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[casi] Article: Looking at the Enemy as a Liberator

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Looking at the Enemy as a Liberator

February 16, 2003

AMMAN, Jordan - Every day now, a flood of battered cars and
buses arrives in this city, bearing migrants from Iraq.
Many are men of military age who have driven across the
open desert, or paid bribes to Iraqi guards at the border
crossing 250 miles east of Amman, to escape being drafted
into Saddam Hussein's battalions. Crowding into lodgings on
the hillsides of Amman's old city, the Iraqis become
wanderers in a no-man's land, emerging by day to look for
casual work, staying indoors after dark, all the time
fearing Jordanian police patrols that hunt illegal
immigrants and return them to the border.

Gathered around kerosene heaters in their tenements, the
Iraqi men talk of a coming conflict, and what it will mean
for them and their families. Since all gatherings inside
Iraq take place in the shadow of Mr. Hussein's terror, with
police spies lurking in every neighborhood, the talk in
Amman offers a chance to discover what at least some Iraqis
really think, and what they hope for now.

Almost to a man, these Iraqis said they wanted the Iraqi
dictator removed. Better still, they said - and it was a
point made again and again - they wanted him dead. The men,
some in their teens, some in their 50's, told of grotesque
repression, of relatives and friends tortured, raped and
murdered or, as often, arrested and "disappeared."

But their hatred of Mr. Hussein had an equally potent
counterpoint: for them, the country that would rid them of
their leader was not at all a bastion of freedom,
dispatching its legions across the seas to defend liberty,
but a greedy, menacing imperial power.

This America, in the migrants' telling, has enabled the
humiliation of Palestinians by arming Israel; craves
control of Iraq's oil fields; supported Mr. Hussein in the
1980's and cared not a fig for his brutality then, and
grieved for seven lost astronauts even as its forces
prepared to use "smart" weapons that, the migrants said,
threatened to kill thousands of innocent Iraqis.

The men refused to accept that their image of the United
States might be distorted by the rigidly controlled Iraqi
news media, which offer as unreal a picture of America as
they do of Iraq. But when it was suggested that they could
hardly wish to be liberated by a country they distrusted so
much - that they might prefer President Bush to extend the
United Nations weapons inspections and stand down the
armada he has massed on Iraq's frontiers - they erupted in

"No, no, no!" one man said excitedly, and he seemed to
speak for all. Iraqis, they said, wanted their freedom, and
wanted it now. The message for Mr. Bush, they said, was
that he should press ahead with war, but on conditions that
spared ordinary Iraqis.

The conflict should be short. American bombs and missiles
should fall on Mr. Hussein's palaces and Republican Guards
and secret police headquarters, not on civilians. Care
should be taken not to obliterate the bridges and power
stations and water-pumping plants that were bombed in 1991.
And America should know that it would become the enemy of
all Iraqis - and Muslims - if it prolonged its military
dominion in Iraq beyond the time necessary to dismantle the
old regime.

Although these Iraqis may represent a small sector of
opinion - they fled their country in terror, after all -
the conversations offered powerful clues as to how a war
might play out across the wider Arab world. While polls in
Europe and Asia show deep opposition to a war against Mr.
Hussein, the mood among the 350 million people of the Arab
states has been even more critical. Polls alone don't
capture how visceral anti-American feelings have become,
spreading beyond traditional centers of hostility - mosques
and other strongholds of conservative Islamists, Arab
nationalists and others - across the spectrum of Arab

For years, mainstream politicians and other Arab leaders
have conceded, at least privately, that Mr. Hussein is a
monstrous tyrant whose ambition to acquire the most
powerful weapons has made him, potentially at least, more
of a threat to his neighbors than to Europe and the United

Two years ago, an Egyptian editor told a traveler back from
Iraq that Mr. Hussein was "Israel's best friend" in the
Arab world, because the Arab failure to isolate and condemn
him had the effect of blackening all Arab states in the
eyes of the West.

But as the United States has ratcheted up pressure on
Baghdad, Arab voices - politicians, intellectuals,
businessmen and students - have remained largely silent
about the miseries Mr. Hussein has inflicted on his people
and the threat his weapons might pose. Instead,
condemnation has been mostly reserved for the United
States. How vitriolic it has become was clear in the way
many newspapers treated the shuttle loss.

Along with militant imams who proclaimed the Columbia
disaster to be God's punishment for America's "curses" on
Muslims, there was this, typically, from a columnist in the
Saudi newspaper Al Yaum: "The American view of the world
crashed even before the Columbia. America, which sees
itself as the symbol of freedom and justice, has become an
arsenal of weapons in advance of a military campaign across
the entire world. The world has become a map of targets for
the American arrows represented by the trinity of war -
Bush, Rumsfeld and Condoleezza, and behind them the famous
'quiet' man, Dick Cheney."

On its face, the hostility promises only deeper trouble
ahead for the United States. But there is another
possibility, one that Arab leaders who are cooperating with
the Americans are relying on as Mr. Bush's moment of
decision draws closer. These nations include Kuwait,
Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which allow American
military bases, as well as Jordan, where American troops
would man Patriot missiles against missiles Iraq might fire
at Israel and mount pilot rescue missions into Iraq.

The leaders of these nations, all monarchies, know that if
an American war bogged down, with heavy casualties on both
sides, their own legitimacy, never strong, would be
challenged by their own people in ways they might not
survive. For these rulers, it is crucial that any conflict
be short and inflict minimal casualties on Iraq's

At least one of the rulers, discussing American war plans
with his advisers, has concluded that Mr. Hussein's regime
is apt to collapse quickly as non-elite army units
surrender or change sides.

But it is not the rapidity of an American victory alone
that sustains the hopes of these Arab rulers. The
pro-American Arab leaders are confident of something that
invites mockery among the Europeans and Americans who
oppose any war: that American troops would arrive in Iraq's
major cities as liberators.

When Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the American commander in the
Middle East, visited one Arab palace in recent weeks,
Western diplomats reported, the Arab ruler quieted his
restive courtiers by predicting that American forces would
be met in Baghdad by Iraqis lining the street in

If that happens, anti-American opinions in the Arab world
might swing, these rulers hope. There would then be
revelations about the extent of what Mr. Hussein has
inflicted on his people in 23 years. Just as the worst
abuses of the Taliban and Al Qaeda were revealed after they
were chased from Kabul and Kandahar, the full horrors of
Mr. Hussein may be known only after his downfall.

That, America's friends in the Arab world believe, might
yet be enough to remake Mr. Bush's image in places where he
is now vilified, as if Iraq's miseries were his fault more
than they have been Mr. Hussein's.

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