Syria's violent clampdown unsuccessful

Commentators in Arabic press condemn the assault on the Syrian cartoonist Ali Farzat and discuss the aftermath of the Libyan war and raise questions about the US withdrawal from Iraq.

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Qatar and Iran call for calm in Syria

The sudden visit by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the Qatari Emir, to Iran on Thursday is interesting and meaningful, columnist Rajeh el Khouri observed in the Lebanese daily Annahar.

Following his meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, the Qatari ruler said Qatar had encouraged Syria to take real reform measures, since the security option proved unsuccessful and the people will not go back on their demands, especially after having paid such a high price so far.

"The importance of this statement lies in the fact that it was made in Tehran, which has been backing the Al Assad regime's violent clampdown on protesters."

Sheikh Hamad Al Thani "seemed to be addressing Mr Assad directly when he reiterated that the Syrian people's revolution is a genuine civil uprising for freedom and justice." He insisted that the violence has gone too far and hoped for a change commensurate with the aspirations of the people.

The visit to Tehran is the first by an Arab leader since the tensions between Iran and the GCC countries after the Bahraini protests. It shows that Iran wants to reassess its regional affairs in light of the earth-shattering events in the Arab region, especially in Syria.

Mr Ahmadinejad too seemed to take a softer line towards the protests against the Assad regime. Just before the emir's visit, he called upon the regime and the people to reach an agreement.

To whom go the spoils of the Libyan war?

In an opinion article for the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat, columnist Mostafa Zein argued that economic competition is almost always the real motive for war.

"Agreement among colonial powers is the basis for their actions in their colonies, old and new."

The eccentricities of Muammar Qaddafi were never the reason for Nato's war on Libya. The "King of all African Kings" was a monstrous dictator long before the uprising. He oppressed his people, tortured and displaced them. He transformed his rich country into a mere cash box to serve his strange whims.

The real motive behind Nato's attack on Col Qaddafi was their fear that the Libyans would sooner or later prevail over the "sole leader" and would eventually control their country's riches.

"The western alliance exploited the revolution to destroy at will then rebuild and mould a new regime that fits their ambitions. As for the Libyans, they are convinced that western colonialism is far better than one-man rule which excluded the existence of a political class throughout his 42 years in power."

Now that victory is achieved, it is time for reconstruction. Member states of the contact group on Libya will be distributing the country's oil wealth among themselves as best they could.

"In civil wars, everyone is a loser, except for oil companies and their guardians," the writer concluded.

Withdrawal from Iraq raises many questions

The US withdrawal from Iraq remains a controversial issue that can't be taken lightly. Recent contradictory statements from Washington and Baghdad underline the gravity of Iraq's predicament, the Dubai-based newspaper Al Bayan said in its editorial.

The newly appointed US secretary of defence, Leon Panetta, triggered the contradiction with Baghdad just as Iraqis commissioned Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki to negotiate the withdrawal of the US forces.

Mr Panetta said the Iraqi government has indeed agreed to extend the term of the US military mission.

This naturally resulted in a series of ultimatums from various political parties and armed militias.

"Anyone supporting the Iraqis' right to freedom and independence realises how important it is for Iraq to be capable of protecting its people and its borders once the US forces withdraw."

Iraq, once a force to be reckoned with, now has a dilapidated military apparatus and harbours more than 70 political parties with often-contradictory orientations and principles, which have yet to agree on essential issues.

The long-term repercussions of the US troop decision cannot be anticipated. And in the short run, it presents a serious challenge: Are the Iraqi forces ready to assume security responsibilities?

Freedom of opinion punished in Syria

At a time when the Syrian authorities are promising a new information law to guarantee freedom of expression and opinion, the Syrian caricaturist Ali Farzat kidnapped and assaulted by a group of regime-loyalist thugs, the London-based Al Quds Al Arabi noted in its editorial.

Masked men in a car kidnapped the artist from Umayyad Square in the heart of Damascus on Thursday morning.

"The Syrian Ministry of Interior vowed to investigate the crime and bring the attackers to justice, but it is highly unlikely that words will be translated into actions. This, just as countless other incidents, will most probably become a cold case."

It is naïve to believe that the Syrian security forces, at the height of alertness these days, were unaware of the crime.

Ali Farzat never pretended to side with the opposition, nor did he express a penchant for a political career.

His only weapon was the pencil he used to criticise corruption and violations of freedom all over the world.

"The attack on an artist of the calibre of Farzat only goes to confirm our doubts about the futility of reform plans in Syria. They are but void promises intended to distract public opinion."

* Digest compiled by Racha Makarem