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The International Press on the War in Iraq

So It Begins

Comment and analysis from Lisbon, Manila, Kampala, Beijing, Beirut, Tel Aviv, Istanbul, Edinburgh, Abidjan, Tokyo, Lima, Rotterdam, Lusaka, Cairo, Sydney, Jidda, London, Glasgow, Port of Spain, and Bogotá

The Iraqi Planning Ministry is destroyed
The Iraqi planning ministry in Baghdad is hit by a U.S. missile, March 20, 2003 (Photo: Ramzi Haidar/AFP).
Lisbon
Diario de Noticias (independent), March 20: Today...is a day that calls for great internal reflection, a great deal of faith in our democratic political systems, and the conviction that what we all want is to live in a better world. Today, for reasons beyond each one of us, no matter what our religion, we must also stop to think and send a prayer to all of those who are suffering, and who will suffer, the consequences of military conflict: be they innocent Iraqi civilians or allied soldiers. By this time, no one with good sense will be able to fool herself into believing that it was easy to reach this point. No, those who finally had to make this decision understood the weight and the responsibility of unleashing the most horrible of all things...their decision will be subject to the final judgment of the citizens. This is the irreplaceable right citizens hold in any democracy. Unfortunately, Saddam Hussein, who had all the time and opportunity to avoid this war, was not subject to the same norms of accountability. It is also because the Iraqi citizens were not able to choose their government freely that we arrived at this moment. Let us hope that it passes very quickly and that God spares and protects the innocent.
—Luís Delgado

Manila The Manila Times (pro-government), March 21: The immediate outcome of the U.S. assault on Iraq is pretty certain. U.S.-led forces will steamroll the opposition with superior technology and better-trained soldiers. Victory is almost certain even if Saddam decides to use biological and chemical weapons against the invading force. At best, it will stall his eventual defeat and at worst, it will result in thousands of casualties, ironically not among the enemy but most likely among the Iraqi civilians unprotected from such lethal weapons. What is uncertain, though, is the likely shape of geopolitics in the Middle East and the future of the United Nations, whose reputation for settling international disputes has been tarnished by the unilateral action of the United States. Surely the invasion will provoke violent reactions from Muslim fundamentalists, not only in the Middle East, but elsewhere in the Islamic world. Once this happens, Osama bin Laden has ample reason to rejoice.

Kampala New Vision (government-owned), March 20: Today could mark a turning point in world history….The war will have dire consequences for the whole world. But most significant will be that in the quest of disarming Iraq, the United States will have disabled the United Nations, rendering it irrelevant. So it will go down in history that the United States, a country ruled by strong democratic principles—the sanctuary of freedoms, justice, and liberty—contradicted its own values. It attacked a sovereign state without a popular U.N. mandate. Worse still, it did not respect the millions who demonstrated against the war throughout the world. Today the world witnesses the birth of global dictatorship.

Beijing Renmin Ribao (government-owned), March 20: Mark the day: March 20, 2003. History will record it as the day when bombs, instead of international laws, baldly became the most important factor in regional and world conflicts. It was a day when the U.S. bombing of Iraq began. It set a precedent that a country could, at will, go to war, flying in the face of the international community, which, for the most part, wanted to continue to pursue a peaceful solution….This war is not only about Iraq. It should be stopped immediately.

Beirut An-Nahar (independent), March 20: Today we enter a new Arab age that begins with a foreign occupying power entering an Arab country. Granted the ruler of this country failed to preserve his people, thereby causing his country to fall long before the foreign occupation came into the picture.…We are entering a new Arab-Israeli era that will change the map of the entire region as we know it…reconstructing it in such a way that serves Israel’s current needs. These needs apparently now transcend the geographical boundaries of Palestine into the region of the Fertile Crescent to the east. The Israeli era took flight the moment the Arabs failed in their military war and failed in their battle for development.

Tel Aviv Ha’aretz (liberal), March 21: This war will not only change the world order, but trigger an earthquake in this region. A red line will be drawn between the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” Those who harbor terror will be forced to decide where they stand. Terrorist breeding grounds will be fumigated. But above all, as a prerequisite for continuing the war on terror, the United States, joined by its new allies and Islamic countries with a U.S. connection, will want to dry up the dangerous swamps in this region. Our conflict, in which the Islamic suicide bomber was born, sits high on that list.

Istanbul Turkiye (Islamist-nationalist), March 20: Turkey considered a mass deployment of U.S. soldiers in Diyarbakir an awkward matter: an understandable concern. But the United States should have been given the word months ago. Keeping the United States waiting was both dangerous and improper. Today Washington is fuming at two states: Turkey and France. What a diplomatic coup! Ankara’s interpretation is unclear because everybody is saying something different. But it’s obvious that Washington no longer considers us a strategic ally. We’ve completely lost our credibility. This is a crushing defeat for Turkish foreign policy. We can only redeem our losses through great effort. Our ability to be considered among the 30 allied countries supporting the Iraq operation depends on our having at least authorized U.S. jet overflights.

Edinburgh The Scotsman (independent) March 20: No one doubts that [the war in Iraq] is potentially the most serious international armed clash to break out since Vietnam 40 years ago. More serious than the first Gulf War because it has split the United Nations and NATO, made a bonfire of any pretension of a common E.U. foreign policy, and provoked widespread public opposition across the globe. More serious than the Falklands crisis because it has left the prime minister alienated from much of his party and the rest of the country. Yet, despite these grave omens, the war against Saddam Hussein’s cruel regime in Iraq is justified. In these first hours of battle, it is worth reminding ourselves of the case for armed intervention in Iraq….Many still oppose this war for noble and understandable reasons. But on balance, this is a just war fought for the right reasons. If so, the overthrow of the tyrant in Baghdad allows the world a new beginning. And that is why it is worth the risk.

Abidjan Fraternité Matin (government-owned), March 20: Bush seems to be a dictator.…Does Washington really believe that this violation of what is left of “the international order” is likely to protect American interests and make American territory “inviolable?”

Tokyo Asahi Shimbun (centrist), March 20: Having failed to win the support of the international community, the United States is rushing into war unilaterally. The authority of the United Nations, which has served as the foundation of the post-World War II global order, has been bruised like never before….There is no question that Saddam Hussein, because of his stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction, is to blame for this mess. He has no support from the international community. In the spirit of earnest prayer, we beg him once again to step down. At this point, this is the only realistic option left to save the lives of Iraqi citizens. Even then, we cannot possibly condone Bush’s ultimatum for Saddam Hussein to go into exile or face the furor of U.S.-led military forces. We repeat: There is no reasonable justification for this war.

Bogotá Cambio (liberal magazine), March 20: It remains to be seen how the new international order, its institutions, and the world’s political regrouping will end up after the war. Iraq will not be the only devastated land. The U.N. system will definitely end up moribund, and its organisms will have hardly any impact in the future.

Lima Correo (conservative), March 20: A year ago we were told that Iraq had to be destroyed because it supported and contributed to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The argument changed and we were then told that Iraq was a biochemical military power that was a threat to the West. Now it is about a war of national liberation, almost humanitarian, to free the Iraqis from Saddam Hussein, the tyrant. The first charge could never be proved, although few doubt that Hussein is capable of such a thing or at least supporting it. There was no proof for the second justification, and it was never made clear why, even if Iraq did possess these weapons, Iraq should not be allowed to possess them while other countries, even in the region, should. If the third pretext is true, then we must expect the United States to begin a war against the half of the world that does not live in democracy, including many allies in the northern superpower’s trench. The events of Sept. 11, 2001, as many feared, have awakened the expansionist instincts of the United States.

Rotterdam NRC Handelsblad (independent), March 20: We have our doubts about the casus belli, but not about war as the final option. It is proved that the United Nations has tried, in vain, for 12 years to disarm Iraq. The regime in Baghdad has practiced genocide, oppressed its own population, and, with its attack upon Iran and invasion of Kuwait, demonstrated that it is a threat to stability in the region. The Iraqi people have the right to see their human rights respected and to profit from their land’s wealth. No one contests that the Iraqis should be free from physical coercion and spiritual slavery. War is a policy of last resort that may be employed to reach a goal when all other options have been exhausted. On the question about whether this was the case here, this newspaper disagrees with the United States and Great Britain. But as for Bush’s question—are you for us, or for the terrorists—the answer must be that the Americans and British are, in the end, fighting for a good cause. What is important now is the humanitarian fate of the Iraqi people, limiting the damage, and working for the political, social, and economic reconstruction of Iraq once the fighting is over.

Lusaka The Post (independent), March 20: How long do we have to wait for the complete proscription of all weapons of mass destruction, for universal disarmament? How long do we have to wait for the elimination of the use of force, arrogance, and pressure in the context of international relations? How long do we have to wait before the principles of independence and sovereign equality of states, non-intervention in states’ internal affairs, and genuine international cooperation are made a reality?

Cairo Al-Ahram Weekly (semi-official), March 20-26: On board USS Abraham Lincoln, Vice Admiral Timothy Keating addressed hundreds of his men, telling them: “When it’s all done...and they rewrite history, because that is what you are going to do, your names will be written in gold on those pages.” Before that gilding begins, history will have to be effaced, not rewritten. An illegal war waged in blatant violation of the U.N. Charter and of international law; a war against which 30 million people throughout the world have already demonstrated on streets from Los Angeles to Tokyo before a single shot is fired; a war about which opinion polls in virtually all the world’s nations, with the exception of the United States and Israel, have produced a definitive “no”—how can such a war be recorded except in infamy? And this before the body count.

Sydney The Sydney Morning Herald (centrist) March 21: Yesterday the war started just the way Donald Rumsfeld would have wanted—with a quick, high-precision strike on Iraq’s leadership, cued by up-to-the-second intelligence. The key word is “opportunistic.” It has all the hallmarks of the way Rumsfeld wants America to wage war—high-tech, agile, unpredictable, and deadly.…The spectacle of America’s heavy forces, led by the 3rd Infantry Division, rumbling to their starting places for the advance to Baghdad, reflects the traditional vision of the American way of war—massive, ponderous, but very effective. This is the Colin Powell way of war, the kind of campaign he preached as chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff during the last Gulf War.
—Hugh White

Jidda Arab News (pro-government, English-language), March 20: A humanitarian tragedy of immense proportions, then, is beginning to unfold. As we are shown endless pictures of ordnance and other paraphernalia of war from the invader’s point of view, of this or that military-looking structure precision-bombed off a video screen, the dead and the dying—and the displaced people who were lucky enough to escape the carnage—will not be much talked about. Footage showing their plight will be at best unsuitably depressing, at worst deemed “offensive” for the viewers of the evening news. Once again, the media and the Pentagon will collude to sideline the millions whom the war will hit worst.

London The Economist (conservative), March 20: When people come to assess the war’s human and economic cost, they need to remember how matters stood before it began. Will Muslim terrorists strike the West? They are doing so already. Will Iraq fly apart? It was not united beforehand: The Kurdish north had long ago split away, kept safe only by the American and British aircraft policing the northern no-fly zone. Will it be awash with refugees? Millions have already fled Saddam Hussein’s regime; and now at least sanctions can end and they might return. Will it look unstable? Such stability as existed in Iraq was maintained only by a system of lethal repression. This was order of the kind that is imposed by the secret policeman’s midnight knock, the unexplained disappearance, the random execution of citizens who happen to say the wrong thing or have the misfortune to fall under suspicion for reasons they might never be told. By some accounts, Saddam Hussein's regime has killed more than 100,000 of its own citizens, excluding the many more killed in the course of wars he initiated. A very great deal would have to go wrong to make the lot of ordinary Iraqis after this war worse than it was before.

London The Independent (liberal), March 20: It is all very well to hear about how vulnerable and heroic our troops are, but we should not forget that the truly vulnerable people are not the healthy young men who chose to join one of the best-equipped armies in the world, but ordinary Iraqi people who did not choose to be caught, utterly defenseless, between a tyrant and a destructive army. These soldiers do indeed face a scary task, which includes the threat of chemical and biological weapons. But since only 20 British soldiers were killed in the actual course of the last Gulf War—most of those by U.S. friendly fire—and Iraqi military power is said to be so much weakened since then, let’s be honest and remind ourselves that the horror that British soldiers are most likely to confront in the next few weeks is not that of dying in an unnecessary war, but of killing in an unnecessary war.

Port of Spain Newsday (independent), March 20: The world may be seeing…a real-life Greek tragedy that, in its global repercussions, may well change the course of contemporary history. It may also set back the progress of international cooperation, and create more volatility, uncertainty, and economic hardship than it was intended to remove. History, of course, will eventually deal with all of this, but from our point of view, the launching and waging of this misguided and unnecessary war is a truly sad episode, since it represents the failure of a so-called civilized superpower to give peace a chance.

Glasgow The Herald (independent) March 20: So it begins. Although this war may go down as the most widely trailed conflict of the modern age—have not the drums of war been beating since Sept. 11, 2001?—the sense of dread as the invasion began was palpable. Once the conflict is over, America, and Britain, should assemble an international conference to frame a fifth Geneva Convention that reflects the realities and sensibilities of the 21st century. Questions need to be asked about the way in which weaponry is developing. Is it right or reasonable, for example, to leave civilians unharmed but destroy the infrastructure that gives them clean water? Should states be held to account for any illnesses sustained as a result of the weapons deployed, even if the harm takes many years to surface? We cannot outlaw war, more is the tragedy, yet we can further lessen its evil.

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