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European Press Review: Cap in Hand or Passing the Buck?

The majority of editorials in the European press on Tuesday focused on Washington’s attempts at persuading the United Nations to re-engage in Iraq.

Austria's Der Standard commented that U.N. Secretary- General Kofi Annan has found himself stuck between a rock and a hard place on the issue of Iraq. On the one hand the U.N. with its expertise in reconstruction has little option but to intervene in Iraq considering the country's current situation. But on the other hand, the paper warned, the danger exists that by returning to Iraq at this time, the U.N. is unwittingly assisting the re-election campaign of U.S. President. George W. Bush.

Italy’s Corriere Della Serra wrote of a theoretical changing of the wind regarding the U.N. and Iraq. The Milan daily explained that just by its own mandate and existence, the international body has already accepted its role as umpire between President Bush, who is pushing for an unelected Iraqi government, and the Shiite religious leaders who are demanding national elections.

It is this standoff between the U.S. and the Shiites in Iraq which is making a difficult situation more complicated according to Spain's El Pais. The Grand Ayatollah Ali el Sistani continues to call for general elections but the paper argued that Washington has good reason to dismiss this call and added that Sunday's brutal attack is yet another reminder that free elections are impossible. The paper also warned that holding a general poll too soon could lead to the re-election of Saddam Hussein's supporters or radical Islamists.

London's Independent hinted that the President Bush’s State of the Union address will focus on the war with Iraq. Despite the rising number of American casualties in Iraq and the accumulating evidence of how desperately the aftermath of the war has been mismanaged, Bush continues to draw high ratings for his conduct of the war. The paper lamented that this is an unfortunate fact of U.S. politics and one that neither we as interested observers from across the Atlantic still less his Democrat challengers can afford to neglect.