MEMBERS of the Kuwaiti opposition have joined ranks with former government officials in a campaign to win popular Arab support for pressuring Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait - the first such campaign since the Iraqi invasion. Kuwaiti delegations, now touring Arab countries, are delivering a message to the Arab public: ``Ask Iraq to withdraw for the sake of the Iraqi Army and the region's security and stability.''
Aware of the pro-Iraqi mood in countries like Jordan, Yemen, and Tunis, Kuwaiti delegates are seeking to counter Iraqi claims that its challenge to the West will pave the way for an Israeli withdrawal from the Arab territories and for Arab unity.
``How can Palestine possibly be liberated through the destruction of Kuwait. Does Arab unity start by invading Kuwait?'' asked Ahmed Rabi, a leading member of the Kuwaiti opposition, in an address to Jordanian politicians here last week.
Jordan has witnessed some of the largest pro-Iraqi rallies in the region. Strong opposition to the pro-American policies of the ruling al-Sabah family of Kuwait and suspicions that it was involved in a Western plan to undermine Iraq seemed to blunt the impact of the arguments used by the eloquent Kuwaiti delegates.
``How can you expect us to press for an unconditional Iraqi withdrawal? An unconditional Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait will jeopardize Iraq's and Jordan's security,'' counters Mahmoud Sherif, editor of al-Dustoor daily. Mr. Sherif's argument reflects official and public Jordanian concerns that the United States will seek to destroy Iraq's military power - after its withdrawal from Kuwait - leaving Jordan vulnerable to Israeli threats.
Many Kuwaitis would prefer international guarantees that Iraq would not be attacked during or after a withdrawal from Kuwait, says Mubarak Douwailah, a member of the Kuwaiti opposition. The Kuwaiti ruling family does not oppose such proposals, he said in an interview. ``We have certainly discussed these idea with them, and they did not express any objections.''
The main problem the Kuwaiti appeal faces, political analysts here say, is Arab skepticism over the Kuwaitis' ability to make decisions independent of the US.
``We admit that we have become totally dependent and subservient to the Americans. We certainly do not like that. But [Iraqi President] Saddam [Hussein] has left us no options,'' says a prominent Kuwaiti. ``Our concern now is to restore our country, but many of us resent our dependence on the Americans.''
During their four-day visit to Jordan, the Kuwaiti delegation was received by King Hussein but was cold-shouldered by the Jordanian opposition groups except for the Muslim Brotherhood, which conferred with the Islamic members of the team.
Although the majority of Jordanians initially welcomed the Iraqi takeover of Kuwait as a blow to Western interests, the public mood has slightly shifted in favor of a withdrawal. The shift was influenced by accounts from Jordanian and Palestinian expatriates of Iraqi brutality and the systematic stripping of Kuwait.
More and more Jordanians worry that the Iraqi occupation will undermine Baghdad's power and standing, and an increasing number hope a restored Kuwait will endorse nationalist policies.
During public debates, Jordanians pressed the Kuwaiti delegates to take an independent stand from the al-Sabah family. Early in the visit, delegates blamed Iraq for triggering the dispatch of foreign troops to the region. But by the end, some delegates publicly said they believed the US was planning to send troops, regardless of the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait.
``The US had planned to send troops to the region, but the Iraqi takeover provided it with a good cover. We are aware that they are not there to defend Kuwait but to defend American interests,'' says Mohammed Saqr, editor of the Kuwaiti al-Qabas. ``Iraq has to withdraw from Kuwait to deprive the US of this cover. After that we shall all unite behind Iraq if the foreign troops remained in the region.