The world press on Iraq

Asia Times goes on the job with a Taliban recruiter; Gulf News calls Bush's surprise visit "sneaky and panicked."

By Compiled by Laura McClure
Published December 2, 2003 11:14PM (EST)

Hong Kong, Massoud Ansari in Asia Times

Abdul Zahir's day starts with morning visits to a number of mosques in the Pakistani border area with Afghanistan, where the faithful gather for the first of their five daily prayer sessions. And once his morning session is over, he goes to some of the many madrassas (religious schools) in the area, or shows up at social gatherings, such as weddings, if there are any taking place.

Abdul is unflagging in his rounds because he has an almost missionary zeal: to find recruits for jihad ... waged by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Himself blinded in one eye from action in Afghanistan, Abdul tells prospective recruits: "You might fight at the front line, or you might stand guard at night. You can cook for other Islamic warriors, or you can be a male nurse ... everything is welcome because the jihad has started." ...

In recent months the Taliban have become more brazen and open in their operations, and they are known to be within relatively easy contact by wireless sets or by satellite phones. "The Taliban also have radios and regularly listens to the BBC's Pashtu service to keep themselves abreast of the situation in the Muslim world, especially in Iraq."

Abdul says that he had been itching to join the Afghan jihad ever since the Taliban were driven from power in December 2001. But his Taliban superiors only told him in July that the jihad had resumed ...

Abdul says that he spent 40 days with his jihadis in Afghanistan, during which they had at least one major combat with an Afghan army patrol in the mountains of Zabul province. He then returned to Pakistan in mid-October "to regain some energy". "It is not easy to live in the mountains. You are at the verge of death every now and then. You survive only on plain bread, or at the most, yogurt milk," he says. "At the same time, you walk for miles every day on foot, it's very tiring."

Not that Abdul can put his feet up now. He has been tasked to round up more youths, for the battle continues until "we completely flush out the Americans and their proteges from Afghanistan. The Americans have robbed us of our right to live and now we are using our right to die."

United Kingdom, Phil Reeves and Rupert Cornwell in the Independent

The latest military deaths bring the number of troops to die in November in Iraq to 105 -- 79 American soldiers and 26 allied troops ... That figure includes 19 Italians blown up in Nasiriyah by a suicide truck bomber, and 17 American soldiers who died when two Black Hawk helicopters crashed in an incident that the U.S. military now say might have started with a missile strike. That is the largest monthly casualty total since the war began on March 20 -- a grim statistic that gives the lie to claims by the U.S. military that the guerrilla war is under control ...

[Casualties in the last 10 days of November:]

30 November: Two South Korean workers killed near Tikrit.

29 November: Seven Spanish intelligence officers killed and one wounded near Hillah; two Japanese diplomats and their Iraqi driver killed near Tikrit; two American soldiers killed near the Syrian border; one Colombian contractor killed and two wounded near Balad.

28 November: U.S. soldier killed when rebels shelled a military base in Mosul; a second US soldier died from gunshot wounds.

27 November: A U.S. soldier found dead in his barracks in Ramadi from a gunshot wound.

26 November: A U.S. soldier found dead in Mosul.

23 November: Five U.S. soldiers killed in three separate incidents. One died when his patrol vehicle rolled into a canal. Another from the 4th Infantry Division killed by an explosive device in Baqubah. Three killed in West Mosul.

22 November: Two U.S. soldiers from the 1st Armoured Division killed in a traffic accident near Baghdad airport.

21 November: Two U.S. soldiers killed. One from the 4th Infantry Division drowned when his vehicle rolled into a canal in Tikrit; another from the division is killed by an explosive device near Ghalibiyah.

20 November: Soldier from the 82nd Airborne Division killed in a bomb attack near Ramadi.

Canada, Alexandre Trudeau in Maclean's

On a dreary day, I arrive in Fallujah in search of the Americans. It is a scary place. Unlike other big towns in central Iraq, Americans are nowhere to be seen: no checkpoints, no compounds, no patrols. Local police are bunkered down behind sandbags, cement walls and barbed wire ...

The American base is several kilometres outside of the city, the barracks over 1,000 m inside the outer walls. At the gate, I wait for the appropriate official to take me in. It is cold. The boys at the gate are almost delirious. "Great place, isn't it?" they say, and laugh. "At least you're not in Fallujah being shot at," I tell them. One of them replies, "I'd rather be shot dead than stuck here."

Once I get inside, a friendly major tells me: "In Fallujah, we have decided to let the Iraqi authorities look after the town themselves." ...

The next big base up the Euphrates is in Ramadi, a town that is only slightly less tense than Fallujah.

Once again I am greeted cordially by the American soldiers. I eat pork chops for lunch in a huge mess hall. All eyes are focused on the big-screen television as the latest Michael Jackson drama unfolds. "Great! Now all of America is going to be stuck speculating about Michael Jackson's freaky sex life for the next six months," a soldier jokes. "It's better than hearing about us in this damn place," another replies ...

To see any real action, I fly farther up the river by helicopter. A tall young officer in surfer shades is along for the ride. "What do Canadians think of all this?" he asks as we are waiting to lift off. "I think most of us support the UN as the best chance we have for a more peaceful world and are a little suspicious of the American presence here," I respond ... He considers this and says, "A good part of my own family is Canadian from New Brunswick. I always have a lot of explaining to do when I see them." Before flying into the desert, we momentarily hover over the camp, taking in its full expanse: dozens of helicopters (menacing Apaches, Blackhawks and Chinooks), hundreds of Humvees, and thousands of men to run them all. The officer continues: "You know that I was the one to schedule the Chinook flight out of here -- the one that got shot down over Fallujah. Sixteen men died. They were on their way to Baghdad, going on leave. They were on their way out of here. I tell you we're the first ones to want peace so that we can get the hell out." He pauses. "I don't have all the answers. But answers or not, I have a job to do."

Nigeria, Pini Jason in theVanguard

As you read this, it is likely that an American or a Briton is being blown up in Iraq thanks to the swashbuckling, arrogant, pig-headed and war-mongering George Bush and his sidekick, Tony Blair. The world is in turmoil today because of Bush's belief that America's status as the sole global power means he can be the global dictator who goes about knocking a recalcitrant world into shape ...

There is no doubt that the entire world was outraged by the 9/11 terrorist bombings. The world is still outraged by the callousness of terrorists. Personally, I dread to enter a plane that could be used as a weapon of mass destruction, though I find the searches in American airports dehumanising. But part of the solution must be for America to ask itself, why are we so hated in some parts of the world? ...

George Bush and Tony Blair cannot set out on a vainglorious mission to subdue the world. They cannot defy the opinions of those who elected them into office in a wrong-headed attempt to wage a counter-productive war on global terrorism ... Global peace must be comprehensive. It must include peace in the Middle East, eradication of poverty and disease in Africa and globalisation of prosperity. America can achieve all these at half the cost of the current Bush war. It needs to engage the different cultures of the world in mutual respect and understanding. America needs a president who knows and understands the world.

United Arab Emirates, Abdul Hamid Ahmad in the Gulf News

The head of state of the strongest nation on earth will normally not make a sneaky and panicky visit to a country which is wholly occupied by his troops, unless he is terrified and unsure of his own safety. That was what U.S. President George W. Bush did when he sneaked into Baghdad to try and lift the morale of his soldiers there by sharing their celebrations on Thanksgiving Day as claimed by the U.S. administration ...

Bush is the second American president after the late Dwight Eisenhower to go to a country occupied by the U.S. forces. But there is a big difference between the two visits.

Bush made the trip under the cover of night and it was shrouded with secrecy and lying. Eisenhower visited his forces in Europe after World War II during daylight and it reflected victory and self-confidence.

Bush's panicky trip ... demonstrated only fear and, perhaps, defeat, despite his hollow assurances of victory to his soldiers ... although of course U.S. propaganda will propagate different results ...

The U.S. administration could have announced Bush's visit in advance and at the same time taken precautionary security measures. I can't see any contradiction in such a procedure given the United States' enormous military and intelligence might. With such a well prepared visit, Bush could have sent a strong message of self confidence and triumph to his demoralized forces in Iraq.

The sneaky trip under the cover of night produced just the opposite ... how can Bush's troops now trust their ability to stay in Iraq if their own president comes to them panicking under the cover of night?

Bush's lightning trip to Baghdad has actually hijacked his troops' self-confidence and could also have the same impact on the American people. These people are led by a government of lies and today it acquires two new characteristics -- fear and panic.

Lebanon, Abdulwahab Badrakhan in Al-Hayat

Had "governor" Paul Bremer and General Sanchez not appeared, it would have been possible to doubt that George Bush was actually in Baghdad. The TV recordings did not show any Iraqi personalities, despite the fact that some had attended the occasion.

Total secrecy. Landing in the dark ... Even the speech that Bush delivered, certify that American "victory" is pale ... What is important to Bush is that this image, for which he undertook the agony of the trip, is going to be beneficial in the elections campaign.

The visit was a political and media necessity. That is why Bush went along with it, knowing that the risks had risen ... President Bush went to Baghdad at a time when his assistants are trying to find exits out of it ...

Seekers of solutions for the current troubles are always hit with the reality that the facts in Iraq are beyond them. Even when they find solutions, they are hit with the fact that the American style in implementation shuns reality. There is much obsolete ideology in this administration's performance, which hinders all known American pragmatism. When pragmatism is employed to serve ideology, frivolity and sabotage become easy.

Perhaps the biggest failure of the Iraqi transitional ruling council is the fact that it has not become a fusion of the people's elements. It has proven to be a meeting place to confirm and deepen differences to an extent that the Americans would seem not liable should they deal with it. This council should have been a haven for political unity that could be counted on to reestablish the unified state ... Alas, Iraq today looks like an uncontrolled country, where no one in it wants to bear the responsibility of it remaining for its own people.

Qatar, article in Al-Jazeera

As the anguished residents of Samarra hugged each other in the streets following a massive U.S. bombardment that devastated their town, foreign visitors also prepared to bury their dead.

Two Iranian civilians making a visit to the city's al-Askariya shrine, one of the holiest for Shia Muslims, were killed in the carnage that followed an attack on U.S. forces, and nine others riding the same bus were hurt.

The question of why tourists were venturing into what is effectively still a war zone can only be answered by understanding the depth of their faith.

The modern town of Samarra ... is the site of two shrines sacred to the Shias, which make it a focal point for devotional journeys to Iraq from neighbouring Iran ...

Shias believe that the Messenger Muhammad left 12 rightful successors from his family line to follow in his role as political and spiritual leader of the Muslims.

Beneath the golden dome of one Samarra shrine are several graves of Prophet Muhammad's descendants, including those of Imam Ali bin Muhammad al-Hadi (the 10th imam) and his son, Imam al-Hasan al-Askari (the 11th).

When the latter died at the end of AD 873, at the age of 28, he left a five-year-old son called Muhammad as his designated successor.

To shield the young boy from his enemies, it is said he was hidden in the ice cellar beneath his father's house. By the start of the 13th century, the cave below the shrine in Samarra had become a place of great sanctity.

The "Hidden Imam" became known as the Imam al-Mahdi. He is believed by devout Shias to be the last of the original imams who will come again at the end of the world.

The second shrine has a dome marked by its delicate use of blue tiles, and beneath it is the cellar where the Imam is said to have disappeared.

The Shias believe that he never died, but rather left this material plane of being, and went on to a metaphysical level from where he will return to the world near the end of time, in order to inaugurate a new era for humankind.

Therefore, the designated site is of great significance to Shia Muslims, who will risk all to visit it even in a time of turmoil. Because of their devotion and due to bad timing, two Iranian devotees will not be returning home alive.

Japan, interview in Asahi

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on Sunday reiterated to reporters at his residence in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward his resolve not to bend to terrorism and to ensure the safety of Japanese sent to Iraq.

Question: What is your reaction to the killing of two Japanese diplomats?

Answer: It is extremely regrettable. Oku and Ito were both very capable and promising people who played indispensable and central roles in the reconstruction of Iraq. I am sorry. Why they had to do this -- I cannot but feel angry.

Q: What instructions have you issued?

A: The first thing is to confirm the facts as soon as possible. And to send condolences to the families and to do all that the government can do for the families in the future.

As a member of the international community, we cannot give way to terrorism. I have given clear instructions that there is no change in Japan's commitment to provide humanitarian aid to Iraq and its reconstruction ...

The Japanese government has said that members of the SDF, civilians and government employees will do what they should do for reconstruction work and humanitarian aid, and there is no change to that stand. We will thoroughly confirm safety situations and reconfirm safety measures.

Q: Has safety been secured?

A: There are places where we can do that and where we cannot ...

Q: What about cooperation with the U.S. military?

A: We will cooperate. We will closely cooperate with military units of various nations.

Q: When will you decide (about sending the SDF)?

A: I have not changed my stand that I will (decide) after taking into full account the timing.

Compiled by Laura McClure

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