Middle East


Attack Anxiety

On the eve of a trip to Turkey in early December, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell sent a message to Muslim states in the anti-terror coalition when he stated that a military move against Iraq was not in the cards. But the reaction among pundits and editorialists in the Arab press was that Washington would inevitably aim its anti-terror campaign at Saddam Hussein. “The talk now revolves around not if a decision has been made to attack [Iraq], but about when,” declared an editorial in Al-Quds al-Arabi (Nov. 30). “It is an issue of timing, nothing more, nothing less.” (See this month’s feature story, “Baghdad in the Cross Hairs,” page 22.)

The deal struck in late November between Russia and the United States to continue the U.N. “oil for food” program for at least six months was viewed as a concession by the Russians, who are opposed to sanctions against Iraq. The plan allows the two countries to buy time in deciding how to deal with Iraq, according to Raghida Dergham, U.N. correspondent for Al-Hayat (Nov. 30). “This means that June 1 will be critical in deciding the future of Iraq,” concluded Egyptian commentator Muhammad Sid Ahmed in Al-Ahram Weekly (Dec. 6-12).

In a front-page column, Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of Al-Quds al-Arabi (Nov. 28), said that, unlike during the Gulf War, the Arab public is unified against a U.S. attack on Iraq. “Aggression against Iraq will be a real earthquake that will shake the region,” Atwan predicted.

Few commentators spared their criticism of the Iraqi regime. Dergham wrote:“Baghdad would be mistaken to assume that the near-consensus against an attack on Iraq means endorsement of it continuing its present policy of saying ‘no’ while taking advantage of the erosion of the sanctions regime.” Al-Sharq al-Awsat’s Dec. 2 lead editorial said: “There is no doubt that the return of U.N. weapons inspectors in exchange for gradual lifting of sanctions is the best guarantee of Iraq’s well-being and its return to the community of nations.”

Michael Young (Daily Star, Dec. 1) faulted Arab governments for preferring a weak Iraq: “What Arab states must prove, if only to reduce the periodic U.S. appetite for resolving issues with a military jackhammer, is that they seek a genuinely new policy in Iraq,” he wrote.

“Washington has behaved deplorably in Iraq, adhering to a decade-old policy that is bankrupt. However, the Arab states are aiding and abetting Saddam’s regime, even as they shed crocodile tears for his broken people,” he continued, concluding: “All there is is an insidious reluctance to rock the boat, since too many Arab regimes fear that where Saddam goes, they may soon follow.”