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European Press Review: Opening up Pandora's Box in Iraq

The situation in Iraq continued to dominate European newspapers on Wednesday. Several editorialists took issue with President Bush’s apparent lack of strategy and failure to cooperate with investigators of 9/11.

An independent commission set up by the U.S. Congress to investigate the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on New York is on a collision course with the White House, which is refusing to hand over intelligence briefings which the President Bush received before the attacks. All executives resist scrutiny in some areas of government, wrote The Financial Times, but this case doesn’t look like one of those instances. The paper speculated that with the campaigns for the next presidential elections getting underway now, Bush cannot afford the slightest impression of a failure in leadership before the attacks.

The U.S. president has also come in for criticism for the Iraq war. It’s paradoxical, writes La Repubblica from Rome, before the war, Saddam Hussein was wrongly suspected of being an accomplice of al Qaeda, although there was no proof. Now, it’s quite likely that the former Iraqi dictator has formed an alliance with the terrorist network around Osama bin Laden, and is operating in Iraq today. So in the end, it looks like Bush was right, the Italian daily surmised. But now Bush has to act, in order to neutralize the explosive mix that has been concocted in Iraq, otherwise it might poison not only neighboring countries but the whole region.

According to the Dutch Algemeen Dagblad, the Bush administration still fails to present an adequate assessment of the situation in Iraq. The latest series of bomb attacks show how dangerous the situation still is. But against better knowledge, Americans still claim they achieve progress on a daily basis. Bush is in a serious dilemma, the Dutch paper contended: either he admits defeat and shows his willingness to share power in Iraq, or continues on his path. No wonder, the paper wrote, that this dilemma evokes memories of Vietnam.

The Italian La Stampa analyzed Bush’s latest speech on the situation in Iraq in the light of the fact that, with the upcoming presidential elections, the American president now has to think about his electorate. While he can still count on a majority, it’s dwindling rapidly, the paper observed. He is therefore under pressure to closely observe public opinion and to send out placating messages. For instance, that he won’t send more troops to Iraq, or that he is not thinking about military actions in Iran and North Korea, because these problems can be solved peacefully, the paper added.

The American enemy has two heads, the French paper Le Monde opined: Partisans of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and militant Islamists who have flocked into Iraq by the hundreds since the beginning of the American occupation. And that’s not even the smallest paradox, the Parisian daily wrote. The war was started in order to find weapons of mass destruction -- but no trace of them has come up yet. The war was declared against a regime that trampled human rights -- however, the regime did not offer a breeding ground for radical Islamists. Six months later, however, Islamic terrorists have taken center stage in the political vacuum of postwar Iraq.

And finally, the Danish daily Information was of the opinion that Iraqis themselves are the prime victims of the recent bomb attacks. While the occupation forces entrench themselves and hide behind machine gun cordons, increasingly, Iraqi civilians and those who want to help them come under attack. The world should not stand by and watch, argued the paper. The only way forward is for the United Nations to assume a greater role and for the Iraqis to be given greater responsibility.