European papers on Monday commented on Iraq and the dangerous situation in Najaf. They also looked at German social reforms and the pope's visit to France.
Talking about Iraq, Germany's Süddeutsche Zeitung said that the national conference currently taking place in Baghdad has a worthwhile aim -- that of boosting the legitimacy of the interim government, which has a very narrow base. But there are two problems, according to the paper. The Conference is due to elect an assembly which will act as a kind of parliament, and this parliament will have "modest" powers to influence government, the daily noted. Secondly, radical groups like that of the Shiite militia leader, Moqtada el Sadr, or the Sunni Muslim Clerics' Association, have decided to boycott the conference and have chosen confrontation. The paper concluded: "What might be gained in Baghdad, will be destroyed in Najaf or Samarra."
The French paper Liberation said the situation in Najaf is not just dangerous, it's specifically dangerous for US President George W. Bush. It's dangerous when the authority of a government is challenged, especially when that government allows the north to be governed by the Kurds and the center to be governed by the Sunnis, the paper noted. If Baghdad allows the Shiite militia leader Moqtada el Sadr to keep his control on Najaf, then the government will really be in trouble. This will commit the US to extend its occupation of Iraq, the paper wrote and concluded that the Imam Ali mausoleum in Najaf could turn out to be the burial-place of President Bush's electoral ambitions.
A second Dutch soldier has been killed in Iraq and the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad said it probably won't be the last. But the withdrawal of the 1,300-strong unit is not on the agenda, neither for the government nor for parliament. A withdrawal would send the wrong signal to the Iraqi people. In spite of the increasing number of attacks, Dutch troops make a contribution to stability in the south of the country, wrote the paper: "And that's important. So long as they continue to do so, their presence is justified."
The German reforms to the social system were dealt with by the British paper The Guardian. The paper pointed to the fact that the word "Reformstau" -- reform gridlock -- has been chosen as the "word of the year" in Germany: It highlights the malaise in Germany. For 10 years, Germans have been discussing the causes and consequences of intertia. The governing Social Democrats are right to be pushing through with their reform program in spite of its unpopularity in parts of Germany, the daily noted. The country doesn't have to abandon its social welfare system and adopt slash-and-burn capitalism. The paper was optimistic, perhaps more optimistic than the Germans: Germany may only need mild stimulation to revive its economy and help it out of its national rut, it noted and concluded: "Better some reform today than root-and-branch in years to come."
The French paper Le Figaro considererd Pope John Paul II's visit to the shrine at Lourdes in France, to which millions of sick people go in the belief that the Virgin Mary will help them with their sickness. The paper's editorialists were clearly deeply moved. "In spite of his sickness, this man is still the property of the living," they wrote. "He is at home among us. We are not astonished at his age, his courage; they are his familiar virtues." For him, the Virgin Mary plays a role in what the paper called "the economy of salvation." She allows millions of people to escape regularly from hopelessness. And the paper had a message for the country: "It's a truth which France would do well to rediscover in this century of iron and illusions."