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European Press Review: A Democratic Deficit in Iraq

European papers on Monday welcome the establishment of the new Iraqi council as a first but crucial step toward democracy, but warned that without free elections it is little more than a step.

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The 25 members of the new Iraqi Governing Council met for the first time over the weekend.

The editors of London's Independent opined that, for all of the United States' rhetoric of freeing the Iraqi people to run the country for themselves, American viceroy in Baghdad Paul Bremer's first instincts were quite different. He originally intended the Iraqi Council to be advisory in capacity and thought he would have to appoint ministers of the transitional government himself. It must be hoped that Iraq can be rebuilt as a democratic, stable and prosperous country. But that requires a better thought out plan and will be easier if all those involved are honest about their mistakes and open about learning from them, the paper concluded.

The Spanish daily El Mundo wrote that though the establishment of the provisional council was an important first step in the right direction, it was only a step. Though the council looks good on paper, it is worth nothing as long as appointed council members live under constant threat and have neither the authority, the financial means nor the international support to guarantee the legitimacy that only free elections can supply.

On its editorial pages, the Swiss daily Tages Anzeiger agreed, writing that while it's an important first step, the council has been appointed and not elected. And the council members will just have to live with the handicap of lacking legitimacy. And while they have more political power than originally conceived by the occupying coalition their most important first task is to win the trust of the population.

This sentiment was echoed by the Italian paper La Stampa, which noted that the first decision of the new council to declare April 9 as a national holiday was perhaps not the most important but certainly the most significant. This was the day Saddam Hussein's regime fell. Now the most important task is to convince the Iraqi's that the transitional council does indeed represent them. In this it seems not to have succeeded as the tensions and attacks continued immediately after their first sitting.

The Moscow-based Kommersant commented skeptically, arguing that the council will act as a scapegoat for the U.S. administration. Now America can kill two birds with one stone, the daily wrote. On the one hand it can retain total control over the country while demonstrating that the transition from totalitarianism to democracy is moving ahead at full steam. On the other hand, the Iraqi council will serve as a scapegoat that will carry all responsibility for future mistakes and difficulties.

The editors of Munich's Süddeutsche Zeitung agreed, writing that politically and militarily the US is in retreat. The council made up of Shiites, Sunni Muslims and Kurds will act as a buffer for the anger directed at coalition forces who have not yet managed to secure electricity or guarantee the safety of the Iraqi population. But the U.S. still conveys the impression that it is without a concrete plan for post-war Iraq, the paper concluded.