The world press on Afghanistan and Iraq

A Taliban fighter boasts about how his comrades beat the Afghan TV minister "like a dog."

Published August 26, 2003 8:26PM (EDT)

Hong Kong, Syed Saleem Shahzad in Asia Times

Syed Saleem Shahzad interviews a Taliban fighter:

Azmatullah is tall, slim, down-to-earth and soft-spoken, in his mid-twenties, and at first glance he does not look anything like a guerrilla fighter. He is a first cousin of Mullah Razzak's, and his lieutenant [sic] in the resistance movement.

The Taliban's army was destroyed during the U.S. invasion. It is a matter of record that thousands were killed and thousands were arrested. How has the Taliban managed to regroup?

The Taliban are very much alive and everywhere ... In our land, everybody is Taliban, and from them new teams can be drawn...

This is what you say. Here in Chaman I have met several Kandaharis who say that they have not seen the Taliban for a long time.

You please go to Kandahar and visit the minister for television and radio who was very recently admitted to a local hospital. You know why he was beaten up? The local TV station televised an English-language movie. As a reaction, a commander of the Afghan militia, Mohammed Naeem, entered his office and beat him like a dog until he apologized and said that he would never televise an English movie again. Now tell me, who are these people among them [the militia], Taliban or non-Taliban?

What is the source of the Taliban's financing? Where do you get your money to fight?

From U.S. dollars from the U.S. authorities! ... You know that they distribute dollars to the tribal chiefs, local administrators and other concerned people for welfare projects. What is your opinion of where it goes? Not every penny, but most goes into Taliban pockets to refuel their struggle ... I tell you, we belong to our people. We belong to this land. It is simple that we go out of our homes to attack them, and when we are chased we simply go back to our homes and our people simply say that "we don't know any Talib".

Where is Osama bin Laden?

Even our senior leaders do not know where he is ... He is alive because through his representative his letters are delivered, which shows that he is healthy, but we do not know where he is and how he is surviving...

Why you are fighting for the Taliban and how much you are paid?

My friend, except of this cloth I am wearing, I receive nothing in return for fighting for the Taliban. I fight because of Allah, the Almighty, and all of us Taliban are inspired by the same theme. On both sides of the divide [Afghanistan-Pakistan border], people are with the Taliban.

Canada, Eric Hoskins in Maclean's

Like many in the [humanitarian] aid community, I was saddened to learn of last week's bombing in Baghdad. At least 24 people, most of them U.N. aid workers, died when a flatbed truck filled with explosives slammed into the U.N. headquarters at the Canal Hotel. Over the years, I, like others who have worked in Iraq, have spent countless hours in the Canal, coordinating aid efforts with UN officials...

Despite frequent visits to Iraq since 1991, I have only recently felt that my efforts to help those in greatest need had turned me into a moving target. During my latest visit in July, an international aid worker was killed and a grenade was tossed into the front yard of an aid agency's compound. At a briefing, the U.S. military advised us to avoid driving over pop cans or even paper bags, as they were likely to be "improvised explosive devices"...

Such horrendous security conditions in Iraq make it virtually impossible for aid workers to get around, and where you lay your head at night, or which meetings you choose to attend, can feel like a terrifying game of Russian roulette ... The line between humanitarian actors and military targets has all but been erased, and the notion of aid agencies operating in a neutral and safe "humanitarian space" is rapidly becoming the stuff of legends.

In Iraq, as in many recent conflicts around the world including Kosovo and Afghanistan, it has become increasingly difficult for aid agencies to clearly separate themselves from the military in the administration of humanitarian assistance ... When armies that wage war also escort aid convoys, distribute food and water, rehabilitate schools and establish refugee camps, it is nearly impossible for aid workers to distinguish themselves from the military apparatus. To an armed insurgent, anyone handing out a food packet could be a soldier. And aid workers are paying the price in larger numbers than ever before...

So aid agencies in Iraq have gone to great lengths to disassociate themselves from the U.S. armed forces. Two days before last week's bombing, the Non-governmental Organizations Coordination Committee in Iraq, a coalition of some 100 international and Iraqi charities, e-mailed its members a recommended code of conduct. This includes no socializing with members of the armed forces, no travelling in military vehicles except in emergencies, no soldiers on aid agency premises, no carrying weapons, and so on. Some international aid agencies, including Oxfam, have refused to receive any funding for their Iraq operations from governments involved in the war in Iraq. But it is a distinction wasted on those wishing to further destabilize the country.

Nigeria, Tunde Obadina in the Vanguard

Many people wonder why the United States is prepared to commit hundreds of thousands of soldiers and spend billions of dollars on regime change in Iraq, while reluctant to commit huge resources to rescuing Liberia from political anarchy. The answer probably lies in the fundamental difference between the problems posed by the two countries -- or more precisely, types of states. Saddam Hussein's Iraq, as with today's Iran, Syria and North Korea, was a rogue state that was seen as a security threat and challenge to western capitalist civilization, while Liberia, as with other war-torn African countries like Sierra Leone and Congo, is a failed state...

The rogue states that President George Bush called the 'axis of evil' have properly functioning state structures and institutions -- they are a problem to the West because they uphold ideologies that make them hostile to western civilization. The 11th September 2001 terrorist attacks against Washington and New York were a wakeup call to American foreign policy makers that it was no longer sufficient to try to contain hostile regimes -- they must be annihilated. This is not to be achieved simply by regime change but by the cultural-economic transformation of the societies of the rogue states -- in other words acculturalization -- i.e. making the people share your institutions, values and world view.

America, and the West in general, is driven by self-preservation in seeking to modernize and acculturalize rogue states, especially those underpinned by a civilization that is counter-distinct to capitalism... Call it cultural imperialism, but even if you don't agree with the strategy, there is logic in the argument that world peace is easier maintained when everyone shares the same fundamental values and cultural differences are more in style than essence. America wants to create in Iraq a modern western-type society that will be the envy of other mediaeval Middle Eastern societies. It wants to turn Iraq into a base for spreading western/modern civilization in the region ... in contrast to the rogue states there are the failed and failing states of Africa. The leaders of these [African] countries are not hostile to western civilization, indeed they love it.

United Kingdom, Robert Fisk in the Independent

The soldiers of Britain's forgotten armies of Iraq lie beneath the dirt and garbage of Basra's official war cemetery, almost 3,000 of them, their gravestones scattered and smashed, the memorial book long looted from the entrance, even the names of the dead stripped from the screen wall.

Only by prowling through the dust and litter can you find a clue to some of the great ironies of recent Mesopotamian history. Here lies Sapper GW Curry of the Royal Engineers, for example, who was 31 when he died on May 5, 1943...

Not far away is the stone erected in memory of Aircraftman 1st Class KG Levett of the RAF, who died on Oct. 31 1942. Still visible at the bottom is the inscription: "We shall meet again in a happier place. Mum."

The ruined Indian Army cemetery opposite contains an unknown number of bodies whose numbers and names were -- to the shame of the British Empire for which they died -- never recorded. But if the great British and Indian cemeteries at Basra are a disgrace, their fate was probably inevitable. They came under sustained shellfire during the eight-year war that followed Saddam Hussein's insane 1980 invasion of Iran, and looters stripped the place of brass and stones in the aftermath of the Shiite revolt against Saddam in 1991. The Iraqi son of the old caretaker told me that his father was, for many years, too frightened to enter the graveyard.

Yet here lie the bones -- both literal and historical -- of imperial adventures that have much in common with our most recent invasion of Iraq.

The British cemetery contains 2,551 burials, 74 of them unidentified, of soldiers who stormed ashore in Basra in 1914 at the start of a British-Indian campaign that eventually captured all of Iraq from the Ottoman Turks.

Egypt, Amr Shalakany in Al-Ahram Weekly

Amr Shalakany interviews Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress (INC):

How would you describe the reaction in Iraq to the American invasion?

We have won. The Iraqi people have won.

But at the price of your being used as a tool of American foreign policy?

Saddam is gone. This is, I think, excellent from the point of view of Iraqis. We've persuaded the United States to come and help us liberate Iraq. They sent hundreds of thousands of troops to achieve that purpose. For the U.S. to do this is a major achievement ... For those saying we were used as a tool of American foreign policy, I ask you: who used who?

So if the invasion was so popular in Iraq, why is the security situation still so bad?

American forces in Iraq have overwhelming military superiority. But they are not responsive, they're very restrained in responding to provocations. They've not used heavy firepower or airpower ... The way to maintain security is to transfer responsibility to Iraqis themselves ... Iraqis are not a vanquished people. They've been fighting Saddam for many years. They feel they are victorious, they have won. People who have won are not compliant with orders which are contrary to what they expected.

What about Iraq's future foreign policy, its relations with the Arab world and its non-Arab neighbors?

Iraq now, as a state, is out of the club of Arab rulers ... The republicans, the totalitarians, the kings, the princes, all of them form a club. It's a club that meets at Arab summits. Sometimes they use each other, their ministries of interior cooperate with each other. Iraq is out of this club now. The Arab rulers really don't know what will emerge in Iraq. This is a worrying situation for Arab leaders...

How would you describe your relations with the Americans in Iraq today?

We meet with them, we discuss things with them, we debate with them, we disagree with them. Our main disagreement with them is this: We think there should be no [time] gap in the sovereignty of Iraqis over Iraq. We think that there should be an Iraqi security force charged with keeping security in Iraq.

What about Paul Bremer [U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq]? Is the situation better in Iraq now that he's taken over from his American predecessor?

What the U.S. has done in Iraq -- really what Bremer has done -- from my point of view, is a major, major achievement. First, he dissolved the Ba'th Party, he declared de- Ba'thification. He dissolved all the secret security services, and he abolished the Ministry of Information. Those things are enough for me to say Bremer has done great things in Iraq.

Germany, Article in Der Spiegel

On the outskirts of Saddam's hometown of Tikrit, a black GI named Williams is dying on the pavement. A fellow soldier holds his head in his lap and strokes his terrified face in an attempt to calm him down. An American truck loaded with pallets of drinking water has collided with an Iraqi fuel truck. Was it an accident or another attack?

U.S. soldiers with loaded machine guns bark at passersby: "Move, move!" The faces of the Iraqis on the side of the road glow with barely concealed delight.

But the Americans are especially unpopular in Tikrit. This is probably a consequence of their constant house searches and the ridiculous commotion they made on August 8, when a group of apparently panicked soldiers shot and killed three people and severely injured half a dozen others in the city's weekly market.

"This hatred of the Americans is constantly increasing," says Heide Feldmann, a German woman who has headed the Baghdad office of the aid organization "Help" for the past three months. According to her, the Americans have only themselves to blame for at least a good portion of the Iraqis' resentment, "because they behave too much like occupiers and treat people like children, instead of returning responsibility to the Iraqis."

That's a polite way of putting it. It certainly doesn't adequately describe those US soldiers who behave like kings in restaurants and walk to the restroom with pistols drawn...

Aside from terrorists, religious fanatics also present a daily challenge to the U.S. occupying forces, and this does not bode well for the noble democratization plans of Washington's strategists. Agitated Muslims have set on fire two breweries in Baakuba northeast of Baghdad, murdered owners of liquor stores in Basra, and threatened to kill owners of movie theaters. In some parts of Baghdad, imams are demanding that women wear "chaste clothing" and no makeup. In the Shiite city of Kerbela, they're attempting to bar women from driving. In many places, images of Iranian revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini have been pasted over posters of Saddam...

Saddam's cousin, 60-year-old Sheikh Mahmud Nida Hussein, who complains that Saddam had long since stopped listening to advice, now believes that Iraq is a country "where nothing is valid or true anymore." The tribal leader sits alone under the arched ceiling of the reception hall in his mansion in Saddam's birthplace, the town of Audja near Tikrit ... "The worst thing about the defeat is the humiliation," says the morose Hussein, a chain-smoker, "but the Americans will suffer greatly here -- and so will Iraqis."

By Compiled by Laura McClure

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