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US show of force galls Arab world

A day after Baghdad's fall, many foresee American dominance in the Middle East - and possible reprisals.

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"This is a sharp lesson for Russia's military establishment," he says.

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"The Iraqi Army was a replica of the Russian Army, and its easy defeat was not predicted by our generals. Today they are in denial ... but this will strengthen the case of reformers who say we must start thinking about modern armed forces."

One bright spot for Moscow, however, is a report that Iraqi forces used Russian-made Kornet laser-guided antitank missiles to destroy several Abrams tanks during the fighting. This has excited Russian arms manufacturers, who are already receiving inquiries from Syria and Iran, according to Mr. Shlyikov.

Syria fears it could have reason to need such weapons, in the wake of veiled threats from US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who has accused Damascus of aiding the Iraqi government during the war, and of sheltering senior regime figures.

Cowboy image

"We are concerned about American threats because we are dealing with a cowboy, who looks not for the truth but for how many guns he has," says Professor Shukri. "But the Iraqis were vulnerable because they made mistakes. It would be hard to justify this sort of policy in any other country."

Some radical Islamists in Pakistan accuse President Bush of having already found a justification.

"The enemy of Islam, Bush, has already drawn the lines between the Islamic world and the Christian world," warns Hafiz Hussein Ahmed, a senior Muslim cleric in Islamabad. "With the fall of Baghdad, the danger for the Islamic world has increased."

Moderate leaders across the Muslim world are anxious for America to help undercut that kind of talk by quickly handing over power in Iraq to a local government. That would disprove widespread allegations that the US is a new colonial power in the Middle East.

President Mubarak, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher all used almost identical language Wednesday to call for a speedy transition from US occupation to a new Iraqi government.

European leaders have taken a similar stance, urging that the United Nations be given a key role in Iraq's political future, and not just in humanitarian aid, as US officials have proposed.

"The United Nations must play a central role in the process of bringing peace and stabilization that is now beginning," German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder argued Wednesday.

France, which along with Russia and Germany, had opposed the US-led war in Iraq, hailed the fall of Hussein's regime, with Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin adding, "We have always been in the camp of democracies against that of dictators." President Jacques Chirac stressed that full sovereignty must be returned to Iraq as soon as possible "with the legitimacy of the United Nations."

However Iraq's political future is arranged, it will do little to salve the wounds of humiliation so widely felt in the Arab world at the scenes broadcast this week from Baghdad.

But some observers in the region hope that the images might shock ordinary Arabs into rethinking why they feel so humiliated.

"Since losing the war with Israel in 1967, a major defeat, Arab countries have swept their real problems under the carpet and always blamed their troubles on others," says Dr. Bishara.

"Thursday, that came back to haunt us," he adds. "What was defeated in Baghdad was a whole culture of denial."

Samir Ragab, editor of the Cairo daily Al-Gomhuriya, concurs, even though he had been urging guerrilla warfare against US troops in Iraq for weeks.

"Those fond of threadbare rhetoric and hollow slogans should learn a lesson from the harrowing events of the past 20 days," he says now.

But the widespread sense of confusion and anger in the Arab world this weekend could harbor the seeds of greater violence, some political figures are warning.

"This war will have larger consequences," says Nabil Osman, Mubarak's spokesman. "We will see more terrorism and violence here."

Ways to build goodwill

One way America can defuse that, says Mr Maeena, is to make a new and serious effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has persisted for half a century and poisoned Arab views of the US.

Victory in Iraq will give the US administration "a golden chance to show its good intentions," al-Maeena believes.

The other path to regional stability, America's friends are telling Washington, is through a prosperous and democratic Iraq whose citizens are demonstrably delighted by their new fate.

The magnitude of that challenge is clear.

"The real task is ahead," says Dr. Khalida Ghaus, who teaches politics at Karachi University in Pakistan.

"Saddam's shoes and broken legs are still hanging on the square in Baghdad. He has left his footprints."