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Foreign Media Reaction

February 15, 2005



** "This election was a good beginning," yet "dangers" remain for Iraqi democracy.

** Ayatollah al-Sistani's alliance leads as Shiites gain electoral "reins of power."

** Shiites in "the 'new' Iraq" must "integrate" Sunnis and forgo "historical revenge."

** Iranian influence among the Iraqi Shiites lurks as a "destabilizing force."


'I saw people smiling...risking their lives to vote'-- And so, according to an Albanian observer, foundations for a "new Iraq are laid." Media grant that Iraqi elections and their results "are a step forward," but caution that "next steps" must avoid "at least two dangers of civil war, triggered by the Kurds or by the religious Shiites." Focusing on first steps, most writers echoed Lebanon's English-language Daily Star and applauded Iraqi voting as "an amazing democratic reclaiming," notwithstanding the editorial's ending reservation of "we hope." Spain's centrist daily La Vanguardia determined that "democracy has won its first battle in the ballot box," but provided a caveat that "full democracy must ensure peace and coexistence."

Ayatollah al-Sistani, a 'new strongman' whose 'intentions are unclear'-- All media vouchsafed predictions citing Shiites as "the clear election winner," but without the expected "impressive" plurality. Many writers noted the "bad results" for PM Allawi compared with "the success of the United Iraqi Alliance" endorsed by Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani who "has in his hands the authority of religion." Some writers foresaw "a great political challenge" for "the first Shiite government in an Arab state in 1,000 years" that assumed "the reins of power" by vote and which will derive power from Islam preached by ayatollahs. A French observer cautioned that not just Sistani's but all "the ayatollahs' intentions are unclear."

'Sunnis must be brought in'-- Most Arab and other writers agreed that Sunnis must be in "some way involved in preparation of a new Iraqi constitution and other key political steps." Underscoring this view, Jordan's mass-appeal Al-Arab Al-Yawm asserted that "the only guarantee" for preserving Iraq's unity "while the occupation is there" is heavily dependent on "Al-Sistani's coalition with the Sunnis and the Shiites." Similarly, Saudi Arabia's moderate Al-Watan held, "continuing the dialogue and negotiations is crucial before writing the Iraqi constitution." An Austrian outlet agreed that "the 'new' Iraq has only got a chance if the Sunnis and their agenda are included." There is no room for "revenge of the Shiites," concluded Spain's conservative La Razon.

'A possible alliance between Iraq and Iran'-- A number of commentators raised the likelihood the election results could see Iraq's "newly dominant Shiites" tilt "toward Iran." Expressing accord with speculations in Malta's independent weekly The Sunday Times, many writers agreed that "Iran, a Shiite Muslim country, has a considerable amount of influence" among the Iraqi Shiites and if provoked could became a major destabilizing force in Iraq," since Iraq shares affinities with neighboring Iran's Shiites.

Prepared by Media Reaction Branch (202) 203-7888, rmrmail@state.gov

EDITOR: Rupert D. Vaughan

EDITOR'S NOTE: Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment. Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion. Some commentary is taken directly from the Internet. This report summarizes and interprites foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government. This analysis was based on 67 reports from 30 countries over 13 - 15 February 2005. Editorial excerpts are listed in the most recent date.


BRITAIN: "Iraq Speaks: An Impressive Election"

The conservative Times editorialized (2/14): "The pessimists, and those who are dogmatically opposed to a free Iraq, will doubtless highlight the inevitable disputes over who obtains which post or how provisions in the constitutional draft are framed. That document will, nonetheless, be submitted to the Iraqi people for approval, and if accepted a new round of elections will take place in December. All of which is a world away from, and much better than, the Iraq that existed in February 2003."

"These Elections Are A Step Forward"

The left-of-center Independent remarked (2/14): "In spite of the air of triumphalism that these elections provoked in Washington and some parts of London, we should not lose sight of the fact that Iraq is just as dangerous today as it has been at any time since the end of the war. On Saturday alone, the day before the election results were released, eight people were killed by car bombs, and a senior judge was assassinated. There are signs that Sunni militants are targeting not just American and British troops, but Shia civilians in the hope of inflaming the situation further. The threat of civil war hangs over Iraq."

"Shia Delight"

The left-of-center Guardian opined (2/14): It is sadly easy to predict that violence will continue--car bombings and assassinations yesterday were barely noticed in the excitement over the election results. But it was striking that Arab media coverage shifted from U.S. actions to horsetrading over the new government."

"The People Of Iraq Speak"

The conservative Daily Telegraph asserted (2/14): "The ascendancy of religious and ethnic parties presents a spectacle the West may find alien, even alarming; but this is more a matter of political idiom than of political theology. These results show that most Iraqis do not favour a theocracy on the Iranian model, and many of those who stood on an Islamist platform were content to participate in the interim government or other institutions created by the Americans."

"Next Steps In Iraq"

The independent Financial Times judged (2/14): "Last month's elections in Iraq have undoubtedly given Iraqis a sense of achievement and a huge boost to their self-esteem after three decades of war, tyranny and sanctions. It took enormous courage to defy the bombers and the kidnappers, who are still carrying out reprisals against those who voted. Now that the elections have passed, however, everything is still to play for. This first exercise of democratic will is but a platform: what matters now is what is built on it."

FRANCE: "A Pluralistic Iraq"

Jean-Christophe Ploquin wrote in Catholic La Croix (2/15): "The Shiites are in a position of strength.... Although they are the majority, they do not nevertheless represent all of Iraq. In a region of the world where social rules are based on religions, ethnicity and tribal traditions, the exercise of power by a single community is possible only through constraint. No country in the Middle East is ethnically or religiously homogeneous. The inability to adapt to this reality is the reason for dictatorships and authoritarian regimes in this part of the world. In Iraq, there may be Shiites who believe that coexistence with other minorities is a necessity.... It is highly improbable that an Iran-like scenario will develop and lead to an Islamic Republic in Iraq. Iraq's Ayatollahs oppose Khomeni's doctrine. But beyond that, the Americans who are still very much at the helm in Baghdad will act in favor of a regime which is as secular as it can be."

"Washington Will Not Tolerate A Theocracy"

Philippe Gelie in right-of-center Le Figaro asserted (2/14): "After the positive images of Iraqis standing on line to vote and the march for democracy, now comes the time for difficulties. The battle for power promises to be bitter, not necessarily transparent and the type of regime that will come out is not at all guaranteed. No single leader stands out amidst the heterogeneous coalition. The battle for Prime Minister is on.... For Washington, the first consequence of the elections is that the Alawi era is coming to an end. But the Bush administration says it is ready to take the risk of losing its grip on the process, claiming it is also ready to withdraw its troops if asked."<


Gerard Dupuy in left-of-center Liberation commented (2/14): "The future National Assembly will not be fully representative of Iraq because of the massive boycott by the Sunnis. Also one cannot disregard the fact that the Ayatollahs' intentions are unclear, beginning with Sistani's.... The results will strengthen the Kurds.... There are at least two dangers of civil war, triggered by the Kurds or by the religious Shiites. But exactly because these two groups are beginning to see they now have much to lose, we can expect they will avoid engaging in this sort of political adventure.... The best way to conserve power is, after all, to begin by sharing it."

GERMANY: "Politics Is Returning"

Markus Ziener observed in an editorial in business daily Handelsblatt of Duesseldorf (2/15): "The good news from Iraq is that the Shiites won the election, but they do not dominate the National Parliament in Baghdad. The Shiite alliance must find an agreement with other parties and parliamentarians to implement certain bills and constitutional ideas.... The bad news is that naked percentage points are not so important, for the factual non-participation of the Sunnis in the elections requires a form of thinking outside ethnic and partisan categories. And it remains a mystery whether this will be successful.... A lot of time will pass until the political map shows the first contours. The Kurds will play with their trump card of being the second strongest faction. The colorful Shiite alliance will soon show the first cracks when the discussion focuses on contents; and supporters of President Allawi will now lick their wounds.... At first sight, this is not an optimal basis for compromise.... That is why the responsibility of the most influential politicians in Baghdad is greater today than it was before. In the coming months, their skillfulness will be decisive of whether a federal Iraq has a chance. But this is again good news: the issue is finally politics again."

"Not Overwhelming"

Erik-Michael Bader commented in center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (2/14): "The vital issue of the announced election results does not come as a surprise: The Shiite alliance is the clear election winner. However, it is astonishing and contrary to many predictions that the alliance did not achieve a clearer majority although most Iraqis are Shiites and many Sunnis followed the election boycott. One reason could be that non-fundamentalist Shiites feared that the Shiite alliance would establish an Islamic state and implement the Shari'a despite opposite promises.... The bad results of PM Allawi's alliance are also surprising. Many predicted he could win more than thirteen percent of the vote. The next thing on the political agenda is the even more difficult path towards establishing the Iraqi democracy. Apart from the difficulty that the Sunnis are not adequately represented, the problem is that the alliances are not parties in the normal sense but reflect three religions with very different aspirations."

"Celebration Parties In Trenches"

Peter Muench opined in center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (2/14): "This marks nothing less than a change of time in Iraq. The Shiite majority, who has always been oppressed, has won the reins of power.... And the Sunnis are paying for their election boycott with politicalmarginalization.< People voted--and rejected to vote--strictly along ethnic and religions lines. The social rifts, which could very quickly turn into trenches, have become wider. This will make the forging of coalitions and the drafting of a constitution very difficult.... Those who believe that the victory of Sistani's list is a solid foundation for exerting power could soon be disappointed, because the United Iraqi Alliance is a fragile bundle of heterogeneous groups with their own militiamen."


Dietrich Alexander editorialized in right-of-center Die Welt of Berlin (2/14): "It did not come as a surprise that the Shiites have won the first free elections in Iraq because they have always been the country's majority.... The results are also welcome news because the two Kurdish factions in northern Iraq, which have long been hostile to each other, have found common political grounds. Their unprecedented pragmatism has secured them a great political victory. The Kurds have become a power in Baghdad no one can now ignore.... The only bitter pill is the Sunnis' situation. The former rulers if Iraq followed the election boycott, enforced by threats of violence, and they now are clearly underrepresented. It will be a great political challenge for Shiites and Kurds to integrate the third relevant group into their governmental work and to grant them adequate representation. The Sunnis must not become tomorrow's oppressed people, because this would strengthen insurgents and provoke a civil war."

"Winning Is Easy"

Clemens Wergin noted in centrist Der Tagesspiegel of Berlin (2/14): "The next year will decide about the political and social future of Iraq. By October 15, the elected interim government must present a constitution to voters.< Then, there will be a new election so that an orderly elected government can start business by the end of the year. It is unclear whether this will happen and whether Iraqis will successfully fight terrorists. But this election was a good beginning."

"Not Overwhelming"

Erik-Michael Bader commented in center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (2/14): "The vital issue of the announced election results does not come as a surprise: The Shiite alliance is the clear election winner. However, it is astonishing and contrary to many predictions that the alliance did not achieve a clearer majority although most Iraqis are Shiites and many Sunnis followed the election boycott. One reason could be that non-fundamentalist Shiites feared that the Shiite alliance would establish an Islamic state and implement the Shari'a despite opposite promises.... The bad results of PM Allawi's alliance are also surprising. Many predicted he could win more than thirteen percent of the vote. The next thing on the political agenda is the even more difficult path towards establishing the Iraqi democracy. Apart from the difficulty that the Sunnis are not adequately represented, the problem is that the alliances are not parties in the normal sense but reflect three religions with very different aspirations."

ITALY: "Iraq, The Shiite Paradox That Creates Alarm In Washington"

Renzo Guolo concluded in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica (2/15): "The victory of the Shiite party blessed by Ayatollah al Sistani in the Iraqi elections, particularly of its religious and pro-Iranian components, poses a series of problems for the United States. Problems that concern not only, or not so much, the possibility that a traditional Islamic state may rise to power in Baghdad, a state which could cast a shadow over the concept of democracy that Washington tried so hard to promote.... In reality, the victory of the United Iraqi Alliance creates problems for the general Middle East policy of the Bush administration. A Shiite-led Iraq, in fact, would upset consolidated religious and political balances.... A paradox thus seems to emerge from the great Iraqi game: the Arab allies of the United States, all Sunnis, are very concerned, while Iranian Shiites, enemies of Washington, look favorably upon the turnover that has emerged from the Iraqi elections."

"A New Challenge For Bush"

Vittorio Zucconi in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica stated (2/14): "Since none of the three leading parties voted for by 50 percent of the Iraqi people got the absolute majority that is necessary in order to create a government and write the new constitution, the party that holds the keys to alliances and the nation's political future is the 'fourth party.' It is the party of the American occupier, which did not get a single vote, but has the 130,000 troops that are necessary to keep the newly-born Iraqi democracy from the nightmare of civil war. The role of the occupying and liberating forces has changed since yesterday. After the puppet government established by governor Bremer, and after the Allawi government, which is hardly credible as was shown by its electoral defeat, the next government will have the undeniable legitimacy of a vote, imperfect but not fallacious. This is the transition phase from war to politics....< There would have been no democracy without the U.S. intervention, but there will be no lasting and stable democracy if Iraqi voters feel perennially under American protection.... The task ahead for Bush's diplomatic advisors is very tough indeed.. Bush could lose what the sacrifice of his soldiers has won.... A true internationalization of this new phase is necessary, to be entrusted to a clarifying debate at the United Nations, in order to give to the courageous, newly-born Iraqi diplomacy all the advantages of international protection as it takes its first steps without the humiliation of protectorate status."

"The Wisdom Of The Vote Is Helping Democracy"

Bernardo Valli in left-leaning, influential La Repubblica commented (2/14): "After many mistakes and many lies, an operation inspired by democratic principles has nonetheless been carried out in Iraq. An operation which, while we wait for its unpredictable consequences, per se represents a success for those who wanted and promoted it. The outcome of the vote reflected extraordinary and exceptional wisdom, since it did not express an overwhelming majority for the leading (religious) Shiite alliance, as could have been expected.... The wisdom that inspired voters and determined the right outcome has a name: that of Ayatollah Al Sistani, who did not want to overdo and prevented the elections from turning into a rise to power by the Shiites, with a religious wave along the Iranian model.... Sistani is preventing the Americans from becoming the involuntary promoters of an Islamic regime in an Iraq they would like to be democratic. Had that happened, the elections would have been a mockery, another Iraqi misfortune for the White House."

RUSSIA: "Victory Fraught With Defeat"

Nationalist pro-opposition Sovetskaya Rossiya judged (2/15): "The United States is not going to succeed in getting satellite countries to provide more cannon fodder to replace its troops wearied by dragged-out and bloody 'peacekeeping.' Everybody is looking to get out of Iraq. After the elections, the outflow will grow.< Ukraine's decision to pull out its 1,500 troops, the fourth-largest foreign military contingent in Iraq, is a telling blow. Because of the intensifying national liberation struggle in Iraq, the UN is not in a hurry to relieve the Americans, either. Official optimism in Washington over the 'outstanding election results' cannot hide the sense of an imminent defeat."

"Allawi Refuses To Give Away Power"

Mikhail Zygar said in business-oriented Kommersant (2/14): "Placed fourth in keeping with preliminary results, the Iyad Allawi bloc suddenly was named third. This means that the pro-American prime minister is likely to retain his post if the United States helps him form an alliance with the Kurds and split the Shiites. Such a scenario would serve the Americans' short-term interests. But it may cause big problems in the longer term.< The Sunnis, who boycotted the vote, have found themselves out of power, hardly represented in the National Assembly. That and the fact that religious Shiites may find they have been cheated can ruin the U.S.-started democratic process in Iraq."

"Victory Not Impressive"

Aleksey Bausin remarked in reformist Izvestiya (2/14): "The triumph of the United Shiite Alliance has proved not as impressive as expected by many."

"Allawi To Lose Premiership"

Ivan Groshkov said in centrist Nezavisimaya Gazeta (2/14): "Most observers agree that Allawi will most probably have to settle for some post in the Cabinet, with no chance of leading it."

ALBANIA: "After Elections, Foundations Of New Iraq Are Laid"

Correspondent to Baghdad Ahmed Mustafa commented in medium-circulation centrist Gazeta Shqiptare (2/12): "During and after the election day, the Iraqis breathed freely and finally had a moment of bliss after all that tension. For the first time after so many years, I saw people smiling when pointing at the polling stations or when talking to each other while walking to the polling stations.... It was a challenge against all enemies of this country, and it is clear that I refer to the 8 million people that dyed their finger in purple by risking their life to vote. I refer to them, and not to those who are trying to steal that little hope; who want to disdain the will of millions of men and women who gave legitimacy to the new government. Today, is the first day of year1426 according to Hijri calendar, and instead of celebrations, two mines exploded in the Freedom Square in the center of the capital, which caused the death of 4 persons and wounded six others, all innocent citizens. The citizens and shop owners in the trade center spoke to the TV cameras that were filming the explosions asking: 'Why did the mines explode when the American convoy was passing? Why are you killing us? What have we done to you?'... The Iraqis saw how Saudi Arabia voted and everybody asked himself 'how come nobody threatens them? The Saudis went to vote very quietly, regardless of the presence of extremist groups in the country. Then, why do they come to us to attempt the life of voters?' The only answer is: 'the fear that arises among neighboring Arab countries and states of a totally new Iraq.'"

AUSTRIA: "Enormous Challenges"

Foreign affairs editor Gudrun Harrer noted in independent daily Der Standard (2/15): "In order to establish a constitution that all can agree to, Iraqi politicians of all political parties must solve the following problems for a future of the country: first of all, they will have to arrive at a common understanding of what role Islam is to play in the new Iraq.... Second:...the status of Kurdistan is one of the crucial points for the national unity of Iraq and has to be resolved as part of the process of establishing a constitution.... Third: in the course of this process, there has to be successful integration of the Arab Sunnis that so far did not, or if so, only individually, participate in the political process. There are encouraging signals that the victorious Shiites will earnestly try to include all others in a consensus-seeking process... In this sense, they once again prove to be good Iraqi nationalists.... And all these tasks are to be accomplished by Iraqi politicians against the backdrop of a continuing insurgency. In order to cut off its support lines, an issue has to be put on the agenda that is going to be the most difficult of all: what will the relations between the U.S. and Iraq look like in the future, how long will American troops remain in the country and which tasks will they have to accomplish?"

"A Place For The Sunnis"

Editor for independent daily Salzburger Nachrichten Birgit Cerha wrote (2/14): "Unless it is possible to integrate at least the moderate groups among the Sunnis into the political process, Iraq's new leadership has as good as no chance to establish stability in the country. However, there is a gleam of hope there. The powerful 'Association of Muslim Scholars' (AMS) that represents about 3.000 Sunni mosques in the country and has close ties with part of the armed resistance movement, has moderated its radical rejection of the process of democratization supported by the Americans.... Such a position gives rise to the expectation that it will be possible to win strong Sunni groups for the political process and isolate the rebels. The decisive question, however, is this: Which positions could the Sunnis hold in the new leadership? There has been talk about important cabinet posts, but also of the post of speaker of the National Assembly, who exerts great influence on the establishment of a new constitution. The 'new' Iraq has only got a chance if the Sunnis and

their agenda are included."

CZECH REPUBLIC: "New Iranians"

Petr Pesek commented in center-right Lidove Noviny (2/14): " it can be quite tempting for the new ruling (Shia) elite in Iraq to keep the Sunnis in isolation, it might not be advantageous. Although it would not be justifiable to artificially strengthen their (Sunnis) position, they should get in some way involved in preparation of a new Iraqi constitution and other key political steps."

"Winner Of The Iraqi Parliamentary Elections Apparently Does Not Get Ready For Theocracy"

Bretislav Turecek opined in center-left Pravo (2/14): "The most senior candidates for the top parliamentary posts are heads of the two most influential religious parties of Iraqi Shias, which leads to speculations in the West that it could give birth to the same theocratic regime in Iraq that has been in power in neighboring Iran for 28 years. However, the reality is more complex.... Islamists in Iran in the 70s and in today's Iraq face different circumstances.... Unlike in Iran, piousness and morality, strictly separated from administration of the country, dominates the Shia sector of Iraq and its key religious centers in Nadjaf and Karbala.

"Risky Ride Of Winners"

Adam Cerny maintained in business-oriented Hospodarske Noviny (2/14): "The result of the Iraqi experiment will be important not only for Iraq, which is threatened with disintegration in the event that rivalry prevails. Developments in the region so far have forced Washington to try to renew its alliances even with countries opposed to its action against the regime of Saddam Hussein. The elections by themselves will not secure stability and security for Iraq. Only reaching this goal, or at least substantially approaching this goal, will serve as evidence that democratization processes in the region will not change into a wild ride on a tiger's back to an unpredictable destination."

HUNGARY: "Passing The Ball In Iraq"

Foreign affairs writer Gyorgy Fodor held in liberal-leaning Magyar Hirlap (2/15): "The American president is proud of himself, and has every reason to be so.... Things are turning out nicely, freedom is 'spreading.' However, the contents of Bush's message this time was primarily aimed at the Iraqis: you voted, and from now on, the ball is in your court.... America has indeed passed the ball, but the hard compromises are still ahead. The election system worked out in Iraq rests entirely on agreements and compromises: the' horse trading' has only started, and it is likely to last for quite some time.... The domestic debate of the Iraqis will be about the complicated issues, interspersed with attacks and explosions. If the Iraqi leaders miss the obvious opportunities they might be able to emigrate again, and the Iraqis might be at each other's throats. There is only one guarantee against that. The Americans have passed, but they never lose sight of the Iraqi ball."

"The Rule Of The China Shop"

Washington correspondent Gabor Horvath opined in top-circulation, center-left Nepszabadsag (2/12): "The Americans had excellent plans to create a democratic, secular and federalist Iraq. However, the Shiites who won the elections have already started to work out the constitution that, in the fall, will replace the interim constitution imposed on the occupied country by the Americans. As far as we can see, Washington is not going to be too proud of the results. The question is not whether [Iraq] is going to adopt Islamic laws, but rather how strict they are going to be.... There will be no Western-type democracy in Iraq; therefore, it will not have the beneficial influence on the region that had been hoped for in the beginning. It can still be achieved, though, that [Iraq] does not become a second Iran."

MALTA: "U.S. And EU Must Work Together On Iran"

The English-language independent weekly Sunday Times opined (2/14): "There is also another reason why America and Europe cannot afford to antagonise Iran at this point in time: Iraq. After years of oppression at the hands of the minority Sunnis, the Shi'ites in Iraq--who make up 60 per cent of the population--are finally being given a taste of power after Iraq's parliamentary elections. Iran, a Shiite Muslim country, has a considerable amount of influence among the Iraqi Shi'ites and if provoked could became a major destabilising force in Iraq. The Sunni insurgency in Iraq is bad enough; just imagine the problems with a Shi'ite insurgency. Furthermore, Iran has the potential to mobilize Hizbullah across Israel's border in Lebanon and just when there appears to be a ray of hope in the Middle East, this is the last thing that is needed.... The U.S. and the EU must work, together with their allies in the region, towards a security framework that includes both Iran and Iraq. The U.S. should start thinking about ending its sanctions against Iran and forging a rapprochement with this country after a quarter of a century of hostilities, in return for Iran giving up its nuclear weapons-making capability.

NETHERLANDS: "Stumbling Forward In Iraq"

Influential independent NRC Handelsblad commented (2/14): "The Shiites won the Iraqi elections but fortunately did not get the absolute majority vote.... All in all these elections results are confusing and do not automatically result in a democratic and free Iraq. There is a civil war looming. The number of terror attacks is increasing.... Then there is the issue of withdrawal of American troops.... It would be nice if all of these problems could be resolved through democratic negotiation. But elections with a high turnout are not by themselves sufficient. Too many Iraqis want to get their rights through violence. What will the Shiites do if this election does not give them what they want? The ethnic religious contradictions make the situation difficult. Nevertheless, there is little else to be done but to stumble forward on the path toward a constitution, but under the supervision of unbiased international institutions which evoke less resistance than the United States."

SPAIN: "Consensus In Iraq"

Conservative ABC contended (2/15): "The future is more complicated than it seems at first sight.... The boycott by the Sunni Arab population causes an important void due to the leading importance that traditionally this community has had.... The temptation to exclude the Sunni Arab population would be a serious danger with unpredictable consequences.... Iraq is confronting a huge crucial moment, as critical as the elections were. It has now to win itself its institutional credibility and its viability, because an open society is not only a result of votes, but also of forms. It is the time for consensus."

"Historical Revenge"

Conservative La Razon remarked (2/14): "The overwhelming triumph of the Ayatollah Al Sistani's and his Shiites means the end of the isolation of Iran in the Muslim world. Because the future of Iraq is Shiite, alone or in coalition (with other Iraqi groups). But this will devastate the prevailing status quo in the Gulf region.... This historic revenge of the Shiites confronting the Sunnis announces a future full of uncertainty, because it could destabilize the most conservative Arab countries. However, this can also mean the start of the end of Al Qaida, the most reactionary, murderous, sectarian Sunni organization."

"Shiite Hegemony"

Centrist La Vanguardia determined (2/14): "The respect of minorities is a necessary condition, but not the only one, for the recently born democracy to settle down in Iraq. The other big question is whether the uncontrolled climate of violence will be calmed. Democracy has won its first battle in the ballot box, but to be a full democracy, (Iraq) must ensure peace and coexistence. In this context, the Bush administration will have to ask itself if the U.S. military presence is more a part of the problem than a part of the solution."

"Iraq, The Hope"

Left-of-center El País editorialized (2/13): "It is clear that the new strongman in Iraq is the Ayatollah Al Sistani, who has not been elected, but who has in his hands the authority of religion. He has started an inevitable transfer of power from the Sunnis to the majority Shiites. This new supremacy, and the theoretic hope that is could bring to this devastated country, only will materialize if the Shiites have the good sense to negotiate alliances with other ethnic and religious groups."

TURKEY: "What Kind Of Iraq?"

Sami Kohen opined in mass-appeal Milliyet (2/15): "The Shiites are the winners in the Iraqi election. Most Sunnis did not participate, which resulted in a very low number of seats for the Sunnis in the new assembly. Since the Kurds showed the greatest determination and interest in the elections, they gained the higher representation in both the national and regional assemblies. Unfortunately, the Turkmen presence in this picture is very marginal. One reason this was definitely the pressure, fraud, and corruption faced by the Turkmen. Only 93,000 out of 2.5 million Turkmen in Iraq cast their votes in the election. Looking at this picture, one wonders how Iraq [will] restructure itself. The Shiite majority will need a coalition partner in order to establish a new government. Most likely, that partner will be the Kurds. Since the Sunnis and Turkmen will not be represented in the new government, the new administration, in order to prevent problems, should include some Sunnis and Turkmen in the administration to establish a kind of National Unity Government. What does this all mean for Turkey? Ankara has already outlined its position through an official statement. The most important issue for Turkey is Iraq's territorial integrity and national sovereignty. As a high level Turkish official told me, the Kurds' role in Iraq's political structure should not be considered as a problem. Integration of Kurdish leaders into the Iraqi central administration could very well prevent separatist tendencies. But if the Kurds try to control northern Iraq, especially Kirkuk, this will open the way to tension and conflict. The new Iraqi administration and, of course the U.S., which holds the reigns in Iraq, have a huge responsibility to prevent such an outcome."

"Democracy In Iraq"

Yilmaz Oztuna commented in conservative mass-appeal Turkiye (2/15): "The elections held in Iraq were a very important step toward establishing democracy there. However, the Turkish Foreign Ministry has stated that the elections were 'incomplete' and 'flawed.' The new assembly in Iraq will prepare a constitution, and elections for a permanent government will be held at the end of this year. It is obvious that the Kurds and Shiites will determine the details of the constitution without considering the views of the Sunni Arab and Turkmen populations. The question is how extensively, and in which direction, the U.S. might intervene in this process. On the Turkmen issue, we should blame the Turkish government most of all, as every government in Turkey has left the Turkmen people without support. But the more serious concern is for the Sunni Arabs. They will become more radical, and continue to carry violent actions. Naturally, this means that the blood and fire will continue to disturb Turkey, the U.S., Europe, and the Islamic world. Moreover, we believe that Talabani will be supported by the U.S. as the new president of Iraq. This will disturb the balances in Iraq, and the Kurds will gain more authority in Baghdad. The West and Washington describe the elections in Iraq as a further step on the way to democracy. I hope they are not mistaken. A potential civil war in Iraq would have negative consequences for many other countries in this region."


SAUDI ARABIA: "Repairing The Mistakes Of The Past"

Abha's moderate Al-Watan editorialized (2/14): "The Political and religious negotiations and open dialogue among Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds in Iraq are good indications that these groups realize the importance of the coming phase. Continuing the dialogue and negotiations is crucial before writing the Iraqi constitution. This way Iraqis will be able to avoid committing the same mistakes that were committed by the occupier and its allies."

IRAQ: "No Dictatorship Through Elections"

Samir Attallah wrote in the Baghdad edition of independent, London-based Asharq Al Awsat (2/15): "More than eight million Iraqis voted for an unknown future. Those who did not participate in the political process and instead destroyed Baghdad's streets and bakeries made Iraq lose out on a chance to be a united nation. hey prevented Iraq from celebrating the end of the occupation and the continuous bloodshed. For this reason, Iraq's future is still unknown. Why are we studying to establish a federal Iraq when we have a united country? Why are we allowing the majority to control rather than allowing all Iraqi sects to participate in the political process? Why is Sharia law the main source of dispute in a country that has bloody disagreements over how this law should be applied? The current Iraqi situation represents an open experiment and a closed door. Perhaps the Iraqi election will lead to the same consequences as in Algeria two decades ago. Or, perhaps a conflict of power will lead to a civil war like what happened in Lebanon. After the victory of one list and the marginalization of another, how can we ask the winners to accept the principle of equal partnership? How can we convince them that the refusal to vote by some does not mean that they can be marginalized by others in such a multi-minority country?... How can a constitution be drafted when the important figure of Al-Sistani has a silent alliance with Iran? It seems that the Iraqi elections were successful. After all, the strong man did not fix the elections; he only obtained 13 percent of the votes. The Iraqi people went to vote enthusiastically despite Al-Zarqawi's call for a boycott.... Saddam, Izzat Ibrahim Al-Douri and their followers are very unhappy to see the success of the Iraqi elections. Is there any internal force that can now turn back the clock? What will happen if all the political campaigns that are aimed at increasing unity and enlightening people come together to end the occupation? What will happen if the Iraqi people show the world that they are able to make decisions like the Palestinians? The Arab Sunnis were thwarted in the first Iraqi electoral experiment because of the lack educated Sunnis and the presence of Al-Zarqawi's followers. We hope that the Arab Shia will not also spoil this electoral experiment. We hope that they realize that Iraq can be built only by harmony and reconciliation.... Iraq must not call for federalism, confederalism, or chaos. It must call for equality and citizenship.... A united Iraq is the greatest candidate that Iraqis can vote for."

"Nobody Can Spoil the Iraqi Happiness"

Bassem Al Sheikh editorialized in independent Ad-Dustour (2/15): "After the success and public announcement of the Iraqi election results, the daily language of the political process has changed to a great extent. Secret pressures are playing an active role among politicians to create political convergence and divergence. The whole process is aimed at gaining political positions and benefits. Some people may think that these attempts will have a negative effect on the successful accomplishment of the elections. However, we believe that such experiments represent positive and real indicators concerning the success of the new political figures.... The upcoming days will reveal many faces that have called for democracy and raised pompous slogans. Iraqis are not as unfamiliar with democracy as some people have alleged. It is just that the former conditions were not permissible for them to practice democracy.... We will not be surprised in the coming days if we notice some politicians attempting to spoil or kill the Iraqi happiness. However, they should know that this happiness will never be suppressed."


Al Taakhi (affiliated with Kurdistan Democratic Party led by Masoud Al Barazani) published a front-page editorial (2/14): "Although the electoral process proved successful overall, it nonetheless revealed many deficiencies. The deficiencies include the low percentage of participation in some areas, the absence of accurate statistics, and the absence of international observers. With regard to the proportion of participation, everyone knew before the election that most of the Sunni Arabs planned to boycott. The main result of this decision is that the percentages of the top lists do not truly represent Iraqi society. Nonetheless, the UN and many observers have considered the Iraqi election successful.... We must ensure that international observers will be present for our next elections.

"Strong Leadership For A Stronger Iraq"

Baghdad (affiliated with Iraqi National Accord led by Iyad Allawi) published a front-page editorial (2/14): "We do not want to discuss the competition amongst the major lists regarding the establishment of a government and distribution of the ministerial portfolios. We wish to ignore such debate and pay no attention to what is going on behind the scenes concerning the rules of the electoral process and the alliances of the winning blocs. What we are interested in is establishing a strong leadership for a stronger Iraq.... Strong governance is required to maintain the country's dignity, unity, and stability. However, its legitimacy must come from the approval of the people. The strength of the government must be just or it will be viewed as tyrannical.... We do not need to remind people that Iraq's difficult conditions in the past made the Iraqi people detest dictatorship because they suffered so much from that rejected policy. We believe that Iraqi leaders should be realistic and responsible in our country that is crowded with challenges and risks. Power in its abhorring meaning refers to coercion, which must have no place in the new Iraq. We condemn force that is aimed at intimidating people. Fear must never surface again in Iraq because it reminds people of tyrants. The democratic Iraq, which we all desire, will have no fear. The strong leader, who we will support, will allow more freedom while being strict with some to end the chaos. We reject dictatorial regimes and, at the same time, we reject chaotic governance."

"Did I Make A Mistake"

Khaled Al Kishtini wrote in the Baghdad edition of London-based independent Asharq Al Awsat (2/13): "In the middle of the whirlpool that Iraq finds itself enveloped in today, many statements have been made claiming that what is happening today is worse than what happened during Saddam's regime. These opinions view the toppling of Saddam by American weaponry as a terrible mistake. However, the awful state of the current situation makes me believe that deposing of Saddam was a necessity. The dreadfulness of the current situation refers to an appalling deterioration of ethics. This is what the Iraqi people are suffering from. How could such a severe deterioration of ethics occur? Clearly, this deterioration is the result of the Iraqi people being exposed to a Saddamist education for thirty years.... Saddam has stated in the past that he would leave Iraq as a land without people. Today, it is clear that he has succeeded.... How can we forgive someone whose hands are covered with the blood of thousands of innocent people? How can we let him play and continue his hateful governance? Unfortunately, our Arab brethren do not think that Saddam is a criminal. Saddam's toppling was an ethical, civilized, nationalist, and religious necessity.... The hour will never go back and the suicidal operations will never succeed."

JORDAN:< "Iraq Stands Before A New Stage"

Semi-official, influential Arabic-language Al-Rai editorialized (2/14): "With the announcement of the final results of the Iraq election, one could say that the Iraqi people have taken a qualitative step towards building the new Iraq.... The Iraqi people in its majority went to the ballot boxes to cast their votes in favor of change, freedom, security, stability and the establishment of a modern state away from bigotry and dictatorship.... The political forces that had acquired the trust of the people must not disappoint the people. They must consider their victory a legitimate beginning and a popular authorization for them to assume their responsibilities and duties for which the Iraqi people had voted, foremost among which is the preservation of the unity of Iraq, and the personification of democracy in a coalition that lays the foundations for the new Iraq that would bring security to the people and begin the rebuilding process in a manner that would speed the departure of the foreign troops and provide genuine sovereignty and independence."

"Legitimate Elections With Three Quarters"

Daily columnist Jamil Nimri wrote on the back-page of independent, mass-appeal Arabic-language Al-Arab Al-Yawm (2/14): "The majority acquired by the Unified Shiite List must not tempt its people of having autocratic decision-making power, not if they want the political process to advance. The logic of preserving accord and harmony must be maintained not just with the powers represented in parliament but also with the Sunni factions that had boycotted the elections but want to be party to formulating Iraq's future.... One could say that the legitimacy of the elections was breached to an extent due to the fact that they took place under occupation and amidst the boycott of one of the components of the Iraqi people. This is sufficient to say that the resulting majority must not enjoy complete decision-making freedom on the basis of the number of its members in this parliament. Having said that however, the elections remain a launching pad for the political process.... One must acknowledge the fact that the parliament represents three quarters of the Iraqi people. The remaining quarter cannot just hit its head against the wall and use the occupation as a pretext to stay out of the political negotiations vis-à-vis Iraq's future. If it does, it will achieve nothing and Iraq will remain prone to blind violence with no hope or horizon. Even if the Americans withdraw tomorrow, this quarter must take into consideration the other three quarters of the Iraqi people, namely the Shiites and the Kurds."

"A Government For Al-Sistani Or For Alawi!"

Chief editor Taher Udwan writes on the back-page of independent, mass-appeal Arabic-language Al-Arab Al-Yawm (2/14): "I am still in support of the saying that the elections in Iraq are illegitimate because they took place under occupation and on the basis of the Bremmer constitution which was founded on the idea of dividing the country.... The elections took place in order to grant legitimacy to the upcoming government that has the responsibility of preparing the new constitution and the final elections early next year. This means that the government will be the point of conflict, which has already started between the political forces, the Shiites and the Kurds, to divide up the cake and achieve the best of profits.... All those who backed the Iraqi elections and legitimized it from outside Iraq, including the United States, prefer a government led by Alawi and having an alliance with Talbani and Barzani. On the ground however, a government formed by Al-Sistani coalition would be closer to the national interests of Iraq than a government formed by Alawi with the Kurds that would strengthen the Kurds' Israel-supported separatist desires in Kerkuk.... Al-Sistani's coalition with the Sunnis and the Shiites may be the only remaining guarantee in the hands of the Iraqis for preserving Iraq's unity while the occupation is there, because this coalition might rectify the concept of the majority as an Arab majority."

"The Results Of The Iraq Election"

Center-left, influential Arabic-language Al-Dustour editorialized (2/14) : "We are all aware of the circumstances that surrounded the legislative elections in Iraq and we all realize that they do not genuinely and completely reflect the will of the Iraqi people. However, the elections went on as best as can be expected under the current situation in that country, whose people are looking for a new beginning that would take them out of the crisis and lead to the shores of safety, freedom, independence and progress. It may be too early to make final impressions about the results of the elections...but it is enough to consider the number of people who exercised their right to vote in order to realize the message that the Iraqi people had sent to everyone, namely that they long for freedom and for self-management.... It is not for us to say that the Sunnis's abstention from the elections was right or wrong, but it definitely made the results what they are today, bringing with them fears and concerns about the political identity of the new Iraq.... In all cases, one cannot overlook the fact that these elections are an achievement without the shadow of a doubt. As for making use of this achievement without falling in the trap of the false feeling of superiority, that is the real test that is going to face all the parties in the Iraqi arena."

LEBANON: "Reclaiming Iraq For Its People, Sunnis Must Be Brought In"

The moderate English-language Daily Star asserted (2/14): "Iraq has been reclaimed--we hope.... Iraq has experienced an amazing democratic reclaiming by its people. Consider the following: Around 8.55 million Iraqis, representing 58 percent of registered voters, cast ballots just over a week ago...While 58 percent...may not sound like a groundswell of support for a fledging democratic process, factors such as the bloody insurgency being waged by former Baathists and Islamist extremists...must be taken into account.... Thus under the circumstances, the turnout was extraordinary, and figures such as these cannot be manufactured.... What is a more concerning is the low turnout among the country's Sunni population...the potential fallout from this fact is exacerbated by the success of the United Iraqi Alliance--the Shiite religious list endorsed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.... In short, right now is the time for the newly dominant Shiites to begin reconciliation with their Sunni countrymen.... Among other measures, this means that every effort must be made for the full participation of Sunnis in the next national elections...In the meantime, there must be tangible evidence of justice and the institution of the rule of law over the course of this year. If this can be achieved, the challenge to bring Sunnis in from the cold will be well on the way to being met."


AUSTRALIA: "Iraq's Challenge Is To Negotiate A Way Forward"

The liberal Age of Melbourne remarked (2/15): "An irony of this exercise in democracy is that the key player is not a candidate or politician. The attitude of a Shiite spiritual leader, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, was crucial to the election proceeding; his vision for Iraq will strongly influence the nature of its government. While he has intimated he does not want an Iranian-style theocracy, he is likely to insist on the interim constitution's injunction, 'Islam is the official religion of the state and is to be considered a source of legislation.' The result is unlikely to be the government the Bush administration, for instance, would have chosen, nor is a coalition likely to be the stuff of nightmares. While conflict rages, it is premature to claim victory for democracy in Iraq, but the election result gives it a fighting chance."

"U.S. Faces Up To Grim Iraqi Reality"

Washington correspondent Tony Walker asserted in the business-oriented Australian Financial Review (2/15): "The White House has put the best face on the Iraqi election results by hailing the steadfastness of Iraq's voters in the face of terrorism, but this hardly disguises the fact that an Iran-sympathizing Shia ascendancy was not part of the script when the U.S. went to war. It is also worth noting that just at a moment when the U.S. is exerting pressure on Iran to dismantle its nuclear program, Washington has been nursemaid to a democratic process that has brought Tehran's Shia co-religionists to power in Iraq.... The election outcome and the U.S. reaction to it is a measure of the huge transformation that has taken place in American willingness to accept reality on the ground.... U.S. dreams...have been replaced with the hope that a reasonably representative government will fall into place and thus allow American forces to go home."

CHINA (HONG KONG, SAR): "Will The Emergence Of Shiite Parties Change The Sky In The Middle East"

Pro-PRC Chinese-language Macau Daily News remarked (2/9): "Following the victory of the Shiite group, Iraq may become a Muslim country. This has aroused worries and fears inside and outside Iraq. It may trigger regional unrest. Now is the era for Shiite groups in Iraq. They take up the majority in the population. However, if the Shiite leader fails to guarantee that the rights of the Sunni group and other minority groups will be respected, the victory of the Shiite may turn into the cause of internal disorder.... Facing the outcome of the Iraqi elections, the reactions of its neighboring countries are subtle. Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Syria are all dominated by Sunni groups. These Arab countries worry that after the Shiites come to power, the Sunni group will lose its leverage in Iraq and the political setup in the Middle East may change. According to the strategic planning of the U.S. in the Middle East, it has tried its best to turn Iraq into the 'model of democracy' in the Middle East. It hopes that other countries in the Middle East will follow this model to 'reform' themselves. However, if the it will be the biggest irony to Bush's democratic dream in the Middle East."

JAPAN: "National Reconciliation Necessary"

Top circulation moderate Yomiuri commented (2/15): "Drafting a constitution is the most important challenge facing the new Iraq national assembly. The congress must also mend the religious and ethnic gaps seen during the national elections. In order to create a stable government, majority Shiites will need to invite minority Sunnis to join the political process. Their participation in the nation building process, including in the drafting of a constitution, will contribute to the restoration of public safety in Iraq. Neighboring Arab nations, which appear concerned about the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the region, are surely relieved that the election results indicate the establishment of a moderate Muslim nation. The decision of Iraqi congressional leaders to accept the deployment of U.S. forces appears to be a realistic judgment. However, creating a capable security force is ultimately up to the new government."

"Foundation Of Democracy Established"

Conservative Sankei editorialized (2/15): "We hope the results of the first democratic national elections in Iraq will help promote religious and ethnic consolidation in the post-war nation. The rule by the first Shiite-led government risks arousing concern among Arab nations, but we hope for stability in the region. There is some criticism about the legitimacy of the elections due to the low Sunni voter turnout. However, considering that the elections were held amid the threat of terrorism, the 58 percent voter turnout can be considered a success. The involvement of Sunnis in the future political process is key to the restoration of Iraq. The success of the elections appears to be helping restore damaged relations between the U.S. and Europe."

INDONESIA: "Shiites Push Aside Sunnis' Domination in Iraqi Political Stage"

Leading independent Kompas judged (2/15): "Not only the Sunnis, but also the U.S., feel cornered by the outcomes of the Iraqi elections. Despite President Bush's high appreciation of the elections, the victory of the Shiites has raised concern that Iraq will lead to adopt a theocracy.... Should Iraq become a theocracy, the U.S. might eventually regret the fall of Saddam Hussein. After all, Saddam and his Baath Party adopted a secular system despite their Arab and religious identity. Regardless of the wish of the U.S. or any other party, the Iraqi people have made their choice with the victory of the United Iraqi United Alliance."

NEW ZEALAND: "Coalition Will Safeguard Iraq's Future"

The leading, center-left New Zealand Herald took this view (2/15): "The elections in Iraq have delivered a sliver of light into what was becoming an all-pervasive gloom. Cleric-backed Shiites of the United Iraqi Alliance have failed to meet their own expectation of clearly dominating the national assembly, which, most importantly, will draft a permanent constitution. Having secured just 48 percent of the vote, they will have to form a coalition government--and make compromises. The White House nightmare of a religious regime closely aligned to Iran holding complete control in Baghdad has, for the moment at least, been averted."

PHILIPPINES: "Bush Reaping Dividends From Jan. 30 Elections"

J.A. de la Cruz wrote in independent Malaya (2/15): "The Bush administration is reaping dividends from the January 30 national elections.... By embracing this democratic option in spite of the odds, the Iraqi people have somehow signaled their preference to hitch their country's future to Western-inspired governance no matter that it is largely American sponsored.... The dominant and more optimistic view now, in and out of the United States and even Iraq, is for the insurgency to peak as the elected Iraqi National Assembly and the provincial councils get more traction.... There is no question that, like in the recent elections, the Iraqi people themselves will be able to overcome their differences, surmount all difficulties and set their nation aright. Given that prognosis, it is time that we review our own policy towards Iraq. We have to overcome the unilateralist tendencies engendered by the Angelo de la Cruz affair [whose kidnapping by Iraqi rebels prompted the Philippine government to withdraw its peacekeeping delegation from Iraq] and proceed to engage ourselves in Iraq on the basis of enlightened national interest."


INDIA: "Shia Rule In Iraq?"

The centrist Hindu editorialized (2/15): "While the United Iraqi Alliance won the greater share of seats in the newly elected parliament, there is no guarantee that it will take over smoothly from the interim government.... The Alliance might not mind conceding the Kurd demand for the post of president. However, its constituents have serious reservations about some of the other items on the Kurds' wish list These differences are likely to cause a series of confrontations as the new parliament takes up its main task of drafting a constitution. Before the election, the Shias...were unwilling to entertain Kurdish demands for autonomy. Now they will have to rethink.... Armed resistance to the occupation has abated in the Shia areas over the past few months while it rages in the Sunni belt. However, that circumstance does not necessarily indicate that the Shias are comfortable with the presence of foreign troops on their soil. The community's leadership is expected to ask the United States-led forces to withdraw as soon as it feels that the national security organs have been built up to full strength. While the U.S. maintains it will withdraw when this condition is met, the two sides might differ in their assessment of the readiness of the Iraqi forces.... A government protected by a foreign army will simply not be able to acquire legitimacy."

PAKISTAN: "Election Results Bereft Of Comprehensive Representation"

Leading mass-circulation Urdu-language Jang concluded (2/15): "President Bush, Secretary Rice and Defense Secretary have constantly been reiterating that the U.S. has no plans in the near future to get out of Iraq. On the one hand they are emphasizing the establishment and stability of democracy and on the other hand there is an impression that attempts are being made to bring various political and religious schools of thought in confrontation with each other by creating rift and differences in their ranks. For this purpose some particular groups are being patronized. The U.S. administration had acted upon the same policy in the past in Afghanistan and encouraged the extremists and later adopted a stringent policy against such elements, the results of which were borne by the U.S. and other courtiers of the region. This is establishing unwholesome effects on the regional peace and stability and severe reservations have cropped up in the international community, especially the Muslim countries, against the real U.S. aspirations."

"Decisive Win For Shiites In Polls"

The Nation remarked (2/14) "Iraq's long-oppressed Shiite majority scored a resounding victory in the first vote since Saddam Hussein's downfall, setting the stage for the first Shiite government in an Arab state in 1,000 years. The main Shia list, backed by powerful spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, won almost half the votes cast in the January 30 poll, followed by Kurdish parties and interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's ticket."

IRAN: "Baghdad: Center Of A Security Complex"

The Iranian official news agency IRNA remarked (Internet Version) (2/15): "It was warned in 2003 that the attack on Iraq would unleash a number of sleeping genies who would be difficult to control and subdue. Two years after that event, the reality is that the Persian Gulf region is fast taking a shape many imagined but few expected. The electoral victory of the Shias in the first Iraqi election shows that the contours of national politics in a crucial regional state has made a decisive break with its past with the Shias winning in Baghdad. With the historic development, Baghdad will once again become the center of a security complex whose wings will stretch from the borders of India to the Mediterranean coast of Italy. Shia ascendance in Iraq after Iran could lead to cascading policy alterations in the region beginning from Saudi Arabia to India. In an editorial article in The Indian Express, the veteran policy wonk of India, K. Subramanyam, on Monday commented that the Shia asendance in Iraq will put up a challenge to the longstanding Sunni dominance in the West Asia region.< Experts have challenged the opinion in the article as an excessive reaction of a paranoid, strategic thinker to developments in Baghdad. But what gives credence to the writer`s views is that serious regional differences might crop up in case a democratic consensus fails to harness the latent sectarian fears in West Asia.< The main threat to post-election Iraq comes not only from an untested elite but from the ancient rivalry that have become the battle lines in the days since the fall of Saddam Hussein`s regime."

BANGLADESH: "Iraq, After The Elections"

The independent English-language New Age commented (2/15): "Now that the results of the Iraqi election are in, one might sit back and reflect on the course the country might take in the days ahead. It is clear that Ayatollah Sistani's Shia List has done well, rather predictably. While the performance brings about a new dimension in Iraq's politics, there is too the subtle feeling that it could leave the country polarized in a way not seen before. At this stage, it is hard to make any prediction regarding the formation of a government because of the strength which a coalition of two Kurdish parties have themselves demonstrated at the elections. The picture, at this point, is therefore one of considerable uncertainty. While the elections, in however flawed a form, have finally taken place, Iraqis remain to be reassured about the principle of purposeful democratic governance in the days ahead. And with that will come the matter of whether the new government will be in a position to roll back the chaos which keeps Iraq, despite the elections, in its grip."

"Iraq: Awaiting A Tet Moment"

M. Abdul Hafiz opined in the independent English-language Daily Star (2/14): "In truth, the U.S. has little idea precisely who it is up against. It is rumored among Iraqis that Zarqawi was an American concoction when they needed a bogeyman to replace Saddam--elusive in the battlefield. Yet what the Americans somehow find it difficult to understand is that most Iraqis consider the occupation of their country a humiliating abomination. Finding no credible objective for heaping all the blame on--the Americans have bandied about the idea lately that the prevailing instability and chaos in Iraq are a direct consequence of the vicious nature of Saddam's regime, although the truth is that today's bloody mess in Iraq is a direct consequence of the gratuitous invasion initiated by a small bunch of fanatics in Washington. History certainly won't absolve the Iraqi dictator but it may have an even sterner verdict in store for the Perles, Wolfwitzes, Rumsfelds, and Cheneys.... A decline in suicide bombing for sometimes past could mean special preparations on the part of insurgents to enact another Tet on the next Sunday, again January 30. Even if it did not happen, a Tet moment for Iraq cannot however be totally ruled out."

"Iraq: Election Is Just The First Step"

The independent English language Daily Star editorialized (2/12): The U.S. administration has to be careful that they are not tempted into identifying Iraqi legitimacy with unchecked Shia rule. They have to remember about the multi-ethnicity of Iraq, the tribal structures and the divide among religious denominations. Iraq's election has opened another page in the history of the Middle East. There has been multi-party election. That is positive. However, the challenge comes now. The mechanical part has partially completed. A lot remains to be done nevertheless in the context of creating institutions. Security and eventual stability will require dialogue with the Sunni leadership. This is an important factor that cannot be neglected. Only the first phase of a political evolution from military occupation to political legitimacy of sorts has been completed. The United Nations and other important powers need to help the Iraqis, more than ever, over the nest two years. They have to create a sustainable, free Iraq, which can exist by itself. Failure to do this will mean an implosion, with radicals and fundamentalists creating more convulsions for the region. The U.S. needs to withdraw but not in haste. A precipitous withdrawal based on domestic public opinion will now be seen as an abnegation of responsibility. It might instead create civil war and anarchy, worse than what we have seen in the Balkans.

SRI LANKA: "Bush's Dream"

The government-owned Sunday Observer remarked (2/14): "President George W. Bush in his State of the Union Address a fortnight ago declared that his dream was to be the conquest of freedom. A laudable dream indeed! Yet judging by his actions during the first term and his declared intentions for the second term we have to admit that his conception of freedom is somewhat skewed. It was under the guise of bringing freedom to the Iraqi people that he rained bombs, including the monstrous 'mother of all bombs' on the innocent civilians in Baghdad and elsewhere in that country.... It was also under the same notion that thousands of U.S. troops are engaged in a war with the Iraqi people and are paying with their lives for the folly of their government. It was under the same notion that mountaintops in distant Afghanistan were flattened and thousands were killed, maimed and displaced in the search for an illusive Osama Bin Laden.What is more, in the aftermath of September 11 he threateningly declared that all nations should fall in line with him in his War on Terror. "Either you are with us or not with us," he said threatening those who differed with punishment. He named an "Axis of evil" according to his fancy and declared war against them. During his recent State of the Union address he named Iran and Syria as rogue states and accused them of harbouring terrorists. He threatened both and told the American people that the U.S. must confront these states. This is a dangerous policy with far reaching dangerous repercussions for peace in the world. No country, however powerful it may be could arrogate to itself the power to punish sovereign states. He also openly called upon the Iranian people to subvert the regime in Teheran. No, Bush's dream is not noble. It is a terrible dream. Peoples of the world should unite against all attempts to realize this mad dream and make the world a safer and better place to live."



CANADA: "Winning Conditions"

Mario Roy opined in centrist La Presse (2/13): "A series of event which occurred in less than 90 days has brought about major changes of course in the Near and the Middle-East.... The elections in Iraq on January 30, which although imperfect, had nevertheless the merit of giving indications as to the real wishes of the population and to marginalize, at least from a moral point of view, violent extremists. In Saudi Arabia, the municipal elections that began Thursday are as imperfect as the Iraqi vote (women are excluded!), but are nevertheless the first call to the people on Saudi soil. And on Thursday in Nice, it was decided NATO countries would increase their participation in the international force in Afghanistan."

ARGENTINA: "The White House's Diplomacy Wants To Redouble Its Bet"

Ana Baron, Washington-based correspondent for leading Clarin, assessed (2/12): "The victory of Ayatollah Ali Sistani implies a possible alliance between Iraq and Iran that goes against the U.S. interests in the region. Tehran has always been in Bush's hawks' spotlight, but now with Sistani in Baghdad they have another good reason to focus on it. This is why one of U.S. State Secretary Condoleezza Rice's priority issues while she stayed in Europe was the need to put a brake on the Iranian nuclear program, regardless of the costs involved in it.... With the contention that the North Korean case is being negotiated and its resolution will be slow, Rice said that the Iranian problem is a top priority issue due to Tehran's support for terrorist groups jeopardizing peace efforts in the Middle East. Unless oil is in the middle of all this, it is not clear why, of the three countries making up the 'axis of evil', the Bush administration decided to first solve the problem in Iraq (a country that did not have a nuclear program), now in Iran (a country whose nuclear program is in the works) and left North Korea the last one, when it effectively announced that it has WMD and that it is willing to use them."


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