The world press on postwar Iraq

Saddam's last man in Tikrit talks to the German press about losing the war. Plus commentary from Japan, Canada, Egypt, Hong Kong and the U.K.

Published May 12, 2003 9:20PM (EDT)

United Kingdom, Matthew Price in BBC News

There's a man standing still among the chaos of the accident and emergency department.

He is naked. His back turned towards me. His face looking down at the floor, though I doubt he can see anything.

His arms are raised away from his body so the doctor can smooth cream onto his torso. When the doctor is finished, he is gently lowered onto the hospital bed.

And there he lies. His face yellow, his legs red raw where the skin has been burnt off. Slowly dying.

There are many others like him in the emergency department at Saddam Medical City. All brought in following an explosion at a petrol station.

A woman screams through her tears: "Saddam and Bush are bastards," she shouts at me. "They killed our men."

There is enough painkiller in the hospital to give just four more injections. There is no fluid to sterilise equipment. Too few staff to look after patients.

There are no communications -- no one co-ordinating the response to this disaster across the city. When the electricity fails there is even less the doctors can do.

One of them came up to me as the patients' moans echoed around the darkness.

"You see what we are up against? You see it now?" All I can see is a woman trying to fan her son with a hospital x-ray...

Like most things in Iraq the health service is getting worse...

In a single hour, Dr Ahmed told me, he had seen 15 people come in with bullet injuries. Like the little boy, six-years-old, shot in the stomach. By a five-year-old who'd found a gun.

Guns have become a part of life since the fall of Saddam. There's no government to enforce the law, so people are arming themselves.

Every night at about 2330 I listen to the shots ringing out across the city. Anyone who says peace has come to Iraq has clearly not been here lately.

Hong Kong, Paul Belden in Asia Times

Ruth was a peace activist, but the label didn't fit her as she had one of the most gratingly unpeaceful personalities I had encountered in Baghdad (which is saying something) ... When I sidled up she was giving [a] soldier hell for the fact that his compatriots had lately been out on the street beating people up.

It was true -- I had seen what she was talking about myself. Probably every journalist had. Especially after dark, when the scene around most checkpoints in Baghdad brought to mind the parking lot of a Deep South Harley bar at closing time: a drunken fermenting brew of lawmen, outlaws, guns and alcohol, with the threat of violence always simmering just below the surface, and sometimes above it, too.

Just the night before, in fact, I had been returning to the hotel late and half-soused, and as I passed through a checkpoint I saw a beefy soldier shove a stick-thin Iraqi halfway across the Shari al-Saadoun. Just put his hand on the man's chest and threw him across the road like a shotput, so that he skidded when he landed.

The Iraqi had been one of a crowd of about 20 standing there, half-soused themselves, clamoring to be allowed past the checkpoint, and the man picked himself up and, swaying a bit, made as if he was going after the soldier. The soldier put his gun down and his dukes up and shouted, "Come on, then!" But the Iraqi's friends held him back.

Good thing none of them were armed...

The soldier, meanwhile, was arguing right back. "What do you want me to do?" he yelled. "You think I like being here? What do you know about it anyway? Have you ever seen combat? Some of those people would kill us without even thinking about it!"

I'm sure he was right. But it was still the wrong answer, since it just gave Lisa, the activist hemming the soldier in from the other side, an opening to twist the knife, which she immediately did...

Affiliated with the Christian Peacemaking Team, a Mennonite organization based in Winnipeg that for some reason sees fit to send Canadian pacifists into the world's most dangerous places, Lisa ... stepped in and gently reminded my soldier, with preternatural, infuriating, calculated calmness, that he must always remember "that you are a guest in this country, and you should behave like one."

Germany, Ullrich Fichtner in Der Spiegel

Abu Mush (name changed by Der Spiegel staff) was Saddam's last man in Tikrit. He knows the story of the American victory, the victory that should have been the Iraqis'. "That's how it was," he says. Then he takes a fresh "Pine" from a blue pack of cigarettes, lights a match, and tells his story...

It is April 6, and Tikrit is already half-empty and becoming even emptier ... Abu Mush's company consists of 270 men under the command of 30 officers. The unit has seven 57-millimeter anti-aircraft guns, six Soviet BTR-260 armored personnel carriers, six old heavy artillery guns, 300 AK-37 assault rifles, Jeeps, and one ambulance. Three such companies have been designated to defend Tikrit, the home town of both Saddam and Saladin. 900 men against America...

One after another, the bombs strike the offices of the intelligence services, the police headquarters, the offices of the state security agency, the Tikrit Hotel with its Corinthian columns, the central telephone switching station, the main wing of the Saddam Museum, the military academy. They strike barracks, military facilities, individual air defense positions.

But they don't strike Abu Mush. During a six-hour wave of attacks, his company is spared. Not a single bomb or Tomahawk missile finds its way to these 300 members of the Republican Guard.

"We never saw our enemy," says Abu Mush, as if he were still searching ... "It was a war without an enemy."

The company of the Republican Guard melts ... it has been reduced to a dozen men, then ten, and then eight. Abu Mush gives up trying to convince them to stay. Game over.

"It was no longer the hour of bravery," says Abu Mush. He swats flies from his face and orders a cousin to refill his guests' glasses with cold water. "There was nothing left to defend," he says, after spending three hours telling his story in the dim living room, "and all that was left was something we could lose, right?"

Egypt, Judit Neurink in Al-Ahram Weekly

In a city devoid of law and order, one gun shop owner, while disliking the former leader, wishes for the return of Saddam saying he, at least, managed to obtain law and order.

Cries of "You fool" greet this exclamation, continuing with "Saddam was the biggest thief of them all!"

Not everybody is so openly critical, out of fear of the former regime -- which not all believe has really disappeared ... And they have every reason to be fearful, according to Professor Riad Al-Assadi.

Al-Assadi is a professor of international politics at the University of Basra, and he received threats on his life after openly opposing Saddam Hussein and his regime at a meeting last week.

The threats were made via postcards, which he received a day after the meeting, and which he takes quite seriously.

"Saddam's military and Ba'ath members have gone underground and are still working for him," he maintains, which is why he insists on the coalition taking control of policing tasks, as is required of an occupation force according to the Geneva Conventions.

But not only the lack of security is driving Basra citizens to the brink of despair. Drivers waiting for hours in a queue at the only functioning petrol station almost explode with anger as it shuts up shop for the night.

"I have to take my sick child to a doctor," shouts one angry man. "How can this happen in a country which has so much oil?" retorts another. Guns then appeared, and the near-explosive situation is defused with the appearance of British tanks.

Despair has taken hold because people have run out of money; what little they had is now gone. No salaries have been paid for two months and many people have been condemned to the ranks of the unemployed after the looting of their place of employment, be it bank, shop or government office. Worry about the immediate future abounds, and for those who have been paid, there are additional problems. Professor Al-Assadi was paid last week, but in 15,000-dinar bank notes, which no shopkeeper will accept. These notes have been forged in the past and none of the banks in Basra are open for business. This money is effectively worthless.

"It is such a mess," he sighs.

Canada, Rami G. Khouri in Macleans

If modern political power-sharing arrangements can be agreed on that give voice to all parties, protect minority rights and fairly reflect real power balances (i.e., that Shias are an absolute majority in Iraq), the country has a very good chance of making the transition to a credible democracy. If Iraqis are given the freedom to work out their own system of governance, they are likely to come up with a model that could also spark movement toward greater democracy in other Arab countries. This is the stated Anglo-American aim -- and it should not be ruled out as a possible eventuality.

The more widespread fears are that the U.S. is likely to repeat the same cruel mistakes the British made early in the 20th century -- importing their preferred Iraqi leaders, imposing an alien governance system, marginalizing powerful indigenous religious, tribal and ethnic groups and eventually leaving the land in the hands of local generals after generating a large amount of material destruction and political resentment.

This is why so many people in the Middle East resist American plans to reshape the politics of the Arab world. We are again haunted by historical ghosts from 1915-1922, when British and French armies brazenly rearranged our region into strangely shaped countries with Euro-made power structures ... The consequences have been catastrophic: nearly a century of chronic wars and insurrections, underachieving economies and autocratic Arab governments.

Unlike 1920, people of the Middle East today are aware of what the future might hold. But they remain powerless to do anything about it. Most Arabs are numb with disbelief as they watch further displays of pan-Arab weaknesses, failures, vulnerabilities and defeats, this time with the presence of hundreds of thousands of American troops occupying and reshaping what was once one of the strongest Arab countries. The cumulative mass degradation and dehumanization that much of the Arab world feels is likely to result in some sort of political reaction, but it may be years before that reaction is clear. The best hope is that mass discontent will be channelled into efforts to promote more coherent, democratic and responsive governments as a younger generation of educated Arab men and women demands a better life with stability and progress. Most Arabs desperately want change, reform, democracy, prosperity and modernity, but few believe this will come through the barrels of Western guns.

Japan, Editorial in Asahi Shimbun

Cooperation is essential for this long, costly job.

A month after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, U.S. President George W. Bush declared the end of combat operations in Iraq. But anarchy and confusion continue....

If only to restore order, an interim governing authority, led by Iraqis, must be established quickly.

The Pentagon's new Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance in Iraq has started working on humanitarian relief, infrastructure restoration and, possibly within this month, formation of an interim governing authority, working with various pro-American Iraqi groups.

But there is no reason for optimism. There is considerable apprehension about any process led by the U.S. military, and there are leadership struggles among Iraq's various tribes and sects.

No interim authority can function properly without broad cooperation from the Shiites, the Muslims long oppressed by Saddam Hussein's regime...

It is also important to have quick resumption of the United Nations humanitarian aid program, which was once the principal source of livelihood for the people of Iraq.

Shipments of food and medical supplies continue to arrive at Iraqi airports and ports, but local distribution centers are still closed. Humanitarian assistance by American and British troops operate only in the big cities. For nationwide assistance, it is imperative to have the experienced U.N. agencies and nongovernmental organizations back on the job quickly.

For the past month, the United States has forging ahead in leading Iraq's reconstruction. But even Senator Richard Lugar, a Republican who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, admits it will be five years before Iraq has a functioning and truly democratic government.

This process will require huge sums of money and tremendous effort. Without international cooperation at this early stage, future burden-sharing will be difficult.

By Compiled by Laura McClure

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