Some political analysts in Egypt say Arab leaders have reason to be seriously concerned by a newspaper report that President Bush has ordered a stepped-up covert effort involving the CIA to overthrow Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Ever since President Bush said the removal of Saddam Hussein from power is one of his administration's objectives, Arab leaders have publicly voiced their opposition and have vehemently opposed the use of any military action against Iraq, saying it would inflame tensions throughout the region. That was one of the messages given to Vice President Dick Cheney when he visited the Middle East in late April.
Any CIA involvement in removing Saddam Hussein would "send a chilling message to leaders throughout the region," said Abdullah el Ashaal, an expert on Arab affairs who lectures at several universities in Cairo.
"This is dangerous because if the United States is going to kill a leader, discreetly, anyone could be a candidate for such an operation," he said. "The United States needs a new policy toward Iraq to be more stable, to be more clear and to be justified and to also be credible toward the Arab states."
Mr. el Ashaal says he does not believe the United States will carry out a military strike against Iraq. He says he believes the Bush administration is much more concerned with finding a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
There is enough internal public dissatisfaction with governments in the Middle East to cause concern among Arab leaders that potential military action against Iraq could spread unrest throughout the region, said Mohammad Kamal, who teaches political science at two universities in Cairo.
"Honestly speaking, I think people will be happier if all the heads of the Arab states are removed because they are not democratically elected heads of state," he said. "So when the U.S. is involved in such an operation, using military force by a foreign country, people are not going to accept that. They are not going to accept the means or the method to change any of these regimes. But probably they might accept the end because I do not think they are happy in Iraq with Saddam Hussein or in the rest of the Arab countries with the heads of these states."
Leaders throughout the Middle East have attempted to convince the Iraqi leader, among other things, to allow U.N. weapons inspectors back into the country. The arms experts left shortly before the United States and Britain bombed Iraq in December 1998 and have not been allowed to return since.
The Iraqi news agency is reporting that President Hussein wants all U.N. sanctions against Iraq lifted before an agreement can be reached on allowing the inspectors to return.
Iraq has steadfastly denied pursuing the development of weapons of mass destruction.