The insurgency in Iraq took on an international hue this weekend, when seven Spanish intelligence agents, two Japanese diplomats, two South Korean contract workers, and a Colombian were among those killed in separate attacks. Adding to the ambient carnage, reports suggested that upward of 46 Iraqi attackers had been killed by U.S. troops in a large skirmish in Samarra.
The English-language Japan Times reported that the two Japanese victims were killed Saturday when they stopped to buy food in a town between Baghdad and Tikrit, in the so-called “Sunni Triangle.” The men were heading for a conference on reconstruction. Like his other counterparts burying their citizens, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was defiant: “There will be no change in Japan’s policy of providing humanitarian and reconstruction assistance in Iraq by sending people, regardless of whether they are Self-Defense Forces troops, civilians or government officials.” Japan is still debating whether to send soldiers to Iraq and had put the decision on hold in the wake of a recent attack against Italian policemen.
Two South Korean electricians were killed in Tikrit on Sunday. An article in the Korea Herald reflected the genuine ambiguity of those countries that want to be seen as helping the United States but otherwise have few interests in Iraq. The paper pointed out: “The latest incident is expected to have an impact on South Korea’s decision to dispatch additional troops to Iraq [to join the 675 medics and military engineers already there], even though Seoul officials refused any ‘direct’ link between the two issues.”
In Spain, which paid the highest price this weekend, discontent was palpable as political opponents of Prime Minister José María Aznar raised the heat. London’s Guardian, in an article evocatively titled “Body Bag Count Puts Strains on Coalition,” observed that the Socialist opposition leader, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, “praised the bravery of the dead men but also led calls for the 1,300 Spanish troops in Iraq to be ‘brought home.’ He was backed by smaller opposition parties who … warned there could be ‘many more deaths in a very short period of time and for no good reason.’ ”
The Arabic press was somewhat less focused on the deaths of the foreigners than its Western counterparts. Beirut’s Arab nationalist daily Al-Safir offered a twist on the weekend killings with its headline, “Massacre in Samarra: The Occupation [Forces] Kill 46 Iraqis.” The paper has ardently opposed the U.S. presence in Iraq and interpreted the clash between American forces and Iraqi insurgents as a sign that the United States is “pursuing a policy … of implementing a balance of blood, without limits.”
It was not all Iraq in the Middle East press, however, as two other stories vied for headlines. The first was the signing in Switzerland on Monday of the Geneva Accord, an unofficial agreement negotiated by Israeli and Palestinian representatives. While much, indeed too much, hope has been placed in a document that has provoked the hostility of the Israeli government and has been ambiguously received by the main Palestinian Fatah movement, it is a statement on the demoralizing deadlock in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations that many people on both sides of the divide have welcomed it. However, Beirut’s Daily Star ran a gloomy assessment by Arab-Israeli academic Marwan Bishara, who concluded, “All in all, the balance sheet looks bleak for the Palestinians. They have another virtual agreement that contains more compromises from their end, but doesn’t translate into a final peace agreement because it has been denounced by Israel’s leadership and ignored by its public.”
The second story was Syria’s handing over of 22 people suspected of involvement in the recent bomb explosions in Turkey. According to reports cited by the London-based Al-Sharq al-Awsat, the suspects allegedly fled to Syria right after the bombings. The paper also said that the person responsible for ordering the attack against one of two Istanbul synagogues, “admitted that he had ties to Al-Qaeda … and that his cell was a part of the [organization] and included 10 Turkish fundamentalists.” He remarked that the suicide bomber who had blown up the HSBC Bank building in Istanbul had done so “in response to the American occupation of Iraq.”