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World Opinion Roundup by Jefferson Morley

Mandate for Fallujah

By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 9, 2004; 12:20 PM

President Bush's self-ascribed reelection "mandate" at home has not necessarily translated into support in the international online media.

The minority of Bush's supporters in the media of Spain, Italy, Poland and Israel expressed satisfaction while commentators from Colombia to China urged Bush to reconsider the unilateral policies of his first term -- without much hope that he would comply. Opponents of the U.S military action in Iraq fear the election results are bolstering Bush's intentions in Fallujah, where roughly 10,000 U.S. troops and 2,500 Iraqi soldiers are closing in on an estimated 3,000 Iraqi and foreign fighters who are hiding among an unknown number of civilians.

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An editorial cartoon in the Independent of London depicts a victorious President Bush riding a missile bound for the Iraqi city with a caption that reads, "Hey Fallujah, look at the size of my mandate."

"A bloody assault on the town would destroy what little support the United States still enjoys in Iraq," predicted the Independent's editors. "It would send out a catastrophic message that [the United States] is unconcerned about what damage it inflicts on the Iraqi population so long as it achieves its goals."

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said much the same thing last week in a public letter to Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Bush ignored Annan's advice. He may feel he already exercised restraint in Fallujah and paid a price for it. When four American contractors were murdered and mutilated in the Western Iraqi town in April, the Jerusalem Post reported that Bush had ordered U.S. troops into action saying, "I want heads to roll." A massive U.S. military response resulted in 600 deaths -- most of them civilians, according to the local hospital director cited by CBS News -- before the White House heeded the pleas of Iraqi allies and ceased fire. A high-ranking Marine Corps officer later criticized the pullback as a display of weakness.

The president's supporters in the international online media certainly appear emboldened by his electoral victory. The Scotsman, a leading daily in Edinburgh, sees Bush's win as a conservative cultural and political "earthquake" that Europe must respect. The paper suggests the "nest of insurgents" in Fallujah "must be eliminated militarily to pave the way for an elected Iraqi government based on the Shia-Kurdish majority."

In Iraq, Bush's team is involved in practically every step of the post-election offensive, according to a Saudi newspaper. When interim prime minister Ayad Allawi wanted to declare 60 days of martial law, U.S. officials approved, the Arab News reported.

"The United State's Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage paid a secret visit to Baghdad Saturday and Sunday to provide the green light," the Saudi daily reported.

But even Allawi's number two, interim president Ghazi Yawar has publicly opposed the assault. According to the Economist, Yawar said attacking Fallujah's insurgents "is like shooting at a fly that has landed on your horse's head: you will miss the fly but kill your horse."

(Behind the scenes, Allawi and Yawar may be more unified. On Monday, Iraq's new ambassador to Iran told Agence France Presse that Allawi and Yawar sent a letter to Iranian president Mohammed Khatami about Fallujah and other issues of mutual interest.)

In Fallujah, Bush's Iraq plan faces one of its stiffest reality tests: Will the hastily trained Iraqi soldiers fight alongside U.S. forces in the streets of the pervasively anti-American city?

Allawi and U.S. officers hope so. But Aljazeera.net reports that the Association of Muslim Scholars, a group of influential clerics in Sunni Iraq, is urging them not to fight.

Fallujah may also prove frustrating. Analyst and professor of strategic studies Hugh White told Australia Broadcasting's World Today program that many fighters have already melted away with the car loads of civilians fleeing the city. Even if the American kill all the insurgents who remain, they will fail to strike "a decisive strategic blow against the insurgency" because so many jihadists have lived to fight another day, White says.

Bush's media critics anticipate what U.S. military spokesmen stress they are striving to avoid: civilian casualties.

"Screams will not be heard," writes Madeleine Bunting in an impassioned editorial for the Guardian. She visited a U.S. Marine camp based in a local retreat known as Dreamland that was once frequented by Saddam Hussein's sons.

"Now the camp's dream-like unreality is distorting every news report filed on the preparations for the onslaught on Falluja. We don't know, and won't know, anything about what happens in the next few days except for what the US military authorities choose to let us know," Bunting says.

"The media representation of this war will be from a distance: shots of the city skyline illuminated by the flashes of bomb blasts, the dull crump of explosions. What will be left to our imagination is the terror of children crouching behind mud walls; the agony of those crushed under falling masonry; the frantic efforts to save lives in makeshift operating theatres with no electricity and few supplies."

But for better or worse, few observers doubt that Bush will assert his newly ratified vision of American power in Fallujah, if not throughout the Middle East. The Iraqi Press Monitor yesterday published a cartoon from the Al-Sabah Al-Jadeed, an independent Baghdad daily. The drawing shows a startled Arab man checking a clock labeled "White House time" and adjusting his watch.

Since Nov. 2, Arabs have been living on Bush time.


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