Czech Parties Divided on Iraq

Iraqi soldier watching a factory, photo: CTK

Czech politics has in the last few days been consumed by the issue of whether the country should participate in a war against Iraq. The governing Social Democrats are split on the issue, as is part of the opposition.

Iraqi soldier watching a factory,  photo: CTK
The ruling Social Democrats find themselves split over the war - a section of the party does not want to concede to the wishes of Washington, while another part believes that there is no other option but to support the Americans. Prime minister Vladimir Spidla and defence minister Jaroslav Tvrdik support Czech involvement in on attack on Iraq, but many of their colleagues say that they will only support it if there is a mandate from the United Nations Security Council.

The largest opposition party, the Civic Democrats, is also somewhat divided over the issue. Much of the party supports Czech participation in a war against Iraq, including leader Mirek Topolanek and Jan Vidim, the head of the parliamentary committee for defence and security. But Vaclav Klaus, the party's honorary head and presidential candidate, is more reserved. He hopes that Iraq will take steps to end the crisis, but adds that the Czech Republic carries its own responsibilities as a NATO member.

So far two parliamentary parties have clearly articulated their position on the issue. The Freedom Union - which is part of the coalition government - wants to agree to American requests for Czech support in the war, while the Communist Party is completely against it.

For an Iraqi perspective on the Czech reaction, Radio Prague's David Vaughan spoke to Sulaiman Fahad on Thursday. Mr Fahad is an Iraqi engineer who has been living in Prague for forty years, and he monitors the Arab and Czech media daily. David began by asking him whether the Czech Republic should play a special role in the Iraqi crisis:

"Your question reminds me of the positive role of Norway in helping the Palestinian Authority and Israel to sit together and negotiate. The Czech Republic had the chance - and may have the chance today - to play a similar positive role by offering its own mediation."

Do you think that that could be, for example, on the basis of the moral authority of Vaclav Havel? Or on some other basis?

"Well, unfortunately President Havel is at the end of his career as president, so this will be in the hands of the Czech Social Democratic Party, and Prime Minister Spidla and the present government. And I think that Mr Spdila - as I have been listening to his speeches on Czech TV and the radio - may be able to play, with his colleagues, a positive role."

Although it appears that the Czechs will be involved in a war against Iraq, the official decision will be made by parliament next Thursday. According to presidential candidate Petr Pithart of the Christian Democrats, the Czech Republic finds itself in a strange position because in most other countries the government or the president decides on whether the country should participate in a war. And it is indeed a big step for the independent Czech Republic, as it decides whether to participate in its first shooting war ever.