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European Press Review: Lessons in Democracy

European editorials on Wednesday commented on Iraq's emerging democracy: Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has come under harsh criticism for his latest moves in quelling the continuing violence there.

Regarding what the papers have dubbed the "lacking" or even "non-existent" democracy in Iraq, the Belgian newspaper De Morgen wrote: “Not only is there still no democracy in Iraq, but the current situation also prompts the question of whether or not this will actually be pursued by the interim government. A government that opts for the death penalty as one of its first big decisions, does not have a chance of winning over much trust. Democracy in the Arab World is no longer the great dream for the time being.” It also compared the American-led Iraq war with that of Napoleon’s attack on Egypt and the British efforts after World War I to establish a democracy - mirroring their own - on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire. The attempts miserably failed.

The Paris paper Le Monde wrote: “It appears that the new Iraq is already sinking to the same depths of the authoritarian regimes in the region.” The newspaper added that the country is far from being a model for democracy. The first step towards correcting the current chaos would be to send Allawi back to school for some lessons on democracy, it concluded.

Allawi also came under fire from the International Herald Tribune, which said the premier has already “begun yielding to the same kind of authoritarian mentality that has stifled democracy in too many neighboring states.” The paper illustrated its point with the interim prime minister’s latest target: Al Jazeera. The television station’s Baghdad bureau has been shut down for at least 30 days. “Thwarting Al Jazeera’s news coverage will not halt the violence that has been tearing Iraq apart for the past 16 months," the paper wrote. "But it may spare Allawi the embarrassment of having that violence so visible to a world-wide audience. It may also give his government a freer hand to pursue personal political vendettas in the name of restoring law and order.”

The European edition of the Financial Times dumped the whole blame on the American administration, saying its “failure to establish a secure environment at the conclusion of combat has allowed a substantial insurgency to develop.” The editorial mentioned the US Army’s recognition that stability operations must become a core competency and no longer be treated as a slighter component of combat operations. This comes a little late according to the paper. “Iraq is the sixth nation-building exercise on which the U.S. has embarked in little more than a decade... It is not hard to calculate that if one begins a nation-building operation every two years... and if each operation lasts for five years or more, as most have, the cumulative burden of these activities rapidly grows.” The daily didn't forget the good news: Washington “has finally recognized that the main limit on the effective use of US military power is not how many regimes the US can knock over, but how many better ones it can build up.”