Deft touch

Despite the deadly bombing of an Italian military police compound in Nasiriya on Wednesday, the government of Silvio Berlusconi vowed to stay the course and extend the stay of Italian forces in Iraq. However, the grief is heavy and there is deep concern as to whether the loss should be attributed to Washington’s ill-thought-out postwar handling of Iraq. The Italian prime minister’s certainty about the soundness of Italy’s military presence in Iraq is overshadowed by widespread reservations over the degree to which Rome’s decision to send troops was dictated by political considerations. Even if the labeling of the suicide bombing as a «terrorist act» – a description also shared by Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou and government spokesman Christos Protopapas – is a legitimate one, the attack is still subject to political analysis. Regardless as to whether they are tagged as terrorist, these acts raise the issue of whether the occupation of Iraq was a wise thing to do, whether the actual occupation is being carried out in the best political manner, and, most importantly, whether it made any sense for a nation that has neither the strength of the US superpower nor its global aspirations to send troops into the region. Despite Berlusconi’s understandable efforts to duck the issue, there is a growing number of signs that the other nations that have pledged to contribute troops are now having second thoughts: Japan has already postponed its deployment; Portugal sent its military police to Vasora instead of Nasiriya; North Korea said that it will contribute a maximum of 3,000 soldiers. The governments of Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Spain have recalled or cut down their diplomatic personnel while US President George W. Bush yesterday said that he wants Iraq to assume more responsibilities. The above are not only the result of the repeated blows on the US-led occupation forces but also of America’s looming failure to govern Iraq, whose population is showing growing signs of frustration. In the light of recent developments, we should here praise the handling of the matter by the Greek administration, which managed to honor its partnership and alliance with Washington without betraying its European commitments and without dispatching any troops to Iraq. In addition, the government showed a deft touch in turning down a request for Apache helicopters on the grounds that a state that is hosting the Olympic Games is not in any position to participate in military campaigns outside its borders. These decisions must be credited to Prime Minister Costas Simitis who proved to be moderate and prudent in handling a very sensitive issue.