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Arab World Not Ready to Back US Attack Against Iraq - 2002-08-28

Arab countries that supported the 1991 Gulf War to remove Iraqi troops from Kuwait are the same countries who now oppose a possible military strike to oust Saddam Hussein. Political analysts in the region say there are many reasons.

The leaders of two Arab nations have publicly proclaimed their full opposition to a possible U.S.-led military effort to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said such an operation would cause "a state of disorder and chaos" in the region. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, after meeting with Iraq's vice president, reiterated Syria's rejection of any threats against Baghdad.

In addition, Saudi Arabia has said it will refuse to let the United States use bases on its territory for an attack. Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Qatar are among some in the region voicing opposition to the use of force.

No Arab or Gulf state has shown support for a military solution to Saddam Hussein, choosing instead to call for the return of U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq.

President Bush has warned Iraq of unspecified consequences if it refuses to allow the return of the inspectors. The weapons inspectors have been barred from Iraq since 1998 when they left Baghdad before U.S. and British air strikes to punish Iraq for not cooperating with inspections.

But Monday, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney made a case against renewed inspections, saying "a return of inspectors would provide no assurance, whatsoever, of his compliance with U.N. resolutions." Mr. Cheney said, "there is a great danger that it would provide false comfort that Saddam was somehow back in his box."

Hours later, the State Department said it was doing its "utmost to get U.N. inspectors back."

Mohammad Kadry Sa'id, head of the military unit at the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, says that despite widespread belief in the region that Saddam Hussein should go, the Arab world is not ready to support a U.S. military effort against Iraq.

"Saddam Hussein is not popular in the Arab world, but the problem with the United States is that only the United States wants to change Saddam at the moment," he noted. "The concept, itself, I think to change it only to change it for this reason, no one can understand why the U.S. at this moment wants to make this war. It is not clear. The threat perception is not explained in a correct manner or even in a detailed way, not only for us, I think if you go to Europe and even inside the United States, the same question exists: Why now and for what reason?"

President Bush has repeatedly stressed he has made no decisions regarding possible military action and that he will continue to engage in consultations with Arab allies about what steps should be taken.

Abdel Moneim Sa'id, head of the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, says the president is hearing numerous reasons why Arab leaders oppose the use of military force.

"The overthrow of Saddam will mean a blood bath," he said. "Number two, it will mean a chaos in Iraq. Number three, that chaos will lead to a division of Iraq and creation of a Kurdish state. Number four, that will lead into a chaos in the adjacent states like Turkey and Iran and then we have a lot of interference by Turkey and Iran into Iraq. It will mean another confrontation between non-Arab states and Arab states."

The key ally of the U.S. in the Gulf, Saudi Arabia, has resisted pressure from Washington to join in a military effort against Iraq. Political analyst Mohammed Kamal says Saudi Arabia fears "a regime change in Iraq could eventually lead to the same in Riyadh."

"Some people believe that there are elements in the administration, so-called new conservative elements, they want to reshape the Middle East. They want to introduce democracy," he said. "They think that the internal politics of the Middle East is responsible for fundamentalism, is responsible for terrorism, and if you have more democratic regimes then Islamists will be part of the political system. They will not be radical," he added. " They will not have to go to Afghanistan and join al-Qaida and so on, and I think some people in the administration, especially in the vice president's office, are committed to these ideas and they believe in them and the Saudis are worried about that. So there are all these indicators that it is not business as usual between Saudi Arabia and the U.S."

Despite wide opposition to a military strike against Iraq, President Bush maintains Saddam Hussein remains a menace to regional and world peace and the world would be safer without him.

But all three analysts who spoke with VOA said most people in the region see the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a far greater threat to regional security than Mr. Saddam. Until that issue is resolved, they say, President Bush will likely find no Arab support for military action against Iraq.