International Papers

Next Stop, Baghdad?

Most papers concluded that with the Taliban all but vanquished, Iraq is the next likely battleground. President Bush toldNewsweek that if Saddam Hussein doesn’t end his three-and-half-year refusal to allow U.N. weapons inspectors inside Iraq, he will reap the consequences. In a column headlined “Americans want a war on Iraq and we can’t stop them,” Guardiancolumnist Hugo Young said, “President Bush’s prime purpose now is gearing up America for a wider war,” and the conditions for moving against Iraq have “become looser.” Toronto’s Globe and Mail noted that “[b]ecause of the Afghan campaign, the United States has ships, planes and troops in the region” to back up anti-Saddam Kurds in northern Iraq and Shiite Muslims in the south of the country. (Buy one war, get another one free?)

Most commentators concluded that the biggest hurdle in tackling Saddam is the opposition of Arab allies. Ha’aretzof Israel observed that “Arab leaders are having a hard time working out why President George Bush believes now is the time [to] single out Saddam Hussein—especially if he wants to maintain the Arab coalition for the unfinished business in Afghanistan, where Muslims are being killed daily by coalition forces and American bombs.” They perceive the escalation of anti-Saddam rhetoric “as an effort to hitch-hike into Iraq on the anti-terrorism campaign in order to finish something that began 11 years ago.” According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “Arab and Muslim nations … say their support for efforts against terrorism would collapse if Iraq were targeted.”

Other possible targets include non-Muslim North Korea, which has also refused to cooperate with U.N. inspectors. The Financial Times reported that hours after President Bush criticized Pyongyang’s weapons program, North Korean troops fired machine gun rounds across the border with South Korea. The tension comes as the reconciliation process between the two Koreas is foundering; following what the FT described as “a dispute about South Korea’s heightened state of security” since the Sept. 11 attacks. “Pyongyang viewed Seoul’s precautions as an act of aggression. Military analysts said yesterday’s shooting could have been designed to test South Korea’s reactions.” South Koreans have soured on President Kim Dae-jung, who is perceived as having “thrown aid and investment at Pyongyang without getting anything in return.” Partly because of his poor approval ratings, Kim’s political party suffered serious losses in recent by-elections. An op-ed in Monday’s South China Morning Post described Kim as a “downhill racer” whose eclipse “has been as depressing to watch as his apotheosis was exhilarating to behold.” The column concluded, “To the extent that world opinion has held him in too much awe … Korean domestic politics now, sadly, accords him too little respect. There is something deeply unsettling about a country that seems determined to level the domestic playing field by chopping down its tallest trees.”

From the beauty parlor to the TV studio in 48 hours: The Guardian published the diary of Rida Azimi, a Kabul TV presenter, who, like all Afghan women, was barred from working during the Taliban regime. The story chronicled Azimi’s transformation from secret beauty parlor operator to newsreader after the Taliban fled Kabul. Because the Taliban looted the station equipment, the transmitter’s low power allows only part of Kabul to pick up the station, but Azimi’s family couldn’t watch anyway: The Taliban destroyed their TV set two years ago. The Age  of Melbourne demanded that Afghan women’s rights be at the forefront of the peace initiative. If the Northern Alliance is allowed to retain power, it said, the pattern of abuse could continue: “[T]he Northern Alliance is simply another name for the mujahideen, whose reign of rape helped the rise of the Taliban.”

Going native: Italy’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia has converted to Islam after a year in the posting—the second Italian ambassador to Riyadh to make the switch. The news was reported in two Saudi dailies, although the ambassador has refused to confirm or deny the story. According to Spain’s El País, Torquato Cardilli has always had an interest in the Muslim world, but he decided to embrace Islam on an undercover trip to Mecca (non-Muslims are not allowed to visit the holy city). The news apparently caused “stupor and a certain discomfort” at the Italian foreign ministry.

Sept. 11, lucky for some? In Spain, the annual Christmas lottery is a huge event, with employers and retailers giving tickets to their best workers and customers, and people going to great lengths to purchase “lucky” numbers (some superstitious buyers travel to the sites of natural disasters to buy their tickets). El Mundo reported that this year the hottest numbers are “the Bin Laden”—tickets bearing the number 11,901 (outside the United States, dates are represented day-month-year, so 11,901 corresponds to Sept. 11)—and because tickets are divided into smaller shares, there were 170 Bin Ladens available. Lottery sellers who held the numbers received calls from prospective buyers all over the country but are now completely sold out.