What they're saying

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Excerpts from newspapers throughout the world, from the Associated Press.

Aug. 24

Daily Telegraph, London, on Iraq's constitution:

When Britain ruled Iraq in the 1920s, there were problems, just as now, in bringing all the ethnic and religious groupings in to the political process. At that time it was the Shia Muslims who were left outside -- not least because their religious leaders refused to meet face-to-face with Gertrude Bell, the woman who put modern Iraq together. ...

She had little time for the Shia ayatollahs. "They sit in an atmosphere which reeks of antiquity and is so thick with the dust of ages that you can't see through it -- nor can they."

Britain's solution to sweeping away the dust of antiquity was to call in a foreign king from the Hashemite dynasty, whose family ruled until they were massacred in 1958.

This being a new century, and the Americans being in charge of Iraq now, Washington's solution is a constitution, modeled on the U.S. document that has for more than 200 years set the powers of the states and the central government.

That constitutional process is now in crisis. Far from being the magic lamp that would legitimize leaders installed by American and British bayonets, the constitution is a source of massive discord. Sunni leaders - whose community lost power when Saddam was deposed - say the latest draft will provoke civil war if the Shia majority and the Kurds force it through. The Kurds -- who have enjoyed self-rule under the protection of the U.S. Air Force for more than a decade -- are threatening to split Iraq unless their autonomy is enshrined in a federal constitution. Not to be outdone, some Shia factions want autonomy in southern Iraq, giving them control of its oil resources. ...

The mere fact that the politicians are still talking -- albeit behind the protection of American guns -- is a sign of hope. The insurgents have no clear plan for Iraq; only the negotiations among Iraqi politicians provide a semblance of a plan for the future. ...

So many mistakes have been made that success -- the installation of a functioning secular democracy -- is out of the question. But we owe it to the Iraqis not to hand them over to the new crop of warlords. What we started we must try to finish.

Aug. 24

La Stampa, Turin, Italy, on the Israeli pullout from Gaza:

The Israeli pullout from Gaza ... has been a great democratic event. Everybody expected some clashes, even the most violent ones. The people of the Gush Katif bloc, who lost everything and had nothing in return, especially those who believed in the holiness of their mission, could have lost their minds, or attacked and used their weapons.

But besides a few exceptions, we saw soldiers and settlers talking. ... It was the most extreme form of dialogue, but still an exchange of values between different cultures respecting each other. The settlers' sacrifice has been fulfilled without violence. ...

The Israeli society is certainly split in two and it is suffering: to give some sense to all of this, the Palestinian leadership would need to acknowledge its part of responsibility. \Mahmoud Abbas' phone call to Sharon is a brave act, but the key now is to fight against terrorism.

Aug. 23

Verdens Gang, Oslo, Norway, on Jewish settlers in Gaza Strip:

Maybe it was right, what a Jewish settler shouted as he resisted Israeli soldiers on the Gaza strip: Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is out to get the Nobel Peace Prize.

In any case, the evacuation of Gaza went much better than expected, despite dramatic TV footage. ...

Who would have thought Sharon, known as the father of the settlements, would have put in thousands of troops and police to remove nearly 9,000 Jewish settlers from occupied Palestinian areas?

We strongly doubt that the old warrior Ariel Sharon has become a dove of peace. It was more likely the act of the military and political strategist. It was too expensive, politically and economically, to maintain the occupation.

But it was courageous of the prime minister, who has met strong opposition from the right wing of his own party. The evacuation created a historic chance, there can be new movement in the peace process.

But that requires continued pressure from the international community, first and foremost the United States, to ensure that the withdrawal from Gaza is not the first and the last.

Aug. 24

Aftonbladet, Stockholm,

Sweden, on Iraq:

The U.S.A. has certainly achieved economic control over Iraq, but is in risk of losing political influence. The Shiite majority is resting on two political parties, more or less allied with Iran. The religious leader (Grand Ayatollah Ali) al-Sistani is literally Iranian. An Iranian intelligence chief tells the New York Review of Books: "Throughout Iraq, the people we support are in power."

According to American news agencies, the Shiites have had the following written into the proposed constitution: No law can be contradictory to Islamic norms. Islam is the main source for the laws.

The Iraq war could lead to a massively increased Iranian and fundamentalist power -- as well as a political-religious power that may soon be equipped with weapons of mass destruction.

The political irony could not be darker than that.