Basit Haqqani in the Daily Times

Whether it be a matter of international security or the altruism of freeing a subject population, the excuses for an imperialist war are not very convincing; nor, it seems, are they seriously intended. For the aim is not to convince the world that the dominant power of the times is acting on the basis of morality but to demonstrate that its will is henceforth supreme and unchallengeable. Once this objective is achieved the mask is dropped and the reasons for aggression, so seriously advanced, are openly abandoned.

This explains the peculiar statement made by none other than Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that American forces, which are now in occupation of Iraq, are unlikely to find any weapons of mass destruction. And all this time U.N. inspectors had been berated for failing to find what the Americans said that country had.

This is, perhaps, only the beginning of a series of open confessions of intent. The "freedom" of the Iraqi people was another reason why the war was fought. This is to be achieved by planting puppet regime and declaring that it is democratic. It will be as democratic as the Vichy regime was French...

But imperialism would not be imperialism if it were to stop after colonising one country. Hence, the announcement that at least four Iraqi bases will remain under the Americans. Thus will Iran and the Middle East be kept under constant watch and sanitised at will. The overwhelming power at Washington's command means that scarcely anyone can present a credible challenge to its intentions. Not even Rome was as preponderant in its day. The last era of imperialism was legitimate commerce in comparison to what is likely to come in the twenty-first century. Unless the American people realise what is being done in their name.

India, Swaminathan S. Anklesaria Aiyar in the Times of India

Many people interpret the Iraq war as part of a U.S. plot to dominate the world through multinational corporations, some of whom are getting huge contracts to rebuild Iraqi infrastructure. The military industrial complex, it is said, has benefited enormously since George Bush declared the U.S. was at war with terror, and his beloved oil companies will now feed at the trough. The Iraq war, say critics, has little to do with democracy, it is a part of an imperial plot for U.S. multinationals to take over and exploit the whole world...

Conspiracy theories are immune to facts. Yet for those with an open mind, let me tell you about the fate of the military industrial complex in 2002. The eight biggest U.S. defence contractors have sales of over $10 billion apiece. Critics say they have been minting money ever since defence spending shot up following 9/11. Really?...

Three of the big eight defence contractors (Honeywell, Raytheon and Textron) actually lost money in 2002. The collective net profit of the eight companies was $3.29 billion on revenues of $191 billion, a profit margin of just 1.78 per cent.

What will happen to the profitability of U.S. oil companies after the Iraq victory? Look at the stock market price of Exxon-Mobil, the biggest oil MNC, over the last year. The peak price was $42 in April 2001. Since October 2002, when it became increasingly clear that there was going to be an invasion of Iraq, the share price has stagnated around $35.

Not even the rapid victory in Iraq has led to any spurt. So, the savviest investors on Wall Street, supposedly part of the imperialist conspiracy, expect no oil bonanza at all. I, let me confess, am surprised. Believers in imperialist conspiracy should be devastated.

Japan, Editorial in Asahi Shimbun

The international community today faces the challenge of how to lure America back to the United Nations. One solution in that quest could be for the United Nations to adopt a more focused approach to terrorism, a faceless enemy that regards the United States as the greatest target, effectively raising its ability to respond on that front.

In standing up to terrorists, in what circumstances and under what terms should the use of military force be permitted? Should preemptive strikes be banned in all cases? We believe that these and other issues need to be debated by the U.N. Security Council, General Assembly and other bodies, with common rules drawn up and ratified.

On a related front, action must be taken by U.S. allies and countries to firmly convince America that, regardless of how great a superpower it has become, it cannot function alone in the global community.

Taking stock of the current power balance, we wonder if the Bush administration does not indeed view the United Nations as being intent on stealing away its freedoms-much like the Lilliputians used ropes to tie down mighty Gulliver ...

It bears repeating that regardless of how formidable a country's military muscle may be, there are inevitably limits as to what it can accomplish on its own in the economic arena, in the war against terrorism, and on other vital fronts.

If Gulliver were to wrest free of the ropes and go on a rampage, the giant itself would also find it difficult to live and prosper in the midst of the chaotic mayhem most likely to follow.

Israel, Martin Peretz in Haaretz

The Quartet is a work of the antebellum period, that is, of the era before the U.S. tried unsuccessfully to enlist the Europeans, the Russians and the U.N. in its venture against Saddam Hussein's charnel house. We don't have to exaggerate the recent achievements in Baghdad to grasp that all of these recalcitrants are now scraping to retain some presence in Iraq. What finally happens will be up to the U.S. The presence will not be very great. It has no great interest in the presence of these parties in the negotiations that it hopes to convene for another go at peace between Israel and Palestinians. But Israel has no interest at all being euchred and then judged by these, its standing impugners.

And this is a matter that Israel should be able to decide for itself. The U.S. is an honest broker in this situation. It is an ally of Israel and it has sympathies, real sympathies, for the Palestinians' political aspirations...

In fact, Israel ought to insist that the Quartet dissolve. The stakes are too high, for both Israelis and Palestinians, to have these jivers play. This should be a master class run by the U.S....

This is not prankishness but policy. Three of the players in the Quartet are habitually at odds with the U.S. More to the point, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia have historically been at odds with Israel, whether Labor was in power or the Likud, Ehud Barak or Ariel Sharon. Russia is the least of these antagonists. But what "the least" means can be gauged by fact that Moscow is the place where the now expired Iraqis, the Syrians and the Iranians routinely did their military shopping, both conventional and macabre.

Egypt, Nermeen Al-Mufti in Al-Ahram Weekly

Returning from the north to Baghdad on Wednesday I was confronted with devastation: no electricity, water, telecommunications or fuel. A trip through the ashes and rubble that was once my home is tearful and heart-wrenching. This is no longer the city in which I spent most of my life; it is now the capital of dolour and destruction. The most painful aspect of the experience is the sight of omnipresent, but polite, Yankee soldiers....

"Liberation is in the taste of ashes and the colour of smoke," commented Ali Afeef, a young student of Baghdad University.

But the price of liberation is questioned by some.

"We do not want to start an early trial for Saddam Hussein," said Adnan Qottob, a writer, "but do you think that Saddam was worth it? I mean, that the price paid for the coalition and opposition forces to get rid of him was the destruction of Iraq?"

As for the opposition, while everybody here concedes that the atmosphere inside Iraq was not conducive to the establishment of a vibrant opposition, there is a general consensus that most Iraqi opposition figures lack credibility. Some people, like Jinan Jaleel, a professor of history, are also cynical about the intentions of the opposition.

"Their paymasters were in Iraq during the nineties, we know them very well. What do they think? They think people have lost their memories, but we will never forget. We will oppose them in the same way we will oppose the American occupation."

Not mincing words, Jaleel goes on to say that a lot of people think that many of the opposition figures are no different to Saddam; unfortunately the real truth will never be uncovered. "They sold Iraq to the Americans simply to rule Baghdad."

The final statement, however, says it all: "The coming months will be very hard for Iraqis, Americans and the opposition. The first step is to rebuild Iraq; we will do it."

By Compiled by Laura McClure

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