The international papers Wednesday had the bad and the good from Iraq: An attack on an American military base in Mosul killed 26 people (19 of them Americans) and injured 57; two French hostages were released after more than four months in captivity. Meanwhile, a legal notice published in several papers hearkened back to the 9/11 attacks and showed that, at least in the mind of some, the Iraqi regime was involved.
The London-based Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat called the Mosul attack the "largest operation of its kind against American forces." The Ansar al-Sunna Army, in a statement on an Islamist Web site, claimed responsibility for the mortar-and-rocket barrage against a tent base, particularly a mess hall. There was some confusion, however, in that the statement described the attack as "the result of a suicide operation against a restaurant of the occupation forces in the Ghazlani base in Mosul." Another London-based Arabic paper, Al-Hayat, said the attack was "a new challenge to President Bush's policies in Iraq" and reported that eyewitnesses counted two or three explosions. The situation in Mosul deteriorated rapidly after the recent battle for Fallujah, and in a further sign that U.S. forces face an escalating network of problems, Al-Hayat quoted a Sunni cleric who said that fighting in Fallujah was continuing and that insurgents had returned to the city and "reorganized the resistance." A former negotiator during the Fallujah crisis confirmed this. He added that the insurgents had only "decided to give up the city [to the Americans] in the short term to avoid its destruction and annihilation." Meanwhile, Iraqi government representatives are said to be talking with city leaders, and the Iraqi military governor of Fallujah is seeking to reintegrate former Iraqi soldiers present there into the armed forces.
Reintegration will be on the mind of the two French journalists, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot, who were released Tuesday by the so-called Islamic Army in Iraq. (Television reports said the captors were satisfied the two were "not spies.") According to the daily Le Figaro (for whom Malbrunot writes), "[T]he conditions under which the two journalists were liberated ... remain largely murky." France's Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin didn't clarify much when he said that the happy ending was the result of "a constant, difficult, discrete endeavor." In an editorial, the paper insisted that though there was much relief, the kidnappers were still "terrorists" and "the fight against terrorism must continue." In the absence of details on the episode, the paper's expression of "pride" in the fact that "France never gave up to, nor subscribed to ... the demands (which were, in fact, obscure) of the terrorists" may be premature. Whether that confidence is justified should come out in the near future. Many still recall that as prime minister during the mid-1980s, Jacques Chirac agreed to pay a ransom to have French hostages in Lebanon released.
The United States has issued increasingly hostile warningsto Syria, from where the Iraqi insurgency is allegedly being financed and where foreign fighters are entering Iraq. On the Syrian-Iraqi border, a correspondent for the Lebanese English-language Daily Star noted that "securing the border is a near impossible task. The border police are under-funded and lack equipment and training." Although the Syrian authorities have turned the screws on domestic Islamists connected to the Iraqi insurgency (16 Sunni clerics were apparently arrested two weeks ago, and several fighters were taken into custody upon returning from Iraq), Syria has at best played a duplicitous game in Iraq. It alternatively looks the other way as its territory has been used as a transit point for foreign combatants and cracks down on groups as American pressure has increased. Earlier this week, President Bush for the first time threatened that the United States might use sanctions if Syria continued meddling in Iraq.
Sanctions are exactly what the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has in mind for a long list of defendants listed in the International Herald Tribune, USA Today, and (according to the legal notice) at least one Arabic-language publication circulated widely in the Middle East. The notice asks that the individuals and institutions appear in court within 60 days to answer to accusations of their involvement in the 9/11 attacks or suffer the consequences of a judgment by default. Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban, and the estates of the 19 hijackers are all there, but so too are some unexpected rogues whose involvement in 9/11 still remains unclear, if not improbable. This includes Saddam Hussein and the estates of his two dead sons, the former Iraqi official Taha Yassin Ramadan, Lebanon's Hizbollah, and the Palestinian Hamas group.