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Volume IV,  Number 9              March 28 - April 3, 2004            Quezon City, Philippines

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Bush Tries to Rally Faltering Coalition

By Paul Koring
The Globe and Mail CA

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Washington U.S. President George W. Bush urged the allies in the "coalition of the willing" Tuesday to stand fast in their commitment to Iraq despite growing public disenchantment in many countries about ongoing military deployments.

"It's essential that we remain side-by-side with the Iraqi people as they begin the process of self-government," Mr. Bush said, a day after the first crack appeared in the coalition's unity, with incoming Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero threatening to bring his country's 1,300 troops home.

"It is essential that the free world remain strong and resolute and determined," Mr. Bush said, emphasizing that the goal of terrorists is "to try to get the world to cower . . . to try to shake our will."

Tuesday, Honduras announced it would pull its contingent of 300 soldiers, which are part of the Spanish-led brigade, out of Iraq in July, although it said the move had already been planned and was not a result of Madrid's decision.

An international poll released Tuesday by the Washington-based Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found a strong anti-U.S. sentiment spreading across Europe and the Muslim world.

The survey of nearly 8,000 people in nine countries found overwhelming opposition to Mr. Bush outside the United States, ranging from a high of 96 per cent in Jordan to a low of 57 per cent in Britain.

While Mr. Bush avoided any direct criticism of Spain, which suffered train bombings last week that killed more than 200 people, the White House warned governments against buckling in the face of terrorism.

"It is a terrible message to send," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "We must send a message of unity, of strength and of resolve in the war on terrorism. . . . Terrorists cannot think they can influence elections or influence policy."

But in Spain, exactly that may have happened. Voters apparently changed their minds in the wake of the Madrid bombings, turning against the Conservative government of Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, a staunch ally of Mr. Bush.

It is unclear, however, whether voters were angry over Mr. Aznar's backing of the war in Iraq, or at his government's initial attempts to blame Basque militants for the attacks.

Other coalition allies appear shaky about their commitment in Iraq. Mr. Bush met Tuesday with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, who pointedly declined to say how long 1,300 Dutch troops would stay there.

In the Netherlands, as in Spain, opinion surveys show that most people want their soldiers brought home.

Many countries, including the United States and Britain, have been reducing their numbers of troops in Iraq. But a rapid, wholesale pullout by many of the 30-plus countries that have contributed soldiers would undermine the U.S. effort to have the occupation appear a broad, multinational endeavour.

Tuesday, Washington again signalled its willingness to consider a United Nations Security Council mandate for foreign forces in Iraq, once power is handed to a transitional government in Baghdad on June 30. A UN mandate could persuade Spain, and other wavering countries, to stay.

The Bush administration also seemed determined to put the best possible face on Madrid's shifting stance.

It lauded Spain as a valuable ally and a staunch foe of terrorism.

"I don't accept the suggestion that, after the greatest terrorist attack in its history, that Spain, its government or its people are going to lessen their resolve or their commitment or the energy that they devote to pursuing terrorists," U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.

Prime Minister Paul Martin too has said Spain isn't caving in to terrorists in promising to pull its soldiers out of Iraq. Withdrawing troops from any one location "does not mean that they are backing away from the fight against terrorism," he said on Monday.

A day earlier, Mr. Martin reiterated his support for Canada's decision not to send troops to Iraq as part of the U.S.-led coalition. "I think all countries are partners and in solidarity with Spain and the United States and with Britain," he said. "I think the decision we took on Iraq was a good decision, but at the same time we share values with Spain, the United States and Britain, and we support them."

While the White House continued to insist yesterday that "Iraq is the central front now in the war on terrorism," the Bush administration made an effort to say nations could be reliable allies in the broader war while dissenting on Iraq.

"Countries are contributing in many different ways in the war on terrorism," Mr. McClellan said.

March 17, 2004


Poland Was 'Taken for a Ride' About Iraq's WMD: President

By Agence France Presse
18 March 2004

WARSAW (AFP) - In a first sign of official criticism in Poland of the US-led invasion of Iraq (news - web sites), President Aleksander Kwasniewski said that his country had been "taken for a ride" about the alleged existence of weapons of mass destruction in the strife-torn country.

"That they deceived us about the weapons of mass destruction, that's true. We were taken for a ride," Kwasniewski said Thursday.

He argued however that it made no sense to pull US-led coalition troops out of Iraq.

His comments marked the first time Poland has publicly criticized Washington's argument for invading Iraq and for winning support from Poland and other European allies such as Britain and Spain.

Poland heads up a 9,000-strong multinational force patrolling a swathe of Iraq south of Baghdad.

Warsaw itself has the fourth-largest contingent in the coalition, with around 2,500 soldiers.

Kwasniewski was speaking days after the prime minister-elect of Spain, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, said Madrid would withdraw its 1,300 soldiers from the Polish-led contingent by June 30, unless the United Nations (news - web sites) took over administration of Iraq.

The Polish head of state questioned the wisdom of pulling foreign troops from the strife-torn country saying such a move could have a counter effect.

"What would be the point of pulling the troops if it meant a return to war, ethnic cleansing and conflict in neighboring countries," he told a group of visiting French journalists.

"If we protest against the United States' dominant role in world politics and we withdraw our troops knowing they will be replaced by US soldiers, what would be the point of such a move?" he questioned.

He said he was disappointed by the new Spanish government's threat to withdraw its 1,300 soldiers.

"We cannot alter our mission to stabilize Iraq to one to destabilize the country," he said.

"Passiveness will lead us nowhere," he added.


Australian PM Admits He Could Face Same Voter Backlash as Spanish Leader

By Agence France Presse
16 March 2004

SYDNEY: Prime Minister John Howard conceded he could face an anti-war backlash at this year's Australian elections similar to the protest vote that toppled Spain's conservative government in the aftermath of the Madrid bombings.

The admission came as Howard continued to deny a terrorist attack on Australia is now more likely because Australia, like Spain, supported the US-led war in Iraq -- despite statements to the contrary by experts, including his own police chief and the US FBI.

Howard also vowed his government would not be cowed by terrorists amid mounting concerns that Spanish voters, by dumping their government, may have given Islamic terrorists a major victory that raises the risk of more attacks on Western democracies.

But he agreed some terrorist organisations could be emboldened by the defeat of prime minister Jose Maria Aznar's Popular Party government following last week's bombings which claimed 200 lives and injured 1,500.

The Al-Qaeda network which was behind the September 11 attacks in the United States has purportedly claimed responsibility.

Asked if his government might face a voter backlash because of its support for the Iraq war, Howard told an Adelaide radio station: "That is one of the many things people will take into account in going to the polls later this year."

But he said he had no regrets about his decision to go to war in Iraq, adding: "It was in my view the right thing to do."

He said a majority of Australians would not want their government to be "intimidated, cowed and bullied" into changing its position on foreign policy issues because of terrorist threats.

"We are essentially a target for terrorists because of who we are rather than what we've done," he said. "I don't think we're as big a target as some other countries because we don't have terrorist cells operating in Australia."

The FBI's executive assistant director of counter terrorism John Pistole, visiting Sydney to address a counter-terrorism summit, earlier backed warnings that a terrorist attack in Australia is likely because of its support for the Iraq war.

"I would agree with the statement that an attack is likely inevitable," Pistole said.

But he agreed any Western nation was a terror target for Al-Qaeda.

Federal Police chief Mick Keelty and other experts have said that, if Islamic extremists were behind the Madrid bombings, it was probably because Spain, like Australia, supported the war in Iraq.

Pistole said he would hate to give the terrorists credit for influencing an election, but he added: "If that was the intended outcome and that was what was achieved then that raises the stakes in terms of the vulnerabilities and potentials that we must deal with."

A former senior aide to US president Ronald Reagan, Doug Bandow, who is now a senior fellow at Washington's Cato Institute, predicted Tuesday that Howard may eventually meet the same fate as Aznar.

"Alas they are likely to pay the price for Washington's misguided policies that have made brutal murderous terrorism, more, rather than less likely," he wrote in an article published by The Australian newspaper.

A US-based private sector intelligence unit Stratfor said Australia, like Spain, could be regarded by Al-Qaeda as "the soft underbelly" of the US alliance.

Stratfor said in an analysis of the Madrid bombings it was likely Al-Qaeda was behind the recent attack and it was no accident the bombing occurred just before the Spanish election.

It believed allied nations were prepared to stand with the US even in the face of general public opposition.

"If, however, the result of this alliance is massive civilian casualties, the equation shifts and the government runs into much more trouble," it added.

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