MUCH of what Saddam Hussein does is aimed less at impeding the huge allied force arrayed against him than at rallying the Arab and Islamic masses of the Mideast, North Africa, and Southwest Asia. His hyperbolic calls for holy war, his missile launchings, his massive oil spill strike Western observers as irrational - as ``last gasp,'' to quote President Bush. But to many men and women on the streets of Amman, Algiers, Karachi, and even Cairo, they seem nothing less than heroic - the clever stratagems of a leader who is showing the world he can stand up to all the United States throws at him.
For years, the US has been seen in Saddam's neighborhood as an imperialist threat. Islamic radicals and home-grown socialists have lambasted Washington for support of Israel and for its designs on local resources.
Now this most powerful of Western nations is pounding Iraq with bombs. It's not hard to imagine where much popular sympathy gravitates.
As the war lengthens, sentiment in favor of Saddam could increase. This might create significant problems for leaders allied with the US. Egyptian President Mubarak's foreign ministry recently said it did not favor destroying Saddam's military or trying to remove the Iraqi leader himself. Stick to the liberation of Kuwait, was the thrust. That could make sense in any case, but doubtless the Egyptian government is trying to do what it can to avoid inflaming pro-Saddam feelings.
The likelihood of heightened pro-Iraq activism at the grass-roots level was a risk the US and its allies took in launching the war. It may not prove decisive at all in the outcome of the fighting. But it will surely be a factor after fighting ends, when the US is certain to become immersed in efforts to forge a political settlement to nurture stability in a bitterly divided region. Local people will long remember how this war was conducted.