International Papers

Women o’ War

Over the weekend, several Arab newspapers described the details of a postwar American political order in Iraq and named the officials who might rule the country.

In a front-page article on Sunday, the London-based Al-Hayat quoted U.S. officials as saying that postwar Iraq would be divided into three administrative zones. Taking a page out of British imperial history, the Bush administration intends to name a woman, Barbara Bodine, a former ambassador to Yemen, as administrator of the central zone that includes Baghdad. After World War I, Britain also appointed a woman, the colorful Gertrude Bell, to run Iraq, though Bodine might have less clout. According to the London-based Saudi paper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, she and the two administrators of the northern and southern zones (both former generals) will report to retired Army general Jay Garner, who heads the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, the euphemistically named body created by the Pentagon to govern Iraq. The paper also asserted that a four-member interim presidential council made up of Iraqis would be set up to advise the Americans. It may include former ministers “Adnan Pahchachi, an Arab Sunni now based in the United Arab Emirates; Fouad Aref, a Kurdish Sunni headquartered in Kurdistan; Abdelghani Dalli, an Arab Shiite living in Britain; and Ahmed al-Habboubi, another Arab Shiite currently residing in Egypt.”

The alleged U.S. intentions in fashioning such an arrangement are criticized by the United Arab Emirates’ daily Al-Khaleej. In a leader, the paper excoriated the “wicked, fiendish intentions” of the Bush administration, pointing out that the subdivision of Iraq suggested the country would be carved up along sectarian and ethnic lines—the north has a substantial Kurdish population, the south is predominantly Shiite, while Sunnis are concentrated in the middle of the country. However, the appointment of retired military men to administer the north and south suggested, on the contrary, that the administration might impose tighter control over the Kurds and Shiites precisely to avoid Iraq’s partition, which virtually everybody in the region opposes.

“Partition” is a word British Prime Minister Tony Blair must be especially sensitive to, as myriad cracks appear in his own government and Labor Party. On Sunday, Clare Short, the international development secretary, warned that she would resign from the Cabinet if there were no second U.N. resolution authorizing war in Iraq. As London’s Guardian noted, “In comments which were frank even by her standards, she said she feared the prime minister was being ‘extraordinarily reckless’ with the future of the government.” While Short is the most senior Cabinet official to threaten resignation, London’s Daily Mirror emphasized the revolt could greatly expand, and it quoted a Labor source as saying: “The party has never had such an overwhelming protest. It remains to be seen if Tony Blair can survive.” The pro-Blair Sun, however, chose to put the photo of an Iraqi drone discovered by U.N. inspectors on its front page, describing it as a “war clincher.” The banned drone, the paper wrote, was “capable of dropping biological weapons” and was the “smoking gun” the United States and Britain sought.

Smoking guns are a familiar sight in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and several papers focused on an event that might make them less frequent: Yasser Arafat’s request that the PLO endorse Mahmoud Abbas as nominee for the newly created post of prime minister—a key step in resuming a serious U.S.-Palestinian dialogue. On Sunday Al-Hayat noted there was still disagreement between Arafat and Abbas over the appointment (which must be confirmed by the Palestinian parliament and executive), with Abbas demanding he also be named vice president, making him Arafat’s obvious successor. Beirut’s pro-Syrian Al-Kifah al-Arabi, which has little sympathy for Arafat, highlighted Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s welcome of Abbas’ promotion. However, the appreciation came with warnings issued to the militant Islamic group Hamas, which has vowed to avenge Israel’s killing of a senior official, Ibrahim Makadmeh, on Saturday. Writing in the daily Yediot Ahronot, Israeli commentator Ofer Shelach criticized the assassination’s timing, arguing it merely undermined Abbas, who opposes suicide bombings. Shelach wondered, “Does the brain think before the finger squeezes the trigger? Does anyone weigh the outcome of a military act, or are we controlled by an impulse that says all the bad guys must be punished, here and now, and to hell with the consequences?”