War on Iraq is making Bush, Blair lose Arab friends
Posted: Tuesday, April 1, 2003
An Arab press review, by the Daily Star
In Egypt, Ibrahim Nafie, editor of the leading semi-official daily Al-Ahram, who frequently attacked President Saddam Hussein during the countdown to America's war on Iraq but has since taken stock of vehement anti-war sentiments on the Egyptian "street," has now chosen to publicly dispute an article penned by Tony Blair for his newspaper, telling the British Prime Minister that Arab public opinion would believe him only if the unjust war on Iraq was called off.
In Riyadh, a group of some 120 Saudi intellectuals have turned down an invitation from US Ambassador Robert Jordan for a meeting to discuss their opposition to the US war on Iraq only days after a sizable number of Saudi women had declined an invitation to a ladies' tea at the home of his wife, Ann.
And across the Arab world, press columnists are pummelling US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for his thinly veiled threat to hold Syria responsible for the alleged shipment of night vision goggles to Iraq, along with other items, saying, "These deliveries pose a direct threat to the lives of coalition forces. We consider such trafficking as hostile acts, and will hold the Syrian government accountable for such shipments."
In the same press conference, Rumsfeld accused Iran of aiding Iraq by allowing hundreds of fighters from the Badr Brigade, military arm of the Tehran-based Supreme Assembly for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI), to cross its border into the country. "The entrance to Iraq by military forces, intelligence personnel or proxies not under the direct operational control of General (Tommy) Franks will be taken as a potential threat to coalition forces. We will hold the Iranian government responsible for their actions and we will view Badr Corps activity inside Iraq as unhelpful. Armed Badr Corps members found in Iraq will have to be treated as combatants."
In his article for Al-Ahram, which appears simultaneously in the Saudi daily Al-Watan, Blair says in part:
"I recognize that the military action to disarm Saddam of his weapons of mass destruction has aroused strong feelings in the region ...
"We had hoped that military action could be avoided. There has been no rush to conflict. Indeed, the international community has waited 12 years for Saddam to rid himself voluntarily of his weapons of mass destruction as he promised in 1991 ...
"After more than a decade of Saddam's deceit and delay, the UN gave him a 'final opportunity' to disarm peacefully through Security Council Resolution 1441 in November. Once again he refused.
"The choice the international community then faced was to disarm Saddam by force and oust his regime or to back down and to leave Saddam hugely strengthened to attack or intimidate his neighbors and to pass on these weapons to extremist terrorist groups. I believe that history will judge that we made the right choice.
"Our quarrel is not with the Iraqi people but with Saddam, his sons, and his barbarous regime... This is not a war of conquest but of liberation.
"So we are doing all that is humanly possible to minimize civilian casualties and finish this campaign quickly ...
"We are also working hard to bring immediate humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people ...
"We are committed to working with the UN and the whole international community to help the people of Iraq repair the damage and destruction brought to Iraq by a quarter of a century of Saddam's tyranny and corruption.
" ... Iraq's oil will be placed in a UN trust fund to benefit the people of Iraq and renew a once great nation. We will work towards lifting UN sanctions as soon as Iraq meets its obligations ...
"British military forces will withdraw from Iraq as soon as practicable. We hope to see the early establishment of a transitional civilian administration. We will work with the international community to build the widest possible support for the reconstruction of Iraq and the move to representative government.
"Iraq, of course, is not our only concern in the region. I share the widespread desire for real progress on the Middle East peace process. President Bush and I have committed ourselves to a fair, lasting and negotiated settlement by 2005 to provide a viable state for the Palestinian people and security for Israel. We will strive to see this through and help deliver the prize of peace ..."
Nafie retorts back with the following points:
-Much better results with the Iraqi regime could have been attained had the US and Britain engaged Baghdad in genuine negotiations over the years since 1991, giving it hope through active diplomacy.
-The war is unlawful under the UN Charter and international law.
-Regime change is ultimately an internal issue that is the business of the people of the country concerned; outside powers have no God-given right to impose it.
-The war is arbitrary and reeks of discrimination against the Arab world.
-The war expresses a dearth of justice and fairness in international relations.
-The war revives bitter memories of old-style Western colonialism.
-The war raises the specter of a humanitarian disaster.
-There is no reliable reference that lends credibility to the promises being made concerning Palestinian and Arab rights.
Nafie ends his riposte by writing that, "The only guarantee (of Blair's promises) lies in the forthwith correction of the mistake through a cessation of this unjust war. Only by helping achieve this (cessation of the war) can Blair find us receptive and (our Arab) public opinion willing to believe him."
Veteran Palestinian commentator and analyst Bilal al-Hassan, writing for Saudi Asharq al-Awsat, says British officials have outdone their American counterparts when it comes to media lies and psychological warfare. He sarcastically refers to claims by UK Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon that the missile that killed over 50 civilians in a residential area of Baghdad was fired by the Iraqi Army, and to claims by Blair that two British soldiers whose bodies were shown on television were prisoners of war who had been executed by Iraqi soldiers.
The purpose of such media lies is to "depict this aggressive, savage war as one of liberation aimed at spreading democracy" rather than against the Iraqi people. The idea is that it is a war on a "heartless tyrant," who kills POWs. In order to impregnate that illusion, the US and British forces must be exonerated from killing Iraqi civilians, and the Iraqi regime has to be made to seem responsible.
However, the claim that the US-British war on Iraq was a war of liberation became quickly untenable because three basic assumptions that were fabricated several months ahead of the war have, according to Asharq al-Awsat, been invalidated:
1. The theory of a sharp, short war no longer applies, as developments show.
2. The theory that the Iraqi Army was likely to cooperate with the American and British troops and to overthrow the regime has fallen to pieces as it has become unmistakable to the invading forces that Iraqi soldiers are defending their country to the best of their ability, using all the resources they have at hand.
3. The theory that the Iraqi people were awaiting the arrival of foreign invaders to stage an uprising and open the gates of their cities to the invaders is on its last legs. That theory had been promoted and taken for granted by the offshore Iraqi opposition movements. But a mere few hours after the start of the war, the Iraqi people invalidated the dissidents' assumptions that while Sunnites support the regime the Shiites oppose it. Once the battle began, both Sunnites and Shiites stood as one in defense of their homeland.
Saudi Arabia's Arabic newspapers, including the leading Asharq al-Awsat, make no mention of the Saudi intellectuals' boycott of the invitation from the US ambassador in Riyadh. But its English-language stablemate, Arab News, reports that the invitation was in response to a petition the Saudis had sent to US President George W. Bush through Ambassador Jordan, calling on him to abandon the war.
According to Hassan al-Mustapha, one of the signatories to the petition, "the ambassador had asked to meet all the signatories to the letter in Riyadh later this week, but the petitioners unanimously decided to turn down the invitation." Their response was conveyed through an e-mail sent to Ambassador Jordan Friday.
The petitioners said: "We regret to inform you that we find such a meeting inappropriate under the current circumstances. We are very disappointed with your administration for ignoring the United Nations and world opinion."
"We now witness what we had warned against in our letter the killing of innocent civilians and destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure," they added.
In the petition sent to Bush on March 15, Saudi inftellectuals, including women and Islamic scholars, had made a strong representation against the war on Iraq, arguing that it was "unjust and immoral."
The intellectuals said the war would lead to refugee problems and economic constraints, besides creating instability in the region. The petition referred to the devastating consequences of the 1991 Gulf War that cost the lives of many people in the region.
"Moreover, economic growth was affected to such an extent that the Arab countries, according to UN reports, lost eight million job opportunities as a result of the 1991 war," it said.
The UAE daily Al-Khaleej sees Israel's "fingerprints" all over Rumsfeld's shocking threats to Syria and Iran. Israeli circles, it remarks in its leader, had been falsely contending for days that Syria was buying arms on Iraq's behalf and shipping them to the beleaguered country and that hundreds of Arab volunteers were transiting Syria on their way to help Iraq repulse the American-British invasion.
Likewise, Israel has not stopped lobbying against Iran acquiring any kind of nuclear capability. And all Rumsfeld has done is embrace Israel's strategy vis-a-vis Syria and Iran lock, stock and barrel.
Hassan Madan, writing for Al-Khaleej on the same theme, says the fall of Iraq into the US grip and the appointment of an American general to run the country means Syria would be blackmailed by both America and Israel to accept peace terms that it has so far rejected.
Ali Hamadeh, in Beirut's An-Nahar, says one of the conditions for a "successful war" or "the war's success" is the existence of a favorable environment that would allow a quick realization of the attacker's goal. "The Turkish tribulations, the Syrian misgivings and the negative neutrality of Iran" could breathe new life into internal Iraqi resistance to the American invasion.
Hamadeh says now that the US is dispatching another 100,000 men and women to beef up its forces in the war zone, the question is: "Why this massive buildup? Is it to tackle Iraq and no one else or to face up to a hostile regional environment? What's certain is that America has started sinking in the Middle East quagmire."
Abu-Shakra suggests that these "analysts" and others suffer from tunnel vision that has allowed them to "convince themselves" that the aim of the war is to rescue the Iraqi people from tyranny and bring "democracy and prosperity" to Iraq. They have deluded themselves that "once the regime in Baghdad falls, some power will transform George W. Bush from a mighty Samson into a Father Christmas, while Tony Blair is transformed into a Mother Teresa."
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