Arab Backlash More Likely
Perception grows that coalition aims have changed to destroying Iraq, protecting Israel
AS the Gulf war enters its third week, political forces are gathering strength in the Arab world that could threaten the solidarity of the anti-Iraq coalition. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's strongest support so far has come from the region's weakest states - Yemen and Jordan, plus the Palestine Liberation Organization. And there is little immediate prospect that Arab countries aligned with the United States against Iraq will bolt the coalition or break the embargo designed to strangle Iraq economically.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Even so, a growing number of Arab and even Western sources warn that emotions unleashed in the Arab world since the start of the war are putting strains on US allies in the region. Whether they culminate in defections from the coalition or in political coups largely depends on how long Saddam can stand up to the military might of the US-led coalition, these sources say.
``The more the Iraqis show they are capable of defending themselves, the stronger the forces affecting the political alliance against Iraq will be,'' says George Hawatmeh, editor of the Jordan Times. ``Each day the Iraqis fight, they get stronger and the coalition gets weaker.''
``Even if it's a quick war, it will create such frustration that it will produce lasting animosity in the region,'' concurs a leading Egyptian intellectual. ``People will say, `Our colonizers have come in and hit again, using collaborators and mercenaries.'''
Arab attitudes have also been influenced by the close cooperation between the US and Israel following a week of Iraqi missile attacks on Tel Aviv and Haifa.
Although Israel has not retaliated, many Arabs now regard the Jewish state as a de facto member of the coalition. This view has reinforced a widespread Arab feeling that the US is fighting in the Gulf primarily to protect Israel.
Daily news coverage of coalition bombing raids over Iraq and rumors of mounting civilian casualties have had a profound effect in the Arab world.
They have rekindled deep resentments over the political impotence and economic underdevelopment that Arabs regard as the legacy of centuries of foreign domination. Throughout the Arab world, these resentments are being exploited by Arab nationalists and Muslim fundamentalists - as in Algeria. These groups now pose the greatest threat to Arab regimes arrayed against Iraq.
To win, Arab sources say, Saddam will not need primacy on the battlefield, but enough of the staying power he has already demonstrated to allow time for opposition forces in countries like Egypt to sweep away their anti-Iraqi governments.
Saddam, who knows the Arab mind far better than his American opponents, may thus be playing from a stronger hand than he has been credited with, they add.
``The Arab world is totally desperate and totally frustrated. This is a dangerous situation,'' a European diplomat here says.
Since the start of the war, a growing number of writers, intellectuals, trade unions, and professional groups have called on Arab states to quit the US-led coalition.
Pro-Iraqi sentiment is also increasingly evident in newspaper editorials and street protests.
Mass demonstrations in the five Maghreb countries of Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, and Mauritania, for example, have prompted worried Maghreb leaders to press for United Nations Security Council action to bring hostilities to an end.