The world press on postwar Iraq

In Iran, poor villagers say they hope the U.S. will liberate them next. Plus reports from Nigeria, Pakistan, Chile, the Philippines, Egypt, Russia and more.

Published May 6, 2003 9:13PM (EDT)

United Kingdom, Phil Reeves in the Independent

Nearly a week after troops from the 82nd Airborne Division randomly opened fire on a crowd of demonstrators here, prompting the U.S. military to announce an inquiry, commanders have yet to speak to the doctors who counted the bodies.

Nor, by late yesterday, had U.S. commanders been to the home of a 13-year-old boy who was among the dead, even though it is located less than a mile from the main American base in Fallujah, a conservative Sunni town 35 miles west of Baghdad.

The Americans' conduct over the Fallujah affair -- and their highly implausible version of events -- has compounded the anger in Iraq over the killings, in which 13 people died after being hit by a hail of U.S. bullets outside a school which the troops were occupying. It combines all the worst elements of the occupation: panicky troops firing at Iraqis instead of seeking to engage with them or understand their circumstances, then insisting that local people have no cause for anger.

Witnesses interviewed by The Independent on Sunday stated that there was some shooting in the air in the general vicinity, but it was nowhere near the crowd, which comprised mostly boys and young men who descended on the school at around 9pm to call for the U.S. troops to leave the premises...

The day after the bloodbath, U.S. soldiers displayed three guns which they said they had recovered from a home opposite, but this proved nothing. Every other Iraqi home has at least one firearm. Centcom also refused to confirm that the soldiers from the 82nd Airborne who raked the crowd had killed or injured unarmed civilians. Although it conceded that this was possible, it described the deaths of unarmed people as "allegations" and estimated the toll at seven injuries, all people who were armed...

The affair has angered British Army officials who believe that the U.S. troops lack the vital experience which the British acquired -- painfully at first -- in Northern Ireland. "Don't talk to me about the U.S. army," said one British military source. "Let's just say that they face a very steep leaning curve."

Canada, Adnan Khan in Macleans

Hell is a matter of perspective. For some in Iraq, the burning oil trenches and exploding cruise missiles that lit up Baghdad's crumbling skyline were the definitive symbol of hell on earth. In neighbouring Iran, people have a different take on hell. Weaving through the congestion of Tabriz, a city of more than one million in the northwest of the country, Abbas, a taxi driver, says he lived in America for two years, then returned to Iran in 1997 following the election of reformist President Mohammad Khatami. But democracy never materialized under Khatami, and Iran's Muslim leaders continue to control virtually every facet of life. As it was in Saddam Hussein's Iraq, criticizing the leadership can lead to prison and execution. Now, Abbas hopes the American troops occupying Iraq will soon liberate Iran. "In America I learned the meaning of life," says Abbas. "Then I came back to hell"...

The situation is at its worst in the countryside. On the road to Kandovan, a village 50 km south of Tabriz, smooth asphalt gives way to pockmarked roads, and slums dominate the landscape. Many of the villagers still live in caves their ancestors dug out of volcanic rock centuries ago, and survive on meagre incomes derived from herding sheep or selling nuts and fruits. One villager, a father of two, says that 90 per cent of the people in Kandovan are looking forward to an American attack. "If it happens, we will not defend Iran," he says, seated on the carpeted floor of his two-room cave, its lime-green walls casting pastel reflections from a single light. "We have given too many martyrs for this country," he says. "For us, America is very good." Most of his neighbours detest the ruling clergy. "No mullahs here," says one herdsman wandering up the muddy alleyway to his own cave. "We don't want them"...

So far, the clergy have closed their ears to citizens' demands. Most refuse to acknowledge the economic crisis -- some even say the government is providing everything its citizens need. That suggestion brings an angry response. "If you're going to photograph the mullahs," says one photographer in Tabriz, "do it in black and white. That's how they see the world." Many Iranians hope that democracy in Iraq may make such a bleak picture considerably brighter.

Egypt, Salah Hemeid in Al-Ahram Weekly

U.S. President George W. Bush said ... that he would make good on his promise to bring stability to Iraq, and that Iraqis of all faiths and ethnic backgrounds could be assured of a voice in their new government...

Washington will have to face up to the harsh reality of Iraq's complex political and social landscape: as vanquisher of Saddam's regime, it aims to reconstruct the country, which entails staying around. As liberator, though, it must be responsive to Iraqi wishes.

What are the options? If U.S. forces leave Iraq abruptly, anarchy and chaos would reign. Stay too long, they will face an anti-imperialist backlash. Hold elections for a new government too fast, and an Iranian-style Islamist regime would probably come to power. Station an occupation force there, and national resistance would rear up.

Many analysts fear that Bush, who is touting his administration's efforts to sow the seeds of democracy in the rubble of Saddam's toppled dictatorship, will soon realise the difficulty of setting up a full-fledged democracy in Iraq and might, instead, opt to pave the way for another Iraqi strongman. Such a possibility should not be ruled out. After all, nation building can hardly be considered the United State's best export.

Philippines, Conrado de Quiros in Inq7

The relative ease with which Bush was able to conscript a whole nation with a fiercely libertarian tradition, a tradition jealously fought for at various times by John Quincy Adams, Mark Twain and Martin Luther King, to invade another country on the pretext that it had weapons of mass destruction ... must testify that many Americans know little about their nation's dealings with the world...

But the real tragedy ... goes even beyond this. The real tragedy here is that Filipinos themselves do not know, or refuse to know, their history with the United States ... There is virtually zero awareness of the Philippine-American War here in the Philippines ... Few know that up to 200,000 Filipinos were killed, many of them noncombatants, including boys as young as 10 years of age...

That the people of a conquering country will cling to its myths even when they are obdurately refuted by facts is bad enough. That the people of a conquered country will do so is the most unkindest cut of all. Other conquered countries at least remember their subjugation with bitterness and their struggles against it with pride. Most Filipinos do not, if indeed we remember at all. Most former colonies have since become friends with their colonizers, but only with the tacit contriteness of their former oppressors and their willingness to make up for what they did. We have become friends with our colonizer only with our open thankfulness for what they did and our willingness to have it done to us again and again. Only with us saying: We deserved to have been conquered. We were lucky to be conquered.

That's the text joke, not quite incidentally, a lot of Filipinos kept sending during the war in Iraq. Why doesn't the U.S. invade us so it can rebuild us?

It did.

Germany, Bernhard Zand in Der Spiegel

In the wake of the ouster of Saddam, the contours of a new order in the Middle East are becoming increasingly clear. The future regime in Baghdad is intended to replace unreliable Saudi Arabia as the U.S.' most important ally in the region. The oil industry is at the center of reconstruction efforts...

Just how important its intended restructuring of the Middle East is to the Bush administration was evident in the fact that the President sent two of his key cabinet secretaries to the Gulf at the same time: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, whom the Iraq campaign has elevated to the zenith of his power, and Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham.

Rumsfeld issued the surprising announcement that the United States would withdraw its 10,000 troops from Saudi Arabia this year, leaving only training units behind. In the future, the U.S. military's principal bases in the Gulf will be the Udeid air force base in the Emirate of Qatar and, if the victorious U.S. military has its way, four bases Washington plans to establish in Iraq...

For some time, large segments of the Saudi Arabian population have rejected the presence of non-Muslim American troops in the land of Islam's holiest sites. But what at first glance appears to be a strategic withdrawal designed to improve what have since become highly fragile relations between Riyadh and Washington also represents a threat to the Saudi royal family, which is highly unpopular among Saudi Islamists and Shiites. Economically speaking, the balance of power in the Gulf region could also shift away from Saudi Arabia...

"Only Iraq," says Fadhil Chalabi, an Iraqi expatriate and Director of the London Centre for Global Energy Studies who, like his cousin Ahmed Chalabi, has now returned to his homeland, "has the long-term capacity to free the global market from Saudi Arabian dominance."

Saudi Arabia, Wahib Binzagr in the Arab News

Last week proved to be highly eventful for Saudi Arabia and its citizens. The U.S. and Saudi Arabia made public their intentions of closing down Prince Sultan Base. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld said in Riyadh on Tuesday, "We intend to maintain a continuing and healthy relationship with Saudi." Richard Murphy, who served for the U.S. State Department in the Kingdom, said, "Our presence has become more of a burden than a benefit."

It would not be in the best interests of the U.S. to see its privileged trade and economic relationship with Saudi Arabia evaporate. There are numerous agreements for cooperation in cultural, environmental, agricultural and other fields...

Hopefully U.S. think tanks and Western media can get in touch with real events and handle them prudently...

Differences of opinions with friends are tactical rather than lethal. To them, closing bases is as comfortable as reopening them. Osama Bin Laden ordered them to be closed. Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz declared, loud and clear, at the press conference, that Saudi Arabia had not asked for it.

If U.S. think tanks and Western media run after Osama Bin Laden rather than listen to Rumsfeld and Sultan, it is their prerogative to misread realities. When matters begin to sink in, they will realize the big picture.

Nothing can be stated louder than the truth and nothing can be heard clearer than the truth itself. Renewal of U.S. -- Saudi relationships will create good investment opportunities. It brings maximum benefit in honest dealings. Differences between partners can only establish the truth. The on-time establishment of states in Palestine and Iraq, along with developed and progressive Gulf States free from foreign involvements, will assist in achieving economic development speedily and convert the dream of prosperity into reality.

Pakistan, M.J. Akbar in Dawn

The height of George Bush's power can be measured very easily, by the depth of Arab impotence. Bush is as potent as Arab governments are impotent. The two are directly related.

George Bush is a soft-target war-maker. He would never have brought America from the air to the ground without carefully measuring cost and consequence ... Critical to Bush's decision to invade Iraq was his analysis of the Arab world in general and Saddam Hussein in particular. He understood a few facts about the Arab world that are unarguable.

First, all pretence to Arab unity is a sham. If the Arabs do nothing about the merciless pounding of Palestinians, whose cause would be obvious to the blind, delivered daily and in full view of international media, then there is no likelihood of Arab governments working together to protect established states. This situation has been brought about because virtually every Arab country is either under an archaic regime that needs Western support to sustain itself, or is burdened by an oligarchy that has long outlived its utility, assuming that army regimes ever had any utility in a modern environment...

Given such welcome conditions, all that George Bush needed was an excuse, and he picked one up from the nearest trashcan, those famous weapons of mass destruction ... The war is over without any such weapons having been used; Saddam Hussein and his government have vanished (rather literally), and there is still no sight of any such weapon. Maybe the wags are right when they point out that the only weapon of mass destruction discovered during the war was called CNN. CNN did a very effective job in damaging the credibility of mass media.

There is said to be despair among Arabs at the sight of Marines giving orders from Saddam's palaces ... Despair is another term for self-pity. Introspection might be a more appropriate response.

George Bush's calculations have brought Iraq under the orders of a military regime headed by General Tommy Franks ... But his miscalculations may offer a significant opportunity for change beyond his comprehension...

Wars can be won in three or thirty days. The management of its consequences is a longer process...

The moment may be on the side of the victors, but time could be on the side of the defeated.

Nigeria, Bola A. Akinterinwa in This Day

How do we ... effectively balance the errors of big powers and terror of small individuals?

How do we prevent international terrorism? ... How do we bring about power parity in order to stabilise international politics?

The full responsibility for this lies squarely in the doorstep of the United Nations, which has not been able to play any major role in the Iraqi war. In fact, the war ... has raised questions about the future of the U.N. as a multilateral forum for conflict resolution.

For instance, the war points to likely emphasis on bilateralism and plurilateralism to the detriment of multilateralism within the U.N. system. In other words, rather than the adoption of a multilateral approach to resolution of conflicts, U.N. member states are likely to form bilateral alliances or plurilateral frameworks within the U.N. in the resolution of conflicts with or without the imprimatur of the U.N....

Besides, the U.N. has been weakened to the extent that it is the United States and its allies that now determine what roles should be set aside for the U.N. The war suggests that the U.N. may not be involved in future wars against international terrorism unless the U.N. accepts to dance to the whims and caprices of the U.S. and its allies. In the same vein, since a precedent has been set, any group of states can similarly boycott the U.N. and embark on its own national agenda.

Consequently, the U.N. will need to put the Bush doctrine on terrorism in context. The Americans are likely to continue to ignore the U.N. in their struggle against the axis-of-evil countries. The U.N. should be directly responsible for post-Iraqi war administration, especially the oil-for-food programme. It is by direct involvement in the management of Iraqi affairs, on the basis of neutrality and with honesty and fairness of purpose, that the U.N can be able to correct the error of U.S. military intervention in Iraq and prevent the use of terror against the interests of U.N. member states. The U.N. should be the fulcrum between the errors of the big powers and the terror of the weak ones if there is to be world peace and security.

Chile, David Gallagher in El Mercurio

Now is an important moment to show the United States that it has a constructive ally in the Southern Hemisphere ... Why so much passionate rejection from the Chilean left, given that few trampled over human rights like Saddam? In the United States, the intervention in Iraq is supported by an ample coalition: one that includes not only the neoconservatives, but also the "realists" like Kissinger and leftists who believe that pluralism is once again threatened in the world, that once again we find ourselves in an historic moment in which we must defend with arms the threats against liberty, as Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt all did...

There is no doubt that it would have been better to conduct the intervention with the support of the Security Council. What is debatable is who broke the faith, the raison d'être, in this key international moment: the United States or France. Whatever the case, Chirac has finally conceded that the fall of Saddam is a good thing -- a positive development, because the United States needs the understanding and support of the international community more than ever if it is to achieve its ambitious goal of creating a modern, democratic Iraq that will serve as an example for the region.

In this undertaking, the United States needs the proactive support of a country like Chile. We should offer as much of it as possible ... as much within the Security Council as in Iraq itself, where we'd be able to contribute diverse types of humanitarian aid, [and] would have the moral authority to influence the United States to carry out the reconstruction with imagination and sound judgment.

Above all, to influence the United States in accelerating the creation of a Palestinian state. With regard to this issue, Chile certainly has legitimate moral authority, given its large Palestinian population.

Now is the time to show the United States that it has a constructive ally in the Southern Hemisphere, one that understands what it means to risk the lives of North American soldiers in order to rebuild a Middle East that is more prosperous, more just, more peaceful and less dangerous. An ally that, furthermore, is capable and wants to help.

Russia, Sergei Karaganov in the Moscow Times

We could continue ad infinitum the unproductive discussions about why the apparently organized Iraqi defense crumbled so soon, or the completely futile debates about why we dislike the United States and its actions in Iraq...

Turning to Russia's performance, I won't beat around the bush: It was not great, but thank God, we managed to avoid disaster.

...Our intelligence services misled us -- or we deluded ourselves -- about Iraq's ability and readiness to resist attack.

...Russia's policy did not give the impression of being very well coordinated. At times we were clearly improvising and on occasions were clearly acting at cross-purposes...

We have scraped through this time -- largely thanks to the personal diplomacy of Presidents Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush, and the mission of former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov to Iraq to urge Saddam Hussein to step down and save his nation.

However, we have scraped through not as a result of systematic and coherent actions, but rather thanks to a series of unconnected steps that proved to be successful.

In an increasingly complex and hazardous world, such an approach sooner or later will doom us to failure and at the very least to squandering potential advantages.

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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