Arab States Resent Failure to Pursue Diplomacy

ALTHOUGH Iraq stands to emerge broken and humiliated by the coalition onslaught, its Arab friends and sympathizers have shown no sign of abandoning their support for Baghdad out of fear of subsequent political reprisals. With public sympathies for Iraq and anti-American sentiment running high throughout the region, many governments not associated with the United States-led coalition have openly condemned the offensive. Feelings in North Africa are particularly strong, with Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, and the Sudan among nations officially and bitterly denouncing the Western-led campaign. In Yemen, too, the government issued statements of strong condemnation, reflecting the popular anger expressed in large anti-American rallies. Significantly, Morocco kept silent, with King Hassan II caught between his commitment to the coalition and the strength of public sentiment over the issue. He has kept his troops in Saudi Arabia, but did not send them into the battle. Two factors have clearly added to the emotional outrage that any American-led attack on an Arab and Muslim country would stir among ordinary Arabs. One is the fact that the coalition bombing campaign went well beyond strictly military targets to include Iraq's economic and technological infrastructure. The other is that President Bush is widely perceived as having rushed into his ultimatum in order to head off the Soviet initiative that Iraq had accepted, publicly and explicitly, committing itself to an ``immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all Iraqi forces from Kuwait.'' Though the Iraqi withdrawal commitment came at the eleventh hour and included a provision for punitive Security Council resolutions to be dropped after the pullout, there is a strong belief in the region that a political way out of the crisis could have been attained had the will been there on the coalition side. Taken together, these two factors have convinced many Arabs that the coalition's intention from the outset was to smash Iraq as a power, in a way that has raised fears of a new era of US and Western domination in the region - especially given Moscow's inability to halt the onslaught. Typical of the reactions was the Tunisian statement expressing ``extreme indignation'' that the attack had foiled a ``new chance for peace.'' It expressed ``full solidarity and deep sympathy with the Iraqi people over the wholesale destruction of its human and material resources.'' Not surprisingly, the most bitter denunciation has come from those countries or parties most closely tied to Iraq or those which had invested the greatest effort in trying to find a peaceful way out of the crisis by persuading Iraq to withdraw and the coalition to hold off. They include Iran, Jordan, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and Algeria. ``Three-quarters of Algeria's diplomatic activity for months has been devoted to the Gulf issue,'' said President Chedli Benjedid, after the offensive had started. ``What is happening now is a premeditated assault aimed not just at Iraq, but at the Arab nation,'' he added. ``The objective is the destruction of a country called Iraq, with its military, economic, and other capabilities, a complete destruction.'' Jordan went further, coming out with one of the strongest and most deeply-felt denuciations of the coalition offensive. It expressed ``pain, anger and dismay'' at the news of the assault ``at a time when brotherly Iraq and the Soviet Union had achieved tangible progress in reaching an honorable peace.'' Condemning the ``aggression'' and voicing the ``anger of its people,'' Jordan accused the coalition of violating Security Council resolutions. The PLO, which stands to be left in an even more vulnerable position, has associated itself even more closely with Baghdad. Far from deserting the sinking ship, the PLO came out with a fierce denunciation of the offensive, accusing the allies of ``snubbing all local and international efforts to solve the crisis peacefully.'' PLO chairman Yasser Arafat was the only top-level Arab leader to visit Baghdad during the coalition bombing campaign. PLO officials say it was not just a solidarity trip, but aimed at persuading Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait. ``The PLO deployed maximum efforts to stop the war and the aggression, through direct contacts with the Iraqi and Soviet leaderships, and by putting forward proposals which helped crystallize their initiative for a peaceful solution,'' said the PLO in a statement. ``We are now in a situation where we are obliged to resist the new colonialist order in our region,'' a PLO official commented. ``It's a real disaster. I can't predict what kind of explosion is going to take place, but it will come faster that anyone can expect.'' Iran had deployed even greater diplomatic efforts up until the last minute, working closely with Moscow to try to defuse a crisis which it feared could lead to an Iraqi collapse and the establishment of a Western foothold on its very borders. While deploring the coalition offensive, Tehran has stuck to its neutral policy of blaming both sides. ``If the Iraqis had heeded our call, things would not have gone this far,'' said Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani. ``Unfortunately, it was proved that America and the coalition are pursuing aims beyond their withdrawal from Kuwait....After Iraq had been convinced, the Americans, who had other ideas, pursued their aims by inventing pretexts.'' But Iran's reaction has been less bitter than that of Jordan and the PLO, perhaps because, as a recognized regional power in the Gulf, its role may be enhanced by a weakening of Iraq. -PATHNAME- /usr/local/etc/httpd/plweb/DBGROUPS/paper/database/tape/91/mar/week10/owar.

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