US Reinforces Saddam's Hold, Premier Says
BAGHDAD — THE Iraqi leadership believes that an accumulation of Arab resentment against growing United States influence in the region, domestic political reforms, and an agreement with Iraq's Kurdish minority will work to ensure the continuity of its regime, Prime Minister Saadoun Hammadi said over the weekend. "This regime is strong and will survive," asserts Mr. Hammadi, generally a soft-spoken man."It is true that the US influence in the region has been consolidated, ... but eventually it will be eroded as the Arab people's resentment of this domination grows, leading into confrontation between the Arab peoples and the West," he warns. In Hammadi's optimistic perspective, Iraq will emerge as a model nationalist Arab state for refusing to submit to foreign domination. The pro-US governments in the region will find themselves in conflict with their people's interests and aspirations, he says. In the hour-long interview, the first he has given to a newspaper since he was appointed prime minister last April, Hammadi also offered the first Iraqi reaction to the US-led Middle East peace process, accusing the US of trying to impose "a submissive peace" on Palestinians and Arabs. "Such peace is temporary and will simply not last," he says. "The West is wrong [in] thinking that by pursuing their gunboat policy in the area they will bring about moderation. They are [doing] exactly the opposite by provoking the Iraqi and the Palestianian peoples' feelings, . . . this will only refuel resistance to the American influence in the region." About United Nations oversight of Iraq's nuclear program, Hammadi says: "We have said that we shall abide by the United Nations Security Council terms, and we are doing so - no more, no less. What do they want from us?" he asked. (New UN restrictions on Iraq, Page 3.) Throughout the interview, Hammadi was keen to show that Iraq was eager to reintegrate itself into the Arab and international communities, while insisting on maintaining "its independent position." "There is a big difference between capitulation and pursuing an independent policy," he says. Hammadi argues that the continuation of the Western campaign has reinforced the standing and prestige of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "The fuss that the West is stirring about the president has served to enhance his nationalist credentials and boost his popularity," Hammadi says. Ordinary Iraqis, judging from interviews here last week, voice strong criticism about their leaders, but they view the Western campaign as evidence of Saddam's refusal to submit - something they seem to respect. Prime Minister Hammadi compares the post-Gulf-war state of the Arab world with that which prevailed immediately following World War II. "The West and particularly the US have brought back the region to the colonialist era," he says. This situation will result in a revival of the independence movement in the Arab world and the demise of the regimes associated with foreign control, the prime minister asserts. "If these [pro-US] governments cannot learn from history and persist on their shortsightedness, their fate will be similar to [that of] the Iraqi monarchy and King Farouk in Egypt," Hammadi says, a strong warning to the Arab allies of the US. The overthrow of the Egyptian monarchy in 1953 and of the Iraqi monarchy in 1958 are viewed by Arab nationalists as a consequence of British and French regional influence in the post-World War II era. Hammadi's warning is not a sincere threat, since postwar Iraq has lost the tools to enforce one, analysts maintain. But it explains the renewed confidence that the Iraqi leadership is displaying about its future. An agreement with Kurdish parties over the future of Iraqi Kurdistan and political changes involving some form of pluralism are also viewed by Hammadi as key elements for the continuity of the Iraqi state. Hammadi argues that despite the disastrous consequence of the war and the Kurdish and Shiite rebellions in the south - the ensuing political situation is paving the way for pluralism, political freedoms, a historical reconciliation with the Kurds, and the prevention of conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. The prime minister concedes that postwar developments, particularly the negotiations with the Kurdish parties, have prompted the leadership to accept important, liberal modifications to its prewar draft of a new constitution and political-parties law. He refuses to elaborate, but disclosed the ruling party will consider sharing power with another party - if need be. The last experience in Iraqi recent history of a coalition government ended tragically in the late 1970s when the Baathists cracked down on their communist partners in the national front after accusing them of recruiting Army officers. The Iraqi leadership sees a real chance of winning over the Kurdish minority and putting an end to Iranian influence over the Shiites, especially in the southern part of the country, according to Hammadi, who is himself a Shiite. "We have sensed a patriotic attitude by the Kurdish parties - we cannot but welcome this attitude," he says, referring to the Iraqi leadership's hope that the negotiations with the Kurdish groups will end the Kurds' historical opposition to Baghdad and consequently their being influenced by foreign governments.