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Analysts: US Foreign Policy Creates Animosity Toward Americans in Muslim World - 2003-10-27


Arab observers, speaking immediately after Monday's attacks in Baghdad, say that although many in the Arab world would condemn attacks on civilians, most Arabs would also have some sympathy for those fighting to end what they see as the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The observers also say that public animosity in Arab and Muslim countries toward U.S. foreign policy is so great now, that it is difficult to publicly show any sympathy at all for the U.S. effort in Iraq.

The Director of Cairo University's Political Science Department, Hassan Nafae, said the increase in civilian deaths in attacks by anti-U.S. forces in Iraq has not changed widespread Arab opposition to the U.S. presence there.

"This is an occupation, and it will continue to be perceived as an occupation, and the solution is to either transfer the whole file to the United Nations to direct it, or to withdraw completely from Iraq," said Mr. Nafae.

Mr. Nafae said many in the Arab and Muslim world do not believe the United States' declared motives for invading Iraq, partly because the coalition never found the weapons of mass destruction it claimed Saddam Hussein was hiding, and partly because of past U.S. cooperation with the now deposed Iraqi leader.

"I do not think that a lot of people here will believe that the Americans came for democracy in Iraq, or just to topple the Iraqi regime," added Mr. Nafae. "The United States has cooperated in many occasions with the Iraqi regime and even during the gasification [gassing] of the Kurds, the Iraqi regime was still enjoying the American support because he was fighting against Iran."

The deputy director of Cairo's Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Taha Abdel Alim, says another major reason for the mistrust of U.S. motives in Iraq is what is widely perceived in the Arab and Muslim world to be the United States' unconditional support of Israel.

"We have to understand why Iraqi people, why the Arab people are not believing, are not accepting, are not buying the points of view of the United States in the region, because they are seeing Israel is occupying and the United States is doing nothing to end this occupation," explained Mr. Abdel Alim.

According to Mr. Abdel Alim, U.S. criticism of several Israeli policies, including settlements and home demolition, and its sponsorship of the Roadmap peace plan, have not made much of an impression among ordinary Arabs throughout the region.

"It is not a problem of the Arabs, it is the problem of the United States, that for the Arabs it is very clear, their territories in Palestine are occupied by Israel, and the United States is continuing supporting Israel," he said.

Those who disagree with the prevailing Arab views on the United States and Iraq often find it difficult to speak out. One of those who does is Tawfiq Abu Baker, head of Jenin Center for Strategic Studies in Amman. He says he is among a small group of Arab intellectuals who support the U.S. policy in Iraq because it got rid of Saddam Hussein's regime, and because they believe the continuing occupation is preventing a bloodbath among Iraq's ethnic groups.

But Mr. Abu Baker, a syndicated commentator for five Arab newspapers, says Arab and Muslim public opinion is so opposed to the United States that it is very difficult for anyone in the Arab world to be openly sympathetic to anything American at this time.

"If I have now some of my colleagues, some of my journalist friends, come to my office, he will say if the Americans leave Iraq now there will be a civil war, but the majority of them do not write in the newspapers because they do not want to be against the public opinion," continued Mr. Abu Baker.

Mr. Abu Baker says in his columns he has urged other Arab supporters of U.S. policy not to go along with public opinion if they know it is wrong. But he says his colleagues have been difficult to convince.

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