A dictator’s desperate war cry



Saddam attempts to gain Arab sympathy by mentioning Palestine but his appeal may have fallen on deaf ears.

MR SADDAM Hussein yesterday attempted to tug at the heartstrings of Arab nationalism by condemning the US strike on Iraq as an attack on all Arab countries.

On at least two occasions during his televised 15-minute speech, some two hours after laser-guided missiles from US warships and Stealth bombers rained on Baghdad, he sought to draw the wider Arab world into the conflict by attacking the ‘Zionist conspirators’ and mentioning Palestine.

But his hope of becoming a regional hero appeared to be fast diminishing, with key Arab governments keen to remove him from power even if they did not altogether agree with the US approach.

In what looked like a desperate war cry to win Arab sympathy, he said: ‘We promise you that Iraq, its leadership and its people will stand up to the evil invaders, and we will take them to such limits that they will lose their patience in achieving their plans, which are pushed by criminal Zionism.

‘Draw your sword and be not afraid. Long live jihad and long live Palestine.

Middle East experts said that Mr Saddam has long-cherished the notion of wanting to play the historic role of ‘liberating’ the region from ‘world imperialism’.

During the 1991 Gulf War, he struck some success in playing the Arab card. But the mood now appears to have changed in the Persian Gulf countries.

In Amman, like elsewhere in the Middle East, people woke up to find that war had broken out overnight.

TV stations featured non-stop news commentaries as they repeated almost every hour President George W. Bush’s televised speech to Americans and the comments of the Iraqi leaders.

At lunch, people huddled together in restaurants and food outlets in Jebel Amman, Shmeisani and Abdoun to discuss the war. The mood on the ground here was hostile to the US but somewhat sympathetic to Mr Saddam’s call that Washington is lording over the Arab world.

Munching a shawerma, a bread filled with chicken, pickles and vegetables, travel agent Fuad Saleh said: ‘I don’t like Saddam but this is really an unjust war in which Arabs are being made victims of a crazy American policy.’

The mood was more dramatic in Kuwait after Mr Saddam fired missiles into the country yesterday, which also fuelled an even greater animosity towards him.

Panic-stricken people went out hunting for gas masks. Others jammed phone lines to keep in touch with family and friends. Media consultant Al-Baida said: ‘He is a madman. He is even more mad if he thinks Arabs are going to listen to him.’

There were few demonstrations yesterday. But protests are likely today when people attend afternoon prayers. Still this will not be wide-scale, given the simmering unhappiness over not just the US, but also Mr Saddam.

Mr Saddam might be calculating that he can win on the Arab street even while he loses in the skies of the Gulf. But the Arab world does not appear to be listening this time.

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