Week in Review: Iraq Strife, Rice, Port Security

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Unrest takes a dangerous turn in Iraq in the wake of the bombing of a Shiite shrine. Other topics include Secretary of State Rice's Mideast trip; the prospect of sanctions against the Palestinians; and U.S. port security.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: That mosque is one of the holiest sites in Shia Islam. This senseless attack is an affront to people of faith throughout the world. The United States strongly condemns this cowardly act of terror and the subsequent attacks on other mosques and holy sites in Iraq.

SIMON: President Bush talking to an American Legion gathering Friday about the bombing at the Askariya Shrine in Iraq. More than 200 Iraqis have been killed in widespread violence since that shrine, which is also known as Golden Mosque, was destroyed on Wednesday.

NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us.

Hello, Dan.

DANIEL SCHORR reporting:

Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And there have been dozens of reprisal attacks on Sunni mosques since the attack...

SCHORR: Yes.

SIMON: ...on the Golden Mosque. The Iraqi government now has a daytime curfew to try and quell some of the unrest there. Is the bombing of this mosque and the violence which has continued this week an indication of what we've been calling an insurrection, is beginning to turn a corner into something else?

SCHORR: Yeah, well, I'll tell you, they appear to be on the edge of a sectarian war, a civil war, if not already embarked on it. If there is a ray of light to be seen in this picture, it is that religious leaders on both sides, the Shiites and the Sunnis, have been calling for calm. It may be that the attack on the Golden Dome, and some of the other mosques, was perpetrated by outsiders, like al-Qaida. And if that is so, they may be able to hold off the threatened sectarian war.

SIMON: But political talks appear to be off between, at least for the moment, between Sunni and Shia leaders who apparently feel it's something they can't enter into, at least given the state of opinion in their various communities right now.

SCHORR: Well, I'll tell you, if you want to predict the worst in Iraq, you can't go wrong. At the moment, the negotiations for the formation of a unity government are completely stalled. That is, among other things, serious news for the Bush administration. The whole administration strategy, which rests on chances of bringing home American troops, rests on the creation of a functioning Iraqi government. Ambassador Khalilzad says as much; so these are tense times.

SIMON: I want to ask you about Secretary Rice's trip this week. She's just back from the Middle East. She was in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and United Arab Emirates, a country we'll mention in just a few moments. She was trying to convince these countries to deny aid to the Palestinian leadership under the Hamas parliament, and also to join them in pressuring Iran to giving up its nuclear program. How successful was her trip?

SCHORR: Well, I never thought I'd be saying this about Condoleezza Rice, but this trip was a big flop. The Arab states, to whom she appealed to put pressure on Hamas, refused to do so. And in fact, Iran says that if the United States cuts off money and Europe cuts off money, then Iran will provide money. They talk as though they're willing to help bankroll this Hamas government.

You know, your talk of isolating Hamas; as of now, in the Middle East at least, it looks as though it's the United States which is isolated. Now, it may be as part of that is some of the leftover residue of the anti Western sentiment that derived from the Danish Mohammed cartoons. But Secretary Rice will be glad to be back from the Middle East this time, I think.

SIMON: Let me ask you a question that's no longer theoretical, where it comes to Hamas and the Palestinian leadership. And I think it comes up every time the United Nations and any world association begins to contemplate any kind of economic sanctions or boycott. Who would really be hurt by withholding aid to the Palestinian people? Would the Palestinian leadership of Hamas then decide, well, what we have to do is recognize Israel and moderate our policy? Or would it cause Palestinian government to rely evermore on Iran?

SCHORR: Well, the hope is, except that I don't think the hope will be realized, the hope is that simply the prospect of loosing all this money would cause Hamas to rethink its policy, and no longer demanding that Israel be erased. But it may not happen that way. These things end up being a somewhat muddy kind of compromise if they work. If they don't work, well, we have another war.

SIMON: And of course so much attention has been captured this week by the question of port security in the United States. Rare unanimity of opinion between Tom DeLay and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, and discord between White House and Congressional leaders of both parties, over a deal allowing the company, Dubai Ports World, control over terminals at major U.S. ports. Now, Dubai Ports World is Arab owned and based in the United Arab Emirates. Congressional leaders, as we've said, of both parties have expressed concern that this would weaken security at U.S. ports and create opportunities for terrorists.

First question. It has been so politically fractious for the White House. Did they not see that an agreement like this would raise eyebrows and cause controversy?

SCHORR: Well, I don't know if anybody quite saw this coming. I think what we're witnessing is a collision between globalization and xenophobia. I think the Bush administration has created a climate of fear, which is very useful for the administration politically. But now that Americans are so afraid, and now the administration is reaping some of their own whirlwind.

You say the word United Arab Emirates; the word Arab gets a reaction. So some of this is irrational, but what is happening is that the administration, I'm afraid, is reaping some of what it has sowed in its scare tactics.

SIMON: Is the concern over an Arab owned entity managing some of the port operations in major ports real? Or is it anti-Arab bigotry?

SCHORR: Well, I think anti, it is real in the sense that people don't understand exactly what a port facility does, see this as a possibility for introducing some terrible weapon into this country. But they could do that right now. Only five percent of the containers are checked at all. And I don't think this would make much difference. But it's simply a matter of what are these people doing in our ports when they are so dangerous.

SIMON: This week, the White House released its own report on preparation, the federal preparation response to Hurricane Katrina, following last week's release of a House committee report. The President said he was dissatisfied with the federal response. Anything new in this White House report you noticed?

SCHORR: No, I don't think so. It's a much softer report than the similar report which was put out last week by a bipartisan group in the House. The White House lays no blame on anybody; it just tells what happened. The congressional report lays a lot of blame, says that people should be accountable for this. But nothing like that from the administration.

Are you surprised?

SIMON: Well, I'm the one who asks the questions of you, Dan. That's my question of you. Are you surprised?

SCHORR: No, I'm not surprised.

SIMON: The South Dakota legislature passed a bill on Friday banning abortion. The bill makes it a crime for doctors to perform an abortion unless a woman's life is in danger. It makes no allowances for victims of rape or incest. The governor of South Dakota, Mike Round, says that he intends to sign that bill into law. Do you see this as an isolated occurrence or a trend?

SCHORR: Well, isolated. Nothing is isolated here in Washington. You know, all during the confirmation hearings for Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, the question of abortion kept coming up. And they kept ducking away from it. And everybody wondered what will happen with these two on the Court, the first time there is an abortion case coming up. Well, it came up, a little faster than people thought it would; but sort of stay tuned.

SIMON: But this is in South Dakota. It hasn't gotten to the Court.

SCHORR: In South Dakota. But inevitably it will end up in the Supreme Court, inevitably.

SIMON: Mm-Hmm. Mm-Hmm. Thanks very much, senior news analyst Daniel Schorr.

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