April 8, 2005
NEW IRAQI GOVERNMENT A 'HOPEFUL' DEVELOPMENT
** Formation of a new government is a "turning point" that may lead to stability.
** Skeptics belittle the legitimacy of the "imposed government."
** Government's main challenge is "to stop the terrorism that is destroying the country."
** Arab, Turkish press welcome Talabani, but remain wary of his Kurdish allegiances.
'The miracle of Baghdad'-- Dailies cited the formation of a new Iraqi government as a measure of the "remarkable progress" Iraq has made and said it marked a possible "turning point" in the country's "tormented" process of democratization. The election of the former "legendary Kurdish militant" Jalal Talabani as president, said Brazil's center-right O Globo, "is one of the most unexpected--and positive--effects of American intervention." The selection of a Kurdish chief executive, a leftist French outlet argued, shows "a desire to maintain Iraq’s unity." Britain's left-of-center Guardian less charitably held that the choice of Talabani underlines the "disproportionate power" wielded by Kurds in post-Saddam Iraq.
Critics: government 'Made in the USA'-- Many editorialists found "hope for future stability" in the formation of the government; an Iraqi writer held it "confirmed that the political parties' strategy...is moving forward in the right direction." Skeptics, though, branded the government a creation of "U.S. military hegemony." Declaring that the Iraqi people have been "divided into three," they alleged the latest moves were "a mere partition of power" along ethnic and sectarian lines. The naming of Talabani "was an appointment, not an election," according to Turkey's nationalist Ortadogu. Calling it the "product of a foreign invasion," a Mexican daily argued the new government lacked legitimacy and will "not contribute" to Iraq's stability.
Curbing 'men of violence' a priority-- Editorialists agreed that the new government "faces challenges that are difficult to master" and "the path to democracy remains full of peril." The key to making the "complicated ethnic mixture" of the government work, analysts opined, is to "coax the Sunnis" onboard; "the disquiet" voiced by Sunnis, concluded the center-left Irish Times, "reveals how precarious" the democratic process is. Providing security in the face of a "murderous insurgency" is the "most urgent matter" before the government. "Even those who had good reasons to vehemently oppose the U.S. invasion must hope that the political process will defeat terrorism," observed Germany's center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
'President of all Iraqis'-- While one Turkish outlet viewed Talabani’s election as "a great opportunity for protecting Iraq’s territorial integrity," other Turkish papers voiced doubt about his "trustworthiness" and noted "it remains to be seen whether he will work for an Iraqi federation or for some other goal." While welcoming the multiethnic composition of the government, Arab papers like Bahrain's Daily Tribune remarked that the world "and the Arab world in particular" will be watching to see if Talabani "places his allegiance to Iraq above that of his ethnicity or whether he will succumb to ethnic pressures" that lead to the division of the country.
Prepared by Media Reaction Branch (202) 203-7888, firstname.lastname@example.org
EDITOR: Steven Wangsness
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 interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government. This analysis was based on 47 reports from 21 countries April 6 - 8, 2005. Editorial excerpts are listed from the most recent date.
BRITAIN: "The Fruits Of Freedom"
The conservative Times editorialized (4/8): "Three things give hope for future stability. The first is the recognition by all political factions of the need for compromise.... Secondly, the government comprises men of substance, exiles untainted by Saddam's brutalities and not easily manipulated by Iran or those preaching anti-Western violence. Thirdly, the government has been formed without coalition intervention.... What role Iraq's government sees for coalition forces in this fight must now be negotiated. The acquittal yesterday of a young British tank driver accused of murdering an Iraqi...underlines the high cost many, including Iraqis and Britons, have paid for the country's freedom. Their reward must be that Iraq will now grasp the opportunity presented by democracy."
The left-of-center Guardian editorialized (4/7): "The choice of a Kurd as president of an Arab country underlines the fact that this long-persecuted community...wields disproportionate power in post-Saddam Iraq. The lion's share will rest rightly with the Shia community, who were disenfranchised under Baathist rule.... But the key to making the new system work will be to coax the Sunnis...into getting involved. It is crucial that they take part in writing the constitution over the coming months to give them a stake in the country's future and draw the string from insurgency.... Once the government is in place, within the next few days, it should act boldly and decisively. It must answer the desperate expectations of millions of ordinary Iraqis that their needs can be met by the ballot box and coalition-bargaining, so they can forget the days of rule by secret police and Baathist coup d'etat."
FRANCE: "A Kurd For Iraq"
Left-of-center Le Monde argued (4/8): “The election of Jalal Talabani is an unprecedented event in more than one way. It is the first time a Kurd becomes president of Iraq, and the first time a non-Arab presides over a country where there is a majority Arab population. Jalal Talabani will also be the first democratically elected president of Iraq...even if Iraq’s January 30 elections could never serve as a model for Western democracies.... But in the chaotic situation of Iraq, where violence has not relented since the end of the American-led war, the elections have nevertheless given that nation a representative Assembly, a rather rare feat for the region.... While the collegial nature of the presidency could be a handicap for the country, it also proves that the three communities are determined to work together.... The nomination of a Kurdish president proves also a desire to maintain Iraq’s unity and to avoid, at least for the time being, an independent Kurdistan.... The most urgent matter at hand for the new authorities is curbing terrorism.... Talabani has already made a distinction between terrorists supported and financed from abroad, and 'Iraqis bearing arms against foreign troops'.... This new style would indicate a desire to integrate the latter group in the country’s political process, if the group agrees to give up on violence. In this case a new page would be turned on the road to Iraq’s stabilization.”
"End Of Great Bargaining For Power Sharing In Iraq"
Jean-Pierre Perrin remarked in left-of-center Liberation (Internet version, 4/7): "The new government is probably not the one the United States was hoping for.... Talabani could be regarded as an ally of Washington, but he also has solid relations with Iran, where he has taken refuge on several occasions. [Vice-President-designee] Abd-al Mahdi is a former Maoist, who became one of the leaders of the Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI, an Islamist grouping that was long controlled by Iran). Prime Minister-designate al-Jaafari belongs to Dawa, the model for all Shiite Islamist parties of the Muslim world and involved in bloodthirsty anti-U.S. attacks in the late 1970s. Two key ministries, Finance and Oil, are expected to go to two SCIRI officials.... Behind this new government, we sense the influence of Iranian Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.... In this new government...there is one notable absence--outgoing Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who failed to be reelected. The deputies of his list also abstained yesterday in the election of the president and his deputies."
"Talabani, Iraq’s Future President"
Christophe Boltanski wrote in left-of-center Liberation (4/6): “Talabani, a veteran of Iraqi politics, cannot have missed the irony. The leader of one of Iraq’s two main Kurdish parties, he is about to become the head of a nation which, since its creation, has constantly repressed his people.... He will become the first non-Arab president of an Arab nation, and the first elected president of Iraq.... While his role will essentially be honorary, he should nevertheless weigh in on the constitutional debate over Kurdish demands.”
GERMANY: "Moves Towards Democracy"
Heiko Flottau commented in center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (4/8): "The Iraq created by President Bush will continue to show two different faces to the world. On the one hand, there is the permanent insurgency against the U.S. occupiers and the Iraqi 'collaborators;' one the other hand, there is the advancing process of democratization. Even those who had good reasons to vehemently oppose the U.S. invasion must hope that the political process will defeat terrorism. This is important for the well-being of the Iraqis. The installation of the Kurdish Talabani as president and the Shiite Jafari as the government leader are moves towards a new and democratic Iraq. It is remarkable that all religious and ethnic groups apparently make an effort to secure Iraq's unity. However, they are not there yet. Only when in autumn a new constitution is approved, and when then a new parliament and government are elected, we will see whether democracy and stability will have an enduring prospect in Iraq. Even if the political process has then succeeded over terrorism, the question of an American troop withdrawal will remain. Only when the U.S. protectorate ends, can Iraq be called a true democracy."
"On Saddam's Throne"
Wolfgang Guenter Lerch commented in center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (4/7): "It is ironic that a Kurd was elected to succeed Saddam Hussein. Before Saddam was toppled, he did what almost all his predecessors did and suppressed the Kurdish minority. Saddam is responsible for committing genocide-like atrocities against the Kurds. Talabani's clout is not comparable with Saddam's power, but for the first time in many centuries a Kurd represents an Arab country. The times they are changing!"
"The Kurdish Card"
Christiane Schlötzer asserted in center-left Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (4/7): "The new importance Kurds gained in Iraq also increases their responsibility. The dream of an independent Kurdistan at Turkey's doorstep in the north of the country contradicts the new Iraq. The balance of power in Baghdad would lose its equilibrium, which was arduously agreed to, if the Kurds fuel the disputed over the status of the oil city Kirkuk instead of seeking compromises. Thousands of Kurds were expelled from Kirkuk under Saddam and Arabs moved in under force. If the Arab immigrants, who were also Saddam's victims, were now to be ruthlessly driven out it would be a huge burden for the new beginning of the multiethnic Iraq. Thanks to the war alliance with the U.S., the Kurds now play this strong role. For them, the U.S. intervention was the only chance to get rid of Saddam. This makes the Kurds different from their new partners in Baghdad. The other differences are that the Kurds see their regional autonomy as a guarantee for their security. They will not give it up under any circumstances. But the idea of federalism is unfamiliar to the Arabs as well as to the Turks. More autonomy for the Kurds is a nightmare for Ankara, but they can live well with a Kurdish president in Baghdad. Ankara sees this as the best approach against the idea of a Kurdish nation state."
Business daily Handelsblatt of Duesseldorf editorialized (4/7): "The parties have taken their time to create a new government--but the efforts could turn out as a clever investment. The result reflects the dominance of the Shiites and their Kurdish junior partner, but it also integrates the rebellious Sunnis.... The caution about the complicated ethnic mixture is extremely important. Otherwise, the new government would be doomed to fail. It faces challenges that are difficult to master. It is about solidifying the foundation of democracy in the country that was liberated from the despot Saddam. Still this year, a constitution will be drafted that secures a reliable balance between the religious and ethnic groups. Finding the right level of autonomy for Kurds as well as defining the role of Islam is especially difficult. But first of all, the leadership must crack down on the murderous insurgency. One can reach an agreement with the militant Sunnis, but the international terrorism, which made Iraq its battlefield, is more dangerous. Iraqis alone cannot combat them. After they have done their homework--with the heroic elections under a hail of bullets--they deserve every support available. This includes countries like Germany, which rejected the Iraq war. Without a victory over terrorism, reconstruction or economic development would be inconceivable. The democratization of Iraq remains a revolutionary process. Its success is not yet clear."
"The Miracle Of Baghdad"
Business daily Financial Times Deutschland of Hamburg opined (4/7): "Iraq is always good for a surprise. Nothing happened for two months after the first free elections in January.... The excitement of Iraqis for democracy was about to change to the contrary. That the three ethnic groups have finally agreed to elect the Kurd Talabani as the new president is a sensation. We could also call it the miracle of Baghdad, because it paves the way for the formation of the first democratically elected government."
"Victory Of Reason Over Hearts"
Juergen Gottschlich noted in leftist die tageszeitung of Berlin (4/7): "Kirkuk as the capital of a future autonomous province, a guaranteed proportion of the oil revenue and the continuance of the Peshmerga as an independent force--if Talabani were to push through these demands in a constitution, he would not win the hearts of Iraqis. The question remains whether filling the political posts on the basis of proportional ethnic representation rather destroys the unity of the country."
ITALY: "Iraq: Tests Of National Unity"
Leading business daily Il Sole-24 Ore editorialized (4/7): “This is definitely an historic turning point. It’s the first time that Iraq has democratically elected a president. It’s the first time that a Kurdish leader fills a top-notch position. It’s the first time that an Arab country will be led by a non-Arab president.... The path to democracy is nonetheless filled with peril.”
"Iraq, The Kurd Talabani As President"
Centrist, influential La Stampa noted (4/6): “[Talabani's selection] may mark a shift in the tormented formation of the new Iraqi government.... The next step will be the designation of the prime minister, the Shiite leader...Ibrahim Jafari. It will be up to him to form the new executive, another stumbling block that will test the fragile balance between the triumphant Shiites, the Kurds who are determined obtain the most they can, and the Sunnis who are determined not to totally relinquish the power that was their prerogative under Saddam.”
RUSSIA: "Good News"
Yevgeniy Shestakov said in official government-run Rossiyskaya Gazeta (4/7): “Talabani’s election is good news for Russia, of course. As the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, he more than once visited Moscow to discuss Iraq’s future. It is said also that the new president informally met with representatives of the Israeli government. Talabani enjoys the White House's support, even though he has repeatedly criticized its Middle East policy. Experts point out that the practically unanimous vote for Talabani in the National Assembly is a real guarantee that Kurdistan will be offered autonomy under the new constitution. At the same time, the new head of state does not mind the U.S. and British troops staying in Iraq as long as it takes to bring order to the country. Finally, Talabani in power is a chance for Russia to return to Iraq. At least, this is what Talabani called for before he became the President.”
"Iraq Never Had Kurd As President"
Ivan Groshkov stressed in centrist Nezavisimaya Gazeta (4/7): “Never before did Iraq have a president from among the Kurds, who account for 15% to 20% of its population. The occupation authorities have ruled that the president will have only representative functions. But given his influence and political weight, Talabani’s real power may be greater.... The ethnic and sectarian principle of dividing official positions is supposed to ensure consolidation and stability in society.”
AUSTRIA: "A Blessing For Iraq"
Foreign affairs editor Gudrun Harrer observed in independent Der Standard (4/8): "There is no unity with regard to those issues that are going to decide the future of Iraq--above all, the boundaries and the status of Kurdistan. Careful observers ask themselves how this unity is to be brought about by the date fixed in the interim constitution that will determine the fate of the nation-building process that is to unite the Kurdish federalist aspirations and the Shiite centralist concept of a state.... The restitution of security is likewise strongly dependent on integrative political progress. However, even if this will be difficult and may not be successful--a realistic possibility--it does not mean the new government is good for nothing. Other tasks await them; for instance, putting the state's affairs in order. The corruption and the abuse of power that recently reached unknown dimensions under the government of the American proconsul Iyad Allawi are probably more dangerous for Iraq than a political stalemate that would make the interim constitution a permanent one. Only if the government succeeds in taking measures to establish good governance and rule of law will it turn out to be a real blessing for Iraq."
Senior editor Helmut L. Mueller observed in independent Salzburger Nachrichten (4/7): "That Jalal Talabani has became the new president of Iraq is a great victory for the long suppressed Kurds in the country. This degree of political participation should keep in check the Kurds' ambitions for a separate state. In addition, the U.S. as the Iraqi Kurds' strategic partner is unlikely to support separation. However, the situation remains precarious. Turkey, for instance, is suspicious of the increased self-confidence displayed by the Kurds. The fracture lines in the neighboring country are too clearly visible. For one thing, the Sunnis now in the minority will have to be prevented from supporting unrest by being given political positions. The hour of truth will arrive when the constitution is worked out and key issues such as the role of Islam or the future of far-reaching autonomy rights for the Kurds are resolved."
Senior columnist Ernst Trost commented in mass-circulation Neue Kronenzeitung (4/7): "The historic fight of the Kurds for political acceptance has now ended victoriously for this sorely afflicted people. The Kurdish minority make up only 15 percent of the Iraqi population, but hold 25 percent of parliamentary seats. This was made possible through the strategic union of the Talabani and Barzani clans, which in the past have often been at loggerheads, as well as through high voter participation on the part of the Kurds. This way, they were able to maintain a strong position versus the Shiite majority. The Shiites, in return, will get the post of prime minister, which is equipped with more power. However, the Kurds have in Talabani an apt and well-positioned leader with regard to a possible far-reaching autonomy in a democratic Iraq. And what about the future? That is uncertain, like so much in Iraq--and the dream of a separate Kurdish state is one that Talabani, even as Iraqi president, is unlikely to have given up."
CZECH REPUBLIC: "President As Safeguard"
Pavel Masa commented in the center-right Lidove noviny (4/7): "The Iraqi Parliament elected Jalal Talabani as president yesterday. Satisfaction over this achievement, as expressed by the Iraqi legislative body, is legitimate. Electing a Kurd as the head of the country proves that the governing elite is able to overcome ethnic and religious hatreds and honors negotiated compromises with respect to preserving the country's integrity. The problem is that both main partners--the Kurds and the Shiites--see 'integrity' in different terms. The Kurds expect broad autonomy, the Shiites favor centrist governance. Furthermore, opposed to everybody else, the third group--the Sunni Arabs--prefer to boycott the government. It would be unrealistic to expect more than was accomplished, but a certain amount of apprehension is necessary. The new government will serve as a safeguard against excesses, but it would be too much to expect it to work under close-knit cooperation."
IRELAND: "Progress In Iraq"
The center-left Irish Times editorialized (4/7): “Many voices have been raised to say the long delay between the election and these first moves to implement its mandate reveals how difficult it will be to install a democratic system in Iraq. This has bolstered the resistance movement against continuing U.S.-led occupation.... It says there is much more continuity than difference between these new leaders and the government nominated by the U.S.-led occupation authorities last summer. There is indeed some truth in these criticisms. But they overlook the fact that agreement has eventually been reached to share out these symbolic posts between Kurds, Shia and Sunni leaders. It is expected agreement will shortly be announced that an Islamic Shia politician, Ibrahim Jaafari, is to be prime minister. It will fall to him to nominate a cabinet. There are persistent reports of deep disagreement on who should get the oil, defense and foreign affairs portfolios; but it is unlikely the process should have got so far if there were no prospect of agreement on them. The celebrations in Kurdistan yesterday and the upbeat statements from the parties are evidence that the process has established some legitimacy, even if it is still dominated by formerly exiled leaders and those involved in the interim government. The disquiet voiced yesterday by Sunni parties not directly involved in the process reveals how precarious it is and how urgent is the need to convince Sunnis to get involved in the next stage--negotiations on a constitution--if the military resistance is to be reduced. Major issues in those talks are whether Iraq is to be a federal or a centralized state, a secular or an Islamic one, and how the new state will relate to neighboring Turkey, Iran and Syria. This is a huge agenda requiring far more open political debate and deliberation than has been involved so far. A great deal will depend on whether a timetable for the withdrawal of coalition troops can be agreed to coincide with the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty and self-rule.”
SPAIN: "Iraq: A Power-Sharing Agreement"
Independent El Mundo commented (4/7): "The new Iraqi leaders' main challenge will be to stop the terrorism that is destroying the country, and to draft a constitution that should be finished by December. Its approval would give way to new general elections and would open the possibility of a progressive U.S. troop withdrawal. But everything is still up in the air, because in Iraq, there are dozens of attacks per day, instigated by al-Qaida and some members of Saddam's repressive machine, who share an interest in destabilizing the new regime. The future is still uncertain."
"A President For Iraq"
Conservative ABC took this view (4/7): "[Jalal Talabani's] appointment contains two messages that shouldn't be missed. First it confirms the willingness of the Kurds to remain part of the Iraqi nation, something that also should contribute to calming neighboring countries, especially Turkey. And secondly, [Talabani] is a fervent supporter of the Anglo-American intervention in Iraq that ended the dictatorship.... Democracy and the creation of institutions are moving forward little by little in the new Iraq. It's true that the violence of the terrorists that are trying to impede it still makes noise with its bombs and kidnappings. But each step forward, even small, is the best response that the Iraqis can give to the criminals."
Left-of-center El País had this to say (4/7): "If it were not for insecurity, rivalry among the three main communities, and the limited responsibilities of the position, we should describe the election, yesterday, of Kurdish secessionist leader Yalal Talabani as president of Iraq by a broad majority of the National Assembly as revolutionary.... We will have to see if any Sunni representative finally agrees to become part of the coalition and under which conditions. Leaving out this majority, which governed the country during Saddam Hussein's regime and is now very divided, would be a real suicide and would lead the drafting of the future Constitution to failure.... The parliamentary session yesterday opens a sliver of hope in a country tormented by a violence that daily results in murders and kidnappings.... In this situation, no one dares to speculate about the withdrawal of U.S. troops, not even to set a timetable."
TURKEY: "The Success of Iraq"
Erdal Guven observed in the liberal-intellectual Radikal (4/8): “Despite some ongoing problems, such as economic issues and lack of security, Iraq's current situation represents remarkable progress that should not be ignored.... Kurds and Shiites found an optimal way to work together by abandoning excessive demands. Sunnis were not excluded from the political restructuring despite the fact that they kept a distance from it and some even worked against it.... These are promising developments that make one hopeful about the future of Iraq. Iraq is now moving toward a more challenging period when it will attempt to rebuild its infrastructure. Iraq will be able to experience success in this period if the tendency of reconciliation and embracing all elements is maintained. Any deviation will increase the potential for conflict and division.... If we consider what the Iraqis have accomplished so far, we can be hopeful for the future.”
"Time For Reconciliation With Talabani"
Ferai Tinc wrote in the mass-appeal Hurriyet (4/8): “Iraqi leaders have a serious challenge in the days ahead. They will have to deal with many issues in restructuring the country with leadership that combines different ideals and different interests. Political existence for some Iraqi leaders stemmed from their opposition to Saddam. Today things are very different...and new rhetoric will be required. It is important to note that Ankara was among the first capitals to congratulate Talabani. It seems that Ankara is revising its position on Iraq to embrace all elements, including Turkmen, Kurds, and Arabs. The solution of Iraq’s problems is very important for everyone in the region, and particularly for Turkey. Turkey should contribute to the reconstruction of Iraq by pursuing a respectful, inclusive, and cooperative course.”
"Was Talabani Elected or Appointed?"
Nationalist Ortadogu observed (4/8): “Talabani has become the president of Iraq. This was an appointment, not an election. It says several things. A minority now rules the majority in Iraq. Bush has accomplished the first step toward a federal system in this country.... It is very unfortunate that before the eyes of the countries in the region, the map of the Middle East is being changed. The White House has begun implementing a scenario for the region that will have serious consequences for the future of the Turkish Republic.... As a first step, the people of Iraq were divided into three, thanks to the democratic (!) election. Now a tribal leader has been named president. Developments in Iraq from now on will not bring any good news for Turkey, nor for Kirkuk and the Turkmen.”
Zafer Atay opined in the economic-political Dunya (4/7): “There is speculation that Talabani has been supported by his rival, Mesud Barzani, to become the new president of Iraq because the position doesn’t carry any real political power. In fact, Shiite groups did not want to run for this position, which is largely symbolic. The Shiites instead insisted on the prime minister position. Under orders by Sistani, the radical Shiites will not permitted to take part in the new administration. Washington will support this moderate government. Will all of this be good enough to stop the bloodshed in Iraq? The Sunni insurgents connected to al-Qaida in Iraq are the biggest enemies of Talabani and the Shiites. In their view, elected officials and even voters are considered collaborators with the enemy. Millions of other Iraqis who want to go back to their routine lives have been intimidated. In short, both Talabani and the new government will have very little support outside the U.S. military. This situation will make things difficult for the new government. Talabani is no longer the militant party leader. We hope that ‘President Talabani’ will act according to the responsibilities of his new position.”
"A Proper Election"
Gungor Mengi commented in the mass-appeal Vatan (4/7): “The pain suffered by the Kurds under the Saddam regime might have caused them not to trust anyone. But there is a complete new future ahead of Iraq. Will the religious and ethnic components of the state understand that living together in a regime with equal rights is an opportunity not to be missed for their own prosperity and security, as well as for regional peace?... A more effective and experienced politician than Talabani could [not] have been found to explain this fact to Iraqis. Who else could persuade the Kurds that there is no reason left to establish an independent Kurdish state? Talabani’s election is a great opportunity for protecting Iraq’s territorial integrity. It is obvious that Turkey is going to support this chance. Ankara should make its support clear not only in Baghdad, but in Washington as well. Turkey should also try to accelerate the process.”
Erdal Safak contended in the mass-appeal Sabah (4/7): “Talabani’s term in as president will last until the end of this year. The period will be watched closely and with concern in Ankara. Turkey has enough experience with Talabani to be suspicious about his trustworthiness and susceptibility to quick policy changes. It remains to be seen whether he will work for an Iraqi federation or for some other goal. Kirkuk continues to be an important issue to test Talabani’s policy. It will be interesting to see if he will focus on all elements in Iraq instead of just the Kurds and Kurdish rights.... There are a number of reasons to be concerned about the future of Iraq at this point. Leaving aside local tensions, the general picture is also not very promising in that it resembles the situations in post-division Yugoslavia or the former Soviet republics.... We can only hope that Iraq will not have a future like those countries and can at least manages to become more like Lebanon.”
IRAQ: "Jalal Talabani"
Muhammad Abdul Jabbar editorialized in independent Al-Sabah (4/7): "It does not matter if our president is Arab, Kurdish, Turkmen, Muslim, Christian, Shiite or Sunni. The most important thing is that the president is an Iraqi and is elected. In addition, he must be qualified and loyal to Iraq and its people. After more than 80 years since the establishment of the Iraqi state, we are now finally able to have an elected president like any other country. This is a real pleasure for us.... The essence of democracy means that countries must have elected leaders.... Today in Iraq, we are finally practicing this right as we have elected Jalal Talabani as our president. Mr. Talabani will not remain in his position indefinitely because we do not want a life-long president. We also do not want a president who has no competitors in the upcoming elections.... It is not necessary to distribute governmental positions based on sectarian and factional bases. The sovereign positions of the government that represent the people should not be treated like a slice of cake that can be distributed among the different sects, ethnicities, and parties. In the past, Saddam's regime practiced authoritarianism, nationalist oppression and discrimination, and violated human rights. After his downfall, democracy can be the only alternative to these dreadful policies. However, this democracy must steer clear from sectarianism, nationalism, and patronage. This democratic experiment must be based on providing opportunities for all citizens to hold any governmental position free of favoritism and according to the law. Congratulations to the Iraqi citizens for electing Talabani as the president of Iraq. Congratulations to the people who practiced their right to choose one of their own sons as president."
"The Successful End"
Ali Khalif wrote in SCIRI-affiliated Al-Adala (4/7): "Yesterday, the Iraqi people's representatives achieved a great success by choosing a president and his two deputies for the new Iraqi government. This success is an addition to previous successes that the Iraqi people have achieved during the past months. The Iraqi people are now looking forward to their representatives achieving the upcoming stages of the political process. We hope that they will be able to finish drafting the permanent constitution, which will guarantee the rights of all Iraqis. The results of the post-election period have undoubtedly confirmed that the political parties' strategy of managing the political process is moving forward in the right direction. As a result, these results will be fruitful and lead to the establishment of a united, democratic, and free Iraq. The new Iraq will move steadily forward to accomplish the upcoming stages of the political process. The Iraqi people realize the magnitude of the responsibility that lies on their shoulders. Everybody understands that the state must aim for the people's higher interests because there is no place for personal benefits. The Iraqi people recorded the greatest electoral epic in Iraqi history when they went to vote in the January elections. The Iraqi people can achieve another heroic deed by participating in the upcoming referendum on the permanent constitution. There is no doubt that the constitution represents the real assurance for the Iraqi people. The days of the former regime are gone forever. We now have a bright and hopeful future ahead of us."
SAUDI ARABIA: "Toward A Multiethnic Future"
The English-language, pro-government Arab News observed (Internet version, 4/8): "It has taken a long time but the naming of a new Iraq prime minister and selection of a new president by the new Parliament represents a significant step on the country’s progress toward a new multiethnic future.... The convoluted constitutional process that has brought Iraqis thus far has been criticized for its unwieldiness. But most Iraqis are generally content with an arrangement that ensures that their country’s politicians work together on the basis of consensus. Extremists within the different communities have not found a way to exploit the delays caused by weeks of negotiations. The men of violence have of course continued their campaign but their power to influence events has come ever weaker. Their problem is that while Iraqis have no love for the occupation forces, they are not prepared to go back to the days of Saddam Hussein when capricious violence and terror were meted out by the state on a daily basis. They see in their new interim government, however distant at this moment, a means to build a peaceful future. Nor should it be overlooked that the long delay in agreeing on a head of state has been caused in large part, not by personality conflict but by differences over policy. The leaders of Iraq’s different communities have not stooped to personal attacks but have promoted their positions on the basis of compromise and consensus. This is a profoundly encouraging development.... Iraqi politicians are going out of their way to establish a political balance. The Sunni community ought in time to recognize that they are not being excluded from the new Iraq as they have been led to believe by the men of violence in their midst.... Having lived through the worst the terrorists had to offer, Iraqis have learned that the best way to defeat terror is to get on with your life regardless. Talabani’s inauguration yesterday has proved that, as has the choice of the new prime minister."
"Challenges Before The New Iraqi Administration"
Abha’s moderate Al-Watan editorialized (4/7): "It is extremely dangerous to build a new democratic modern state in the Arab world on a sectarian and ethnic basis. But realities in Iraq, which emerged after the war and resulted in the empowerment of certain groups that felt marginalized before the war, made such arrangements the best possible way for establishing the new Iraqi leadership regime."
BAHRAIN: "Difficult Job Ahead For Talabani"
The English-language, pro-government Daily Tribune editorialized (Internet version, 4/8): "The election of Talabani as president of Iraq at this stage would put a lot of minds at ease. All those who worry about the fragmentation of the country will know that despite his lifetime of working for Kurdish rights, the new president will work for Iraqi unity with all ethnic groups working together for a free and democratic Iraq. It was poetic justice to see the leader of an ethnic group persecuted for decades by the previous regime to head the country and work for a permanent constitution to safeguard every citizens’ right irrespective of his or her ethnicity or religious denomination.... But Talabani’s election as president will not eliminate the many issues that remain to be solved to enable the country’s ethnic and religious groups to live in peace and harmony. Among the touchiest issues that remain are whether the oil city of Kirkuk should be part of the autonomous Kurdish region and what role Islam should play in Iraq’s governmental system. Sunni Arabs have only 17 seats in the assembly, largely because they boycotted the election or stayed home out of fear of attacks. But despite their small number they will be well represented in the decision-making process.... In the new Iraq there is no room for sour grapes. All those who were getting a free ride during the previous regime must live as equals with the rest of the Iraqis and shoulder their responsibilities for the prosperity of their country. Another challenge awaits the new president. After his election as Iraq’s interim president, the 71-year-old Talabani is still expected to take his battle for Kurdish rights from the Kurdish north to Baghdad. The world in general and the Arab world in particular will be watching the new Iraqi president to see whether he places his allegiance to Iraq above that of his ethnicity or whether he will succumb to ethnic pressures and lead to the division of the country. Yes. Talabani has a difficult job ahead. The compromises he makes will decide the fate of the country."
KUWAIT: "President Of All Iraqis"
Editor-in-Chief Ahmed Al-Jarallah wrote in the independent, English-language, usually pro-American Arab Times (Internet version, 4/8): "The new president of Iraq belongs to all Iraqis. He comes from a tribe which suffered at the hands of Saddam and paid a high price in its battles against the former Iraqi dictator’s unfair treatment.... Talabani’s election...confirms the unity of all Iraqis. It is good the Sunnis have returned to their senses and accepted the democratic method instead of railing and ranting against the United Sates and accusing it of occupying Iraq. At last the Sunnis have accepted the reality and the fact that among the eight million Iraqis who voted in the January elections, they constituted only 20 percent. Sunnis have understood they are a minority in Iraq. Their attempts at resistance were aimed only at defending Saddam, and were not in the interest of Iraq or the freedom of its people. Democracy is making a headway in Iraq. Despite terrorism and the killing of innocent people, democracy has brought Sunnis back to their senses, ended the competition for leadership, and shown all Iraqis are citizens of one country. Now all Iraqis have become loyal to their united country and not to any sect, religion, or tribe. Without democracy, Iraqis would have continued to face unfairness, and fallen prey to endless local disputes and human rights violations, which could have lasted for another 40 years."
LEBANON: "Talabani’s Election Can Send Strong Signal Of Democracy To Region"
The English-language Daily Star remarked (4/7): “The Kurds have a long history of struggle and pain in Iraq. And yesterday’s election of Jalal Talabani as the country’s first ever Kurdish president and the first non-Arab president of an Arab state, may go some way toward healing some of their wounds. It isn’t quite the seismic change many in the Western media would have you believe. Historically, well over a third of the Iraq Army was composed of Kurds. Many of Iraq’s prime ministers have been Kurds. And things are still some way short of being entirely rosy. Disputes over key government posts...are still to be solved. But for all that and despite the fact that his tenure is strictly speaking transitional and the office largely ceremonial, Talabani is well placed to usher in a new era of Kurd-Arab ties in Iraq. And more importantly, he can also play a role in cementing Kurdish ties within a wider Arab nationalist framework.... Iraq’s new president is well placed to turn a new page towards a more inclusive Arab nationalism, one that has meaning for Kurds, Armenians, Berbers, Turkomen, and Sudanese. Moving Iraq’s Kurds towards an Arab framework, away from simply representing themselves, must be one of his paramount duties. It will also send a strong signal to the international community, most notably Iran and Syria but especially Turkey, that Kurds see their future within a fully democratic Iraq and not outside it.”
EAST ASIA AND PACIFIC
JAPAN: "First Step Toward Reconciliation"
Liberal Tokyo Shimbun editorialized (4/8): "The Iraqi Parliament has finally decided on the lineup of the government to be headed by President Talabani and Prime Minister al-Jaafari. Considering the long history of oppression of the Kurds by Saddam Hussein, the selection of Kurdish leader Talabani signals the start of a new Iraq.... Shiites and Kurds have made major concessions by giving Sunnis important portfolios, including the vice-presidency and the parliamentary speaker position, in an attempt to launch an 'all-inclusive' government. Their efforts should be commended. As al-Jaafari is tasked with forming a cabinet, the three competing groups must cooperate so as not to delay Iraq's march toward democracy. They must take to heart the results of the January elections, the first-ever free poll in the Iraq's history. If the factions vied for key portfolios, such as oil minister, the Iraqi people would be divided and terrorist acts would be repeated. A path to coexistence will not be set without mutual compromise."
"Shrewd Politician Bearing Heavy Responsibility"
The Cairo correspondent of liberal Asahi concluded (4/7): "The first-ever selection of a Kurdish leader as Iraq's new interim president marks a turning point in the nation-building of the war-torn country, as well as for the minority group's drive for self-governance. Jalal Talabani will be asked to strike a balance between his people's crusade for greater independence and the territorial integrity of a new Iraq. As a leading Kurdish figure, he will continue to press for the introduction of a federal state, greater autonomy for his people, as well as the expansion of Kurdish sphere of influence, including over the strategic oil city of Kirkuk. As president, he also bears heavy responsibility for creating a unified Iraq under which several ethnic and religious factions must coexist peacefully."
"Waning of 'People's Power' Prompts Talabani Selection"
The top-circulation, moderate-conservative Yomiuri maintained (4/7): "Legislators finally acted to select the new leader out of concern that the prolonged political vacuum would alienate Iraqi voters, who defied terrorists' threats to cast their ballots, and have a serious negative impact on political process and security situation. The months-long political confusion illustrates the difficulty facing Iraq's march toward democracy, under which every political step must be carefully worked out while balancing the competing interests of various ethnic and religious groups."
INDONESIA: "Unexpectedly A Kurd Leader Elected Iraq President"
Leading independent daily Kompas commented (4/8): “The image of Iraq as a pluralistic country became more striking after Talabani was elected. People now are more aware that every citizen has the same chance to assume a high public office, including the top executive position, president.... The Iraqi parliament has demonstrated a process for the presidential election that was free from primordial ethnic sentiment. The democratic presidential election process has raised the hope for a process of national reconciliation after the war.”
"The Future Of Democracy In Iraq"
Rumadi of Jakarta’s Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University opined in leading independent Kompas (4/8): “The U.S. occupation in Iraq tends to lose its legitimacy not only because of the incessant violence waged by the guerrilla and militant groups, but also because the U.S. troops are now becoming more frustrated. The fatal shooting of an Italian agent in Iraq and a Bulgarian soldier demonstrated even more how low the level of their legitimacy is. All these uncertain conditions in Iraq indicate that the future of democracy in the country is not yet promising. The election of Al Hassani as the House’s speaker and Talabani as the president was not an answer [to the question] that a democratic culture is alive in Iraq. Will they be able to stop the violent acts that occur almost every day? Could security be maintained should the U.S. troops pull out from Iraq? [On the other hand] continued protection from the U.S. would not guarantee freedom and democratization in Iraq.”
SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA
INDIA: "Good Start"
The independent Bengali Anandabazar Patrika held (4/8): “Evidence of regime change is so palpable that it would be quite natural for Saddam Hussein to become startled after seeing video footage of the selection process of the president in Iraq.... What is unnatural is to dream of seeing a radical change in Iraq overnight. The alliances that have formed or are sprouting in Iraq [are] extremely complex and varied.... One should keep an eye on the way the relationship proceeds between Westernized leaders and the Iraqi masses that remained under the rule of the Baath Party for three decades. So far so good, but that should not be a cause for overwhelming elation. In the post-Saddam era, democratic Iraq has a long road to travel.”
PAKISTAN: "The New Iraqi Government"
The independent Urdu-language Din observed (4/8): "The process of government formation is moving ahead in Iraq albeit at a slow pace. Following Kurd leader Jalal Talabani’s election as president, the new speaker rightly termed it the new face of Iraq.... The election of prime minister will now take place, who will be from the Shia sect.... Undoubtedly, the resistance movement is now restricted to the outskirts of Baghdad and some other Sunni areas. The holding of elections in Iraq, and the public participation in them have emerged as a symbol of stability in the country. Credit for this must go to Ayatollah Ali Sistani and his realistic and balanced views.... His presence would ensure that he would not let the new Iraqi government be influenced by mullahs, nor let it be unduly influenced by Iran--both of which might become justifications for prolonged U.S. presence in Iraq."
"Iraq Has Done Well"
The Lahore-based, liberal English-language Daily Times commented (4/8): "The impasse that had gripped the Iraqi parliament on the issue of the presidency has been resolved.... The political arrangements are unlikely to put a stop to the violence but if Iraq’s new leadership can move the country to a new path and satisfy all the political actors--not entirely an easy task but not impossible either--the tide could slowly turn in favor of political dialogue and accommodation. Of course, it is still too early to predict that Iraq will become stable anytime soon. However, the silver lining is the resolve by the coalition not to allow the violence to prevent political and economic restructuring of Iraq. That is a good sign."
Center-right O Globo noted (4/8): "The election of a legendary Kurdish militant to preside over Iraq is one of the most unexpected--and positive--effects of American intervention. During decades, Jalal Talabani was the principal enemy of the Iraqi regime in Kurdistan, where his stubborn nationalist campaign used to attracted the homicidal fury of Saddan Hussein.... It was even possible to imagine Talabani governing an independent Kurdistan.... But never as the head of state of Iraq itself.... In the new country that emerges slowly and painfully from the destruction due to the American invasion there will be no room for strongmen.... But perhaps the biggest novelty is the will to find a formula that permits Shiites and Kurds...to work side by side.... As more Sunnis are attracted to positions of authority, the greater will be the possibility for peace and stability in one of the most unstable and insecure countries of the world."
"Progress In Iraq"
Center-right O Estado de S. Paulo editorialized (4/8): “Despite the many reasons for skepticism regarding the chances for the establishment of democracy in Iraq, it is undeniable that the nation is marching in that direction. Occupied Iraq has advanced politically despite the insurgency, the disagreement between Shiites and Sunnis, the Kurds’ separatist aspirations, and the rumors that the ‘Islamic democracy’ fostered by the Shiites may become more Islamic than democratic. The January 30 elections were a surprise by showing that despite the authoritarian tradition, the Sunni boycott, and the terror climate created by the guerrillas, almost 60 percent of the Iraqis voted.... According to observers, an Iranization of Iraq seems unlikely.... Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari is definitely not a radical, but the Sunnis fear that in order to reciprocate the support he received from the ‘turbans,’ he will designate hard-line Shiites for key ministries such as that of Interior.... There are many problems in Iraq, either occupied or not. But from now on they may be faced in a democratic way.”
Liberal Folha de S. Paulo editorialized (4/7): “Despite the fact that the Shiites are the main political force in Iraq today, the Kurds are very much strengthened. Regardless of how purely decorative the presidency is, the post has a considerable political weight. While negotiating with the Shiites to assure the necessary two thirds in the National Assembly to designate the Presidential Council, President Jalal Talabani obtained concessions in several areas. He is expected to influence both the government and the Assembly, which will draft a final Constitution.... The Kurds will pressure for maximum autonomy in Iraq. A fundamental point is the control of Kirkuk, a region that is located on a sea of oil capable of producing one million barrels a day. The control of such a resource represents great political power. It is around the axis of autonomy and oil that the Iraqi politicians will transit in the next few months.”
MEXICO: "Imposed Democracy"
Business-oriented El Financiero editorialized (4/7): "The designation of Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), as President of Iraq...is a new step towards the construction of an imposed government, guided by the U.S. military hegemony. This latest move is a result of a mere partition of power based on alliances and guidelines that depend on sects, but also on ethnic aspects, such as the alliance with Lebanon. In this way, the progress of extended negotiations between the Shiite and Kurd communities to choose a head of the Executive power...does not contribute to getting any guarantee of stability in that nation, nor does it legitimize the authorities in Baghdad, since the Sunni minority has been left out. In addition to this, it is undeniable that the construction of this government apparatus is the product of a foreign invasion against which there is fierce armed opposition on behalf of an important sector of the Iraqi people."
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