CAIRO — ALTHOUGH Iraq's stated willingness to pull out of Kuwait gave the Egyptian government and its people hope that Baghdad might be softening, Cairo is maintaining the need for an unconditional withdrawal before war can stop. ``When I first heard the initiative ... I said, `Good, there is hope,' but it later repeated the old conditions and added to them new ones,'' said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after meeting Friday with Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi. ``They are all crippling conditions.''
The Iraqi statement, however, did include one positive point, he added: ``For the first time Iraq does not refer to Kuwait as its 19th province and speaks of withdrawal.''
Like the government, sources said the majority of Egyptians also saw Baghdad's statement as positive, but agreed that Iraq needed to pull out of Kuwait without preconditions.
``People think [the initiative] was a good sign in the sense that [President Saddam Hussein] agreed to withdraw, but they wonder about the conditions. They want him to withdraw, but they think he's playing a game,'' said Gehad Auda, a senior researcher at the Al-Ahram Center of Political and Strategic Studies.
Iraq's Revolutionary Command Council announced over Baghdad Radio Friday that it would accept United Nations Resolution 660, demanding that Iraq leave Kuwait. The statement, however, appeared to link withdrawal to such issues as the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Lebanese situation.
The declaration came as Arab foreign ministers from the anti-Iraq coalition were meeting here to discuss security arrangements in the postwar Gulf. The ministers rejected Iraq's offer.
``I think Mubarak was clear when he said our forces will continue in liberating Kuwait,'' said Makram Muhammad Ahmed, editor of the semi-official weekly al-Mussawar, and a close friend of the Egyptian president.
How the Egyptian public feels about starting the ground offensive, despite Iraq's initiative, is unclear. Some say the people are impatient with the coalition forces' seeming inability to end the conflict. ``People in this country are just waiting for this war to end,'' said Dr. Auda. ``They feel it is the major cause of recession. Have the United States wage a ground war and let us get this over with quickly.''
Others say a ground offensive should be postponed because Saddam's initiative signals greater willingness to negotiate.
``Everybody feels he's starting to give in,'' says political commentator Tahsin Bashir. ``There's no reason for destruction and killing while he's moving toward peace.''
Some theories of Saddam's strategy are making the rounds.
``The initiative and its strange conditions came to show the whole world a clear picture of the shaken mentality that is ruling Iraq,'' stated an editorial in al-Akhbar, a semi-official daily newspaper. ``The assassin, who is staying in his shelter, comes up with a ridiculous statement, stuffed with a set of conditions. It would have been better if he had maintained silence.''
Still, many of the Islamic and leftist organizations in Egypt are supportive of Iraq and opposed to the presence of foreign forces in the Gulf. But divisions among themselves and tight security have hindered their making a major show of dissent.
These pro-Iraqi opposition forces in Egypt claim the massive aerial bombardment of Iraq is proof US-led forces want to destroy the country, rather than liberate Kuwait. Washington's immediate rejection of the Iraqi declaration supports this view, they say.
``If you refuse the new initiative it shows exactly what America wants. It doesn't want peace ... The Iraqi initiative puts America in a corner, [forcing it to show its] real face: to destroy Iraq and humiliate Saddam Hussein,'' says Kitaat Said, secretary-general of the leftist Tagamou Party.