Disappointment and disbelief

IRAQ WAR
ARAB REACTION

Arabs say US troops may have won the battle for Baghdad but the war for hearts and minds in the Middle East still rages

AS AMERICAN tanks rumbled through the streets of Baghdad amid scenes of jubilation, the rest of the Arab world warned that the war was far from over.

In hotels, restaurants, shops and malls, people remained glued to televisions as they displayed mixed emotions over what they saw happening in Iraq.

Echoing the sentiments of most of those interviewed, taxi driver Romani Hashhash, a 40-year-old Egyptian, said US-led troops had achieved a major victory by seizing the Iraqi capital but there were more battles to be won.

‘They don’t even know if Saddam is dead or alive,’ he said.

‘The Americans have not won this war yet. It is not so simple.’

But in Kuwait city, there was a general sense of relief.

After being invaded by Iraq in 1991, the event which sparked the first Gulf War, people here have been backing an American-led invasion of Iraq to topple President Saddam Hussein.

Airline executive Adnan Ali, 50, said that this was the best news he had heard ‘for the last decade’.

‘Finally, we are about to get rid of this tyrant who has been a pain in the side for so long. This is cause for celebration.’

The response in other Arab countries, however, was muted. There was a sense of disbelief mixed with disappointment after weeks of hearing Mr Saddam’s government pledge a ‘great victory’ against the infidels.

‘We expected resistance, not what happened,’ Ms Ghadah Shebah, a student at the American University in Cairo, told AP.

Customers watching television at a coffee shop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, told the news agency that while they felt sorry for the long-suffering Iraqis, there was little to cheer over the victory of non-Muslim forces.

Mr Abdel Khaleq Abdulla, a political analyst in the United Arab Emirates, was reported as saying that disappointment was to be expected among many Arabs long plagued by a sense of powerlessness.

‘For a while, there will be a sense of resignation, let down, that this is one more Arab defeat,’ he said.

‘But what was defeated primarily in Baghdad was Arab oppression, the one-party system which was unable to defend its country for more than three weeks, and its capital for more than 48 hours.’

Reaction in the Arab world has been hostile from the start of the war, with thousands taking to the streets in Yemen, Egypt and Jordan.

In Jordan, a senior correspondent with the Al-Jazeera TV station acknowledged that the US had already won the war against Iraq by moving into the centre of Baghdad.

‘No one could have anticipated that they would have done this in so short a time,’ he said.

‘None of the resistance we were talking about took place but we think that Saddam is still going to put up a fight, maybe from his hometown in Tikrit.’

Like other Arab journalists, he brushed aside as ‘just an illusion’ the jubilant scenes of Iraqis trying to bring down Mr Saddam’s statue.

‘I wonder whether that group included people who lost friends and family members when the US bombed Baghdad.’

Both Jordan and Egypt yesterday stressed the importance of setting up a government chosen by the Iraqis.

‘Jordan cannot, naturally, recognise an occupying power,’ said Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said the quickest way to achieve stability now would be for US troops to withdraw.

And Dr Mustafa Hamarni from the University of Jordan said: ‘They won an important battle but the war to win the hearts and minds of people is far from over.’

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