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Europe

European Press Review: Bush's Thanksgiving Surprise

European newspapers on Friday commented on the surprise visit of U.S. President George Bush to Iraq and the country’s current state of stability.

French daily L'Union said Bush surprised everyone by celebrating Thanksgiving with American troops in Iraq. With this gesture the U.S. President has undoubtedly won the hearts of his fellow people during this holiday season, according to the paper. What is also clear is that Bush has begun the battle for re-election, but it now all depends on whether the situation doesn't get worse for the troops in Iraq.

Italian paper La Stampa said the message for Islamic terrorists and as well as the supporters of Saddam Hussein was clear – as long as George Bush is in the White House, the United States will not take one step in retreat. If the guerrillas hope to scare off the U.S. troops with their suicide attacks like they did in Lebanon and Somalia then they are sorely mistaken said the paper because this time it's about the security on the streets of New York, Washington and Los Angeles.

Another Italian daily was more cynical, however. It was pure Hollywood proclaimed La Repubblica, adding the Baghdad surprise was very obviously an election coup and an advertisement that over the next year of presidential campaigning will be repeated over and over again. But the surprise nature of the visit highlights how insecure and difficult the situation in Iraq still is.

Meanwhile the Financial Times from London wrote that as the U.S. president flew into Baghdad on Thursday, the supreme spiritual leader of the Shiites said a U.S. appointed governing council was unacceptable and demanded an assembly elected by the people. The prize of legitimacy far outweighs the U.S. preference for a top-down strategy built around favored exiles and a timetable synchronized with President Bush’s re-election campaign. The transition is about the future of Iraq and it's the Iraqis who should decide it, the paper opined.

According to another British paper the Guardian, the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani who speaks spiritually for 60 percent of Iraq's population has urged for direct national elections to create a legitimate, fully fledged rather than interim government. “Suspicion grows that the U.S. for all its fulsome talk of promoting democracy fears early, empowering elections may produce an Iraq unsuited to its purposes,” wrote the paper.

Berlin's conservative Die Welt sees a new power play emerging between the U.S. administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer and the Shiite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. His veto power is more threatening to the Americans than terrorism. And the situation is so serious that Iraq could face a civil war said the paper, adding the politicians in Paris and Berlin that are calling for a quick transfer of power to the Iraqi's have underestimated the danger it entails.