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[casi] News, 26/02-05/03/03 (4)

News, 26/02-05/03/03 (4)


 *  The Arabs and Iraq
*  Saudis offer bases for war
*  Turkey pockets the price, Iraqi Kurds pay the cost
*  League 'lacks courage to discuss UAE plan'
*  'There is No Future For the Arab League'
*  Riyadh says it won't be part of war
*  Zayed urges Saddam to resign, go into exile
*  Bahrain, Kuwait join U.A.E. in opposing Saddam
*  Arab impotence and misguided anger
*  Analysts disagree on whether Arab summit rose to people's expectations,
agree little could be done to avert war
*  Why we can trust Bush this time


by David Hirst
Daily Star, Lebanon, 26th February

All Arabs, regimes and peoples, agree on one thing: War on Iraq may affect
the entire world, but they and their region will pay far the highest price.
The war itself could be terrible, but there is also what they fear will
follow. Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa warns that it will "open
the gates of hell," and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that it will light
a "gigantic fire" of violence and terror. An Arab world deeply conscious of
its long history of humiliation by foreigners is about to see one of its
member-states conquered and occupied; and the Bush administration does not
hide its ambition to make this the first step in a "reshaping" of the whole
region at least as much in the interest of the Arabs' historic adversary,
Israel, as its own. Commentators forecast all manner of possible
consequences, ranging from the breakdown of Iraq into civil war and its
dismemberment by neighboring powers to an attempt by Israel to subjugate the
Palestinians once and for all, perhaps with another mass expulsion like

Yet the Arabs, peoples if not regimes, are agreed on something else too:
that they are doing less than anyone else on Earth to forestall the calamity
about to engulf them. It is disgraceful, Arab commentators say, that others'
governments, even close allies of America, are far more energetic to this
end than Arab governments themselves, that other peoples around the world
have taken to the streets in anti-war demonstrations that far outdo those of
the Arab peoples. "European countries," says Beirut's al-Safir, "have more
Arab national feeling than we Arabs ourselves." It was the Turkish
government, they point out, which recently - if unsuccessfully - lobbied
Arab states to sign on to regional initiative to avert a war; it was at
European instigation that Mubarak belatedly sought to reassert Egypt's
traditional role as the promoter of collective Arab action.

Palestine has always been the pan-Arab cause par excellence, and Arabs
thought their rulers had reached a nadir of impotence with their failure,
these past two years, to furnish meaningful help to the intifada, or at
least to get the US to rein in its Israeli protege. But now, with Iraq, they
have sunk yet further. Commentators call it the virtual demise of the
"pan-Arab principle" which has dominated regional politics since Arab
independence, the whole idea that Arab states, as constituent parts of a
greater Arab "nation," should always combine in defense of the higher Arab
interest. "The first shot fired in the Anglo-Saxon war on Iraq," says
Syria's Al-Baath daily, "will be the coup de grace to the corpse of the Arab
system - that least influential player in what is happening."

Officially, all Arab states oppose war. That is what they proclaimed at
their last annual summit. They are staging another on Sunday, with what
appears to be a maximum objective of launching an 11th-hour "Arab solution"
- which, in practice, could only be a concerted attempt to persuade Saddam
Hussein to step down -or a minimum one of throwing their weight behind the
endeavors of others. But the summit - if held at all -is widely expected to
be a fiasco.

Arab leaders will go to it hopelessly trapped between fear of their people
and fear of the US, on whose good will they will feel themselves,
post-Saddam, more than ever dependent. Some, like Syria, tend toward the
ingratiation of their people, staking out a strong, "patriotic" position
against war; this time, unlike in the 1991 Gulf War, Syria deems it the less
dangerous, painful option. But for others ingratiation of America is the
sounder, indeed only possible, course, with the result that, in a mockery of
last year's summit, half a dozen of them have offered their territories as
launching pads for the coming onslaught. And those which have not are almost
universally deemed to be colluding with the Anglo-American "war camp;" or,
at the very least, to be more aligned with it than they are with anti-war
Europeans. "The Arab system," said Palestinian commentator Hafiz Barghouti,
"hasn't just declared its impotence to stop the war, it has volunteered to
join in -as if in resistance to the desire of many friendly governments and
peoples to stop the potential massacre of the Iraqi people. But history will
also record that not only the Arab system failed, retreated and colluded
with the aggressors; the Arab people, too, were spineless and terrified."

His comment is typical of much woeful speculation as to why the Arab
"street" has been so relatively quiescent, especially since popular disgust
with governments -failed, corrupt, tyrannical - runs incomparably deeper in
this region than almost anywhere else. One answer commentators come up with
is the ruthless repression with which such governments would counter any
serious manifestations of popular will. Another is the apathy induced by the
knowledge that, with such regimes, demonstrations never change anything
-unless, that is, they for once assume so massive and explosive a form that
they change the regimes themselves. That they very well could is the fear
haunting pro-American regimes like Jordan's and Egypt's; both know that the
outward calm is no measure of the pent-up anger that lies beneath the
surface, and that what Palestine on its own failed to ignite, Iraq and
Palestine together could.

Indeed, some argue, disgust with the existing order runs so very deep that
many Arabs will actually welcome the war they simultaneously abhor. When
Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1991 some deplored this for what it was, the most
spectacular violation of Arab brotherhood; yet they simultaneously applauded
it in the belief that, though Saddam himself was the most rotten ruler of a
rotten Arab order, he was supplying the dynamite that would blow the order
away. It didn't happen; with US help, the order, including Saddam himself,
was entirely restored. But this time, as leading columnist Raghida Dergham
points out, the US itself is supplying the dynamite: "The oppression of
those who live under the Iraq regime, and the discontent of those other
Arabs who deem their own regimes beyond reform, has reached the point of
despair. And despair has bred acquiescence to anything that might shake the
foundations of the Arab world, even a war that was conceived by men famed
for their loathing and contempt for the Arab peoples and their total loyalty
to Israel."

David Hirst is a Beirut-based veteran correspondent and author. He wrote
this commentary for THE DAILY STAR

New Zealand Herald, 28th February

WASHINGTON (Reuters): The United States and Saudi Arabia have reached new
agreements on expanded use of Saudi military facilities in any war against
Iraq, the Washington Post reports, citing senior US officials and diplomatic

The newspaper said the co-operation included full use of the air command and
control centre at Prince Sultan Air Base, southeast of Riyadh, the Saudi

In addition, the agreements would allow the United States to fly refuelling
aircraft, surveillance planes and battlefield radar aircraft from Saudi
airfields, the newspaper said.

The United States also would be allowed to base fighter jets at Saudi
airfields, according to the Post.

The newspaper quoted a source as saying that the two countries had a tacit
agreement to allow the United States to conduct bombing missions from Saudi
Arabia in the days after an initial wave of US air attacks as long as no
public announcement was made.

Saudi Arabia agreed last year to let the United States use a high-tech
operations centre at Prince Sultan and to let American aircraft use its air
bases for defence purposes only, US officials said in December.

However, the Post said the Saudis had been vague about the extent of their
co-operation until the understanding reached with US officials in recent


Daily Star, Lebanon, 28th February

As Turkey closes its border with Iraq in apparent anticipation of joining an
American-led invasion of the country, Arab commentators see the Iraqi Kurds
emerging as early losers in the approaching war.

Their aspirations in post-Saddam Iraq are viewed as a prominent casualty of
the political, financial and strategic trade-off between Ankara and US
President George W. Bush's administration over the terms of Turkey's
participation in war on its neighbor.

Ghassan Sharbel writes in the Saudi-run pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat that
Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Masoud Barzani's long-standing suspicions
of the US and its advocacy of enforced "regime change" in Baghdad appear to
have been vindicated.

Barzani made plain months ago that he feared that "the process of deposing
Saddam Hussein would develop into a great game which the Kurds would be
unable to influence and in which they would be unable to protect the gains
they made in the 1990s," Sharbel writes. And his words have been borne out
by Turkey's "skillful maneuvering to pocket the price for its participation
in the war alongside the US."

He says the change of government in Ankara and the assumption of power by
the neo Islamists there does not appear to have altered Turkey's traditional
appraisal of its "security, unity, role and interests," nor the military
establishment's hold on its thinking over these issues.

Thus "Ankara demanded a big bribe in return for its role, and now it is
preparing to host American troops while guaranteeing its security by sending
its own forces into northern Iraq to dismantle what is left of the Kurdish
dream," Sharbel writes.

Editor in chief Joseph Samaha writes in the Beirut daily As-Safir that
America's war plans in Iraq have left the Iraqi Kurdish opposition facing
the prospect of a military showdown with Turkey.

The Iraqi Kurds are not allowed to pursue their ultimate wish of
establishing a homeland for a people who are dispersed over a number of
states, Samaha says. "If it were up to them, they would prefer to maintain
today's status quo in (Iraqi) Kurdistan. They appeared for a while to have
been persuaded, after many bitter experiences, that the US had become their
faithful friend along with the mountains. But they now find themselves
forced to 'participate' in a war on Iraq when they know, as their leaders
say, that the real war could be tomorrow against the Turkish Army."

But the Kurds are not the only Iraqis who have been left in an impossible
position by the US, according to Samaha.

The pro-Iranian Iraqi Kurdish [sic - PB] opposition, for one, may find
itself inexorably "becoming part of an American war machine," which, if
successful, intends to turn Iraq into a springboard for toppling the regime
in Tehran. "Its opposition to Saddam Hussein is intense. But it must be
shuddering at the thought of becoming part of a game that goes beyond it,
and aims at subjecting its country to a prolonged foreign occupation and
regenerating a formula for government whose sole virtues are obedience and
facilitating plunder."

Samaha indicates that even some of America's most loyal proteges in the
Iraqi opposition are balking at its plans for post-Saddam Iraq. Some, like
Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi, "will adapt," but others, like
Kanan Makiya, appear to be in shock over Washington's betrayal of its
self-proclaimed values, he remarks. Samaha goes on to argue that the goal of
preventing a US invasion of Iraq has to take precedence for the time being
over the justified objective of toppling Saddam Hussein's dictatorship.

Those who call on the Iraqi leadership to resign as a way of avoiding war
are taking an easy way out that misses the point, he says. "They are, at
best, evading the confrontation where it is actually taking place, and
closing their eyes to the key element of the equation: A colonial war is to
be waged against a repressive regime for reasons related not to the regime's
nature but to the invaders' interests." While no sincere person can ignore
the question pertaining to the Iraqi people continuing to suffer under the
regime's rule, "it cannot be allowed to stifle the discussion, because that
prevents it from being based on the cold calculation that the horrors of war
and its aftermath will be harsher, for everyone, than the status quo."

Saad Mehio writes in the UAE daily Al-Khaleej that Turkey is only the most
indiscreet of many countries that have been "openly trading in Iraqi blood"
by haggling over the price of their involvement in the Bush administration's
war. In Ankara's case, its bill for allowing US troops to invade Iraq from
its territory was $30 billion plus written undertakings upholding its
interests in post-Saddam Iraq, he writes.

Russia is reportedly trading its acquiescence to war for a list of things
spelled out by SPS leaders Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Kara-Murza, including
settlement of its $8 billion debt to Iraq, retention of its existing
commercial contracts with the Baathist regime, and a guaranteed share of
post-war reconstruction business.

As for China, Mehio says it had appeared "satisfied with whatever the
Americans had promised it" until the Franco-German intifada against
Washington. That prompted Beijing to submit a "new and more costly
economic-political bill" to Washington, which the latter will duly pay.

Mehio suggests that France is also taking a "calculated" approach to Iraq.
By leading the anti-war camp, President Jacques Chirac figures that if war
is prevented "he will win the lion's share in Iraq," and if not, Paris will
be able to "negotiate shares with the Americans from a position of

Mehio continues: "As for the 'canny' Arab states, they have split into two
camps. In the first stand the states that opted to join the US war drive
openly and straight away, by blaming Saddam Hussein for the evaporation of
the peace opportunities. In the second stand the other states that have
opted to join this same drive but with different timing. It was in the heat
of the struggle between these conflicting schools of thought  that the
emergency Arab summit went up in smoke, and the regular summit may do the

Everyone, remarks Mehio, "is treating Iraq like a commercial deal that must
be clinched, an auction that mustn't be missed, or a slaughtered cow whose
meat people are rushing to carve up." When the UN estimates that a war on
Iraq will cause half a million deaths, "they try to cover up the news either
by hurling accusations at each other or by portraying post-war Iraq as
though it is going to be transformed into God's paradise on earth."

Ahead of the Arab summit in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh,
Jordan's Mahmoud Rimawi joins the growing chorus of Arab commentators
calling on Arab leaders to use the meeting to demand Saddam Hussein's
resignation as the surest way of preventing war.

Writing in the semi-official Amman daily Al-Rai, Rimawi says that if the
summit is to grapple with the crisis, it must have a clear "mandate" and
Baghdad must be prepared to "sacrifice" and make fundamental changes to its
political regime. Some may dismiss this as an "American and British demand,"
but in fact since the early 1980s it has been "essentially an Iraqi national
demand," he says.

Rimawi goes on to judge that "most" of the Iraqi opposition and "many"
ordinary Iraqis now favor war, in order to get rid of the regime.

The Arab summit should momentarily "abandon the principle of nonintervention
in the internal affairs of individual Arab states" and demand change in
Iraq. "This intervention is necessary to avoid a greater external
intervention," he says, adding it was to this end that Russia sent envoy
Yevgeny Primakov for talks in Baghdad.

"The Arab summit should be knocking at this door too in order to spare Iraqi
blood, deny Washington pretexts to attack, and also to reassure certain
neighboring states that Iraq is ready to change, radically reconsider its
previous policies, and effectively become one of the Gulf states - even if
it doesn't immediately join the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)."

Armed with a "mandate" like this, the Arab states would be able to present
Washington with a lucid and unified vision on which a peaceful solution can
be based "with effective Arab participation as well as Iraqi participation
representing all aspects of the country's political life."

Rimawi adds: "Bitter past experience and the need to adopt serious and
responsible policies makes immediate action in this direction imperative.
That would foil any excuse or pretext for war, and open the door wide to
promoting peace and security in the region - including putting an end to
Ariel Sharon's war on the Palestinian entity and Palestinian society, and
resuming negotiations from the point at which they broke off. That would set
the stage for the resumption of negotiations on the Syrian and Lebanese
tracks. And perhaps before long a further negotiating track will emerge - an
Arab-sponsored Iraqi-US track."

Meanwhile, a commentator in the Amman daily Al-Dustour springs to the
Jordanian government's defense after it conceded for the first time that "a
few hundred" US troops are deployed in Jordan, ostensibly to man Patriot
missile batteries and help "cope with a possible refugee influx from Iraq."

Bater Wardam stresses that these soldiers represent only a "tiny proportion"
of American troops in the region, and are only there to help Jordan cope
with the humanitarian fallout of a possible war. They will not, he insists,
actually be used in any American attack on Iraq.

"No one wants war, but everyone has reached the conclusion that the war has
already begun even if the shooting hasn't started. Everyone knows that the
decision to stop the war is not a Jordanian one, but should be a unified
Arab decision backed by international support. But wise policymakers cannot
rely on hopes. They must deal with reality. Bracing for the possible
consequences of war is therefore part of the Jordanian state's duty toward
its people," he muses.

Wardam then draws a distinction between the few US troops who are in Jordan
to perform "information and coordination tasks," and the American forces in
most of Iraq's other Arab neighbors for "offensive strategic military"

If anyone is to blame for "what is happening in the region," he reflects, it
is all the Arab countries who voted in favor of the 1990 Cairo summit
resolution which supported the despatch of US troops to the region in the
first place (Jordan abstained). It is they who critics of the US military
presence in the region should be addressing, he writes.

As Arab states trade charges over Iraq, the Qatari daily Al-Sharq strongly
criticizes Saudi Arabia - without naming it - for pouring cold water on
Doha's bid to convene an Islamic summit on Iraq (in its capacity as
Organization of the Islamic Conference chair). Following remarks by Saudi
Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal at the Non-Aligned Movement
conference in Malaysia, in which he suggested there was no need for an
Islamic summit, the paper professes itself baffled at such an "inexplicable"

It writes in its leader that it is one thing to argue there was no need for
an emergency Arab summit on Iraq, seeing as a regular summit was already
scheduled to be convened soon. But to say there is no need whatsoever for an
Islamic summit is to devalue the OIC as an institution and a political bloc
entitled to a say in world affairs, Al-Sharq writes.

Those who maintain that neither an Arab summit nor an Islamic summit is
desirable invite the "logical conclusion" that they are not concerned about
the major threats facing the region, and "perhaps aren't even convinced that
there are any threats."

Al-Sharq explains that Qatar called for an OIC summit out of a sense of
"Arab and Islamic responsibility vis-a-vis the dangers threatening us all."
The "voice that spoke in Malaysia" does not necessarily speak for all the
Gulf states or the Arab world, it says.

"Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, and Qatar's duty is to
light that candle in the hope of illuminating the way for others," the paper

Gulf News, 2nd March

Sharm El Sheikh: Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of
Information and Culture, said the Arab countries refused even to discuss a
UAE proposal calling on Iraqi leadership to step down to stave off a
possible war against Iraq.

"By this initiative, the UAE, under the visionary leadership of President
His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, seeks a way out of the Iraqi
impasse and a peaceful solution to the crisis.

"But the Arab League does not have the courage to discuss such a proposal,"
Sheikh Abdullah said yesterday.

He said: "The Arab countries regard this proposal as unprecedented. But this
talk can be refuted because the Iraqi regime has brought woes to the Arab
nation and the entire world over the last two decades which makes this
proposal applicable only to Iraq and not to any other Arab country.

"Another reason for not considering the UAE's initiative is that certain
Arab countries are looking for a way to launch a war against Iraq."

by Mohammed Alkhereiji
Arab News (Saudi Arabia), 2nd March

JEDDAH, 2 March 2003  Saudi intellectuals and political commentators
contacted by Arab News last night offered a wide array of opinions on the
failed Arab League summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, but on one thing they all
agreed: The Arabs are hopelessly divided.

They were speaking after the extraordinary public showdown between Crown
Prince Abdullah and Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, during which the
crown prince reacted angrily to accusations that the Kingdom was a US

Leading businessman Hussein Shobokshi in Jeddah called the meltdown "a dose
of reality".

"There are too many lingering issues and priorities," he elaborated.

"The real issue is not the pending war on Iraq, but reform of the Arab

Asked about his thoughts on the future of the Arab League, he said: "I don't
see a future for the Arab world, let alone the Arab League."

Dawood Al-Shirian, the Riyadh-based Gulf chief of the leading pan-Arab daily
Al-Hayat, said that this was a repeat of the Arab League summit in 1990
before the last Gulf War.

"The Arab world's condition needs to be addressed and reformed," he told
Arab News. "There are too many Arab nations whose view on the current
condition is out of date and out of step with reality."

Moderate nations like the Kingdom, he said, are concerned with the important
issues like the aftermath of the war and the possible ramifications it might
have on the people of Iraq.

"These are the issues that should have been at the forefront of the Arab

Asked to comment on the fact that Egyptian TV decided to cut the live feed
when the crown prince and Qaddafi exchanged insults, he added: "The Arabic
media is run by government officials. They make these decisions without
proper consideration of the consequences."

Tariq Al-Homayed, the Jeddah-based managing editor of Asharq Alawsat daily
published from London, said that the summit had been destined to fail.

"No one can stop this war except Saddam," he added. "I think Qaddafi's
outburst was irresponsible. All I see is turmoil for the Arab League in the

A Jeddah-based former senior oil executive, who asked not to be identified,
told Arab News: "Qaddafi's role as a perpetual spoiler at summit conferences
is well documented. His role as a spoiler was tolerated in pervious summits,
but it obviously was not tolerated by Saudi Arabia this time round."

"The future of the Arab League is only as relevant as the members who make
it up," he said.

Gulf News, 2nd March

Sharm El Sheikh, Reuters: Saudi Arabia reiterated yesterday that it would
have no part in an anticipated U.S.-led war on Iraq and said a military
conflict was not inevitable.

"We have stated clearly that we will not take part in this war, and that is
our position," Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal told Al Arabiya
satellite TV from the Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheikh, where he was
attending an Arab summit.

Al Arabiya, which made Saud's remarks available to AFP, said he was replying
to a question about Western media reports that the kingdom would provide
logistical support to U.S. forces in the anticipated offensive.

He warned that a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq would plunge the Gulf region into
chaos and do nothing but harm to all parties involved, including the United
States. In remarks to CNN broadcast yesterday, he also questioned U.S.
intentions to help introduce democracy in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle

"We would hate to see American soldiers paying the price for an occupation
that will do nothing but bring terrible consequences to everybody," Prince
Saud said.

"An occupation of Iraq is not simple. How (are) 250,000 troops going to
maintain order in a country like that? Especially if war leads to the
instability we think it will lead to, if it leads to chaos we think it will
lead to. If the social order breaks down, who is going to be fighting who?
It is going to be a mess we think," he added.

Prince Saud was speaking a day before Arab leaders started a crisis summit
in Egypt to chart a unified policy on Iraq they hope can prevent war in the
region, where anti-U.S. sentiment is on the rise over the Iraq crisis and
perceived U.S. support for Israel against the Palestinians.


by Dahi Hassan and WAM
Gulf News, 2nd March

Sharm El Sheikh: The UAE called yesterday on the Iraqi leadership to step
down from power and go into exile to spare the region from war.

President His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, in a message to
the Arab League summit at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh,
proposed a four-point initiative that suggested the Iraqi leadership give up
power in exchange for regionally- and internationally-binding legal
guarantees from any form of prosecution.

According to the initiative, Sheikh Zayed said the entire Iraqi leadership
should leave Iraq within two weeks of adopting this Arab initiative. The UAE
proposal suggested offering the Iraqi leadership "all suitable privileges".

The initiative called for a general pardon for all Iraqis inside and outside
the country.

"The Arab League shall in cooperation with the United Nations supervise the
situation in the country for a transitional period until Iraq could return
to its normal situation according to the will of the brotherly Iraqi
people," Sheikh Zayed proposed.

The initiative was submitted to the Arab leaders to be examined by Iraqi,
Arab and international parties. "It seeks to stop the Iraq crisis from
drifting from bad to worse," he added.

In reaction to the UAE proposal, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Al Faisal said
the idea would be discussed in detail.

"We are sure that the United Arab Emirates under the leadership of President
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan will not issue anything that is not in the
Arab interest," he told reporters on the sidelines of the summit.

Later, Arab leaders concluded the summit by expressing their rejection of
any war against Iraq or threatening the security and peace of any Arab

In their final communique, the Arab leaders agreed to form a committee
consisting of the current, past and future summit chairmen and the Arab
League secretary-general to present the Arab position to Washington,
European capitals, the UN Security Council and consult with the Iraqi

The leaders welcomed the guarantees offered to Syria, a member of the UN
Security Council, that the UN resolution 1441 would not be used as a pretext
for a war against Iraq.

They welcomed Iraq's acceptance of the return of the UN weapons inspectors
and giving them unfettered access to perform their duty. The communique
praised the position of countries that rejected war against Iraq due to the
dangerous implications it would have on the stability of the region and the
world as a whole.

The leaders demanded more time be given to the weapons inspectors to
complete their work, calling them also to carry out their duties with
professionalism and objectivity.

They affirmed the responsibility of the Security Council to safeguard the
independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq as well the
sovereignty and security of its neighbours.

They urged all countries not to participate in any war that threatens the
security, peace and territorial integrity of any Arab country.

The leaders also affirmed the legitimate right of the Palestinian people to
resist the Israeli occupation, and held Israel responsible for the collapse
of the peace process due to its policy of occupation, destruction and

Later at a press conference following the closing ceremony of the summit,
Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, when asked by Gulf News why Arab
countries dealt only with how to avoid war and not getting ready to handle
the situation if war starts, said: "We are not going to support war, but do
you expect us to launch war against America?" He did not say what kind of
action or response Arab countries will have if war erupts.

Late last night, His Highness Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice
President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, returned home
after attending the summit.

Sheikh Maktoum and his delegation was received by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid
Al Maktoum, Dubai Deputy Ruler and UAE Minister of Finance and Industry, and
a number of officials.

Full Text of Shekh Zayed Letter:

Your Highness Brother Sheikh Hamad bin Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, King of
Bahrain, Chairman of the Arab Summit, Your Highness, Excellencies, Kings,
Princes, and Presidents of Arab countries, Developments move very fast and
bring with them huge and serious dangers to the Arab nation and the world
because of the level the Iraqi crisis has reached. This crisis is getting
complicated day by day and hour by hour, threatening to bring very serious
danger not only to Iraq and its people, but on all of us and the whole world
in general.

Holding the Arab Summit today (Saturday) provides a new opportunity for Arab
leaders to contribute to finding a solution to this serious and complicated
crisis. One that helps preserve the unity of Iraq and spare its people more
losses and destruction; also help avert a war that undoubtedly will lead to
the destabilisation in the region and the world.

Hence, from the position of our full commitment to the unity of Iraq, and to
the protection of the long-term interests of the brethren Iraqi people, from
our absolute conviction that Arab leaders should play a key role in finding
a peaceful settlement to the crisis, from our full realisation of the
circumstances pertaining to the crisis and its local, regional, and global
dimensions, and for all the complications surrounding the crisis and its
impacts, we have opted to address you dear brethren putting before you some
ideas, and perceptions which we feel that could contribute for achieving
something we are all keen achieve: the protection of the Iraqi people,
securing its future, the unity of its territories, its sovereignty,
independence, and sparing the region the serious impacts that might be
caused by huge build up for military action which nobody can predict its
results on the ground.

Brethren, Your Highnesses and Excellencies, I call upon the Arab Summit to
announce an initiative that should focus on the following points:

 The Iraqi leadership decides to step down and leave Iraq within two weeks
starting from its acceptance of the initiative on the condition that it
enjoys all the suitable privileges.

 Providing legal assurances for the Iraqi leadership that it will not be
subject any sort of legal action whatsoever, on condition that these
assurances be respected locally, regionally, and internationally.

 Issuing a general and comprehensive amnesty that should include all
Iraqis, inside or outside Iraq.

 The Arab League, in cooperation with the United Nations Secretary General,
should take charge of supervising the situation in Iraq for a transitional
period during which all necessary measures should be taken to bring things
back to normal, the way the brethren Iraqi people opt to take.

Brethren, Your Highnesses, and Excellencies, From the position of our sense
of responsibility before Almighty Allah, and before our people, we hope that
these ideas will receive your full care and concern.

Peace Be Upon You

Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan
President of the United Arab Emirates

Houston Chronicle, (from AP), 2nd March

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- The United Arab Emirates won support today
from several Persian Gulf nations in its call for Saddam Hussein to quit
power to avert a war, while Iraq poured scorn on the Emirates, calling it a
tool of Israel.

The king of Bahrain said he backs the call for Saddam to go, according to
the Emirates state news agency. Kuwait's Cabinet also backed the measure,
the official Kuwaiti news agency said.

Kuwait has allowed tens of thousands of U.S. troops to deploy in its
territory ahead of a possible invasion of neighboring Iraq. The tiny Gulf
island of Bahrain also is a key U.S. ally, hosting the base of the American
5th Fleet.

The Emirates' proposal -- first made Saturday at an Arab summit -- further
highlighted the deep divisions in the Arab world over how to deal with the
Iraq crisis and U.S. threats of war.

Arab leaders Saturday refused to discuss the proposal, which was the first
open call by an Arab nation for Saddam to go into exile.

The Emirates on Sunday sought backing among its fellow Gulf nations, the
most receptive audience in the Arab world for the Iraqi leader's removal.
Other Arab nations, however, have rejected the idea of pressuring Saddam to
quit, saying they cannot interfere in Iraq's domestic affairs.

Several nations, led by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, want to press Iraq to comply
with U.N. disarmament demands; another bloc, led by Syria, wants to express
staunch support for Iraq and reject any war.

The Emirates insisted Sunday that pressuring Saddam to leave Iraq was the
only way to avert military action.

"Rejecting these ideas put forward by the U.A.E. is acceptance of the
remaining option, which is war," Sheik Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the
Emirates information minister, told The Associated Press.

The Bahraini king, Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, met Sunday with the
Emirates president in Abu Dhabi.

The Emirates proposal "is the only Arab way out to protect Iraq and spare
its people and the whole region the threats" of war, the Emirati agency
quoted Sheik Hamad as saying.

Bahraini officials were not immediately available for comment.

Kuwait's Cabinet said the Emirates proposal aims to "spare the region a
destructive war that would destabilize peace and security," the Kuwaiti news
agency said.

The Emirates submitted its proposal at a ministerial meeting of the Gulf
Cooperation Council in Doha, Qatar, on Sunday. It also plans to propose it
at Wednesday's gathering of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, also
in Doha.

Iraq -- which has repeatedly said Saddam will not step down -- derided the

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said Sheik Zayed's proposal must have
originated from Israeli leader Ariel Sharon.

The proposal "found its way quickly to the garbage pail," Sabri said
Saturday. "There's not one honest Arab who will accept a message from Sharon
to the summit."

In a front-page editorial Sunday, Baghdad's popular daily newspaper Babil,
run by Saddam's eldest son, Odai, accused Sheik Abdullah of having "a
Satanic U.S. heart and tongue."

At the Sharm el-Sheik summit, Arab leaders rejected a war on Iraq and
decided to send diplomats to the United Nations and to Baghdad to lay out
the Arab position.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said Sunday he was working to
settle the makeup of those delegations, which will leave "within days." But
diplomats said questions still remained over what message the delegates
would take to Baghdad.

Arab diplomats said the delegation first would go to New York. The Baghdad
mission will be more difficult, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of
anonymity. The Arabs were divided over the purpose of a Baghdad visit or
even whether to make one.

Syria, Lebanon and Yemen proposed that a delegation head only to Washington
with a firm anti-war message. But other Arab League members wanted a
delegation to go to Baghdad to urge Saddam to cooperate with U.N. weapons
inspectors or advise him to step down.

by Pepe Escobar
Asia Times, 4th March

CAIRO - It was certainly great theater. With a backdrop of anti-war
demonstrations all over the Muslim world, leaders of the 22 member countries
of the Arab League gathered an Saturday at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of
Sharm el-Sheikh - developed by Israelis - to exchange their usual elaborate
courtesies in an "ordinary" summit.

But then they sat down in their plush cream leather chairs just to watch
Syria's President Bashar Assad passionately denounce American colonialism
and say, "After Iraq, we're next." Then followed a call by the United Arab
Emirates (UAE) for Saddam Hussein to step down; a threat by the Iraqi
delegation to leave the summit; Libya's flamboyant Muammar Gaddaffi and
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah almost come to blows; and the Saudis then also
threaten to leave.

After so much adrenaline, they couldn't do better than settle for a bland
resolution condemning war, but with a face-saving provision for the Gulf
states - all of them bound by defense pacts with the US: in the event of
war, these mini-monarchies can always say that they are not participating
directly, and that US military operations on their soil are legitimized by a
UN mandate.

Furthermore, an Arab committee this week will explain the Arab position
(which is no more than attached to the Franco-German-Russian position) to
"international parties" before going to Baghdad for a last-second talk with
Saddam Hussein. Too little, too late.

Everybody knew in advance that the summit would be a failure because it was
a meeting initiated by fear. Jordan entirely depends on Iraq for its oil.
Syria fears an influx of Kurdish refugees. Lebanon and Jordan fear a mass
"transfer" of Palestinians masterminded by an Ariel Sharon run amok. Egypt
fears a loss of revenues in tourism and the Suez Canal. Countries with a
Sunni majority fear increased Iranian influence with a larger role to play
for Iraqi Shi'ites in the post-Saddam era.

Gaddaffi, clad in a fabulous reddish-orange robe and clutching a red
ballpoint pen, certainly remains a show-stealer. In the middle of the
discussions, he chose to remind everyone how, when Iraq invaded Kuwait in
1990, the American military arrived in Saudi Arabia. "I told King Fahd that
American forces are moving into Saudi Arabia. He then replied 'America is a
big country and we cannot prevent it and it can come'. I told him, 'How can
this happen to Saudi Arabia, which is an independent country'? After that,
in a telephone conversation, the king told me that Iraq had the intention to
invade the kingdom. I asked him how he knew. He said, 'We have seen the
Iraqi forces deployed on the front. That means the Iraqi threat was a source
of concern and threat for the kingdom and all the Gulf states. America has
pledged to protect this region because it is an important source of

This was enough to send Crown Prince Abdullah into a fit of rage. The prince
cut Gaddaffi short and fired back, "Saudi Arabia is a frontline country for
the Muslim nation. It is not a colonial agent. Colonialists are for you and
others. Who exactly brought you to power? Don't say anything and don't
interfere in matters in which you don't have any role. You are a liar. Your
grave awaits you."

All of this live on Egyptian TV, whose directors scrambled like mad to cut
off the feed. The Saudis were so furious that they started to leave the
meeting. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Syria's Assad and Lebanese
President Emile Lahoud did everything they could to calm the Saudis down.
The session only resumed after a very tense 20-minute interruption. A key
Saudi-Egyptian-Jordanian plan discussed at the summit called for the
formation of an Iraqi national unity government, with Saddam as a sort of
figurehead, and with representatives of all ethnic and religious Iraqi
groups. It's obvious that Saddam and the Ba'ath Party leadership will never
agree to such an arrangement. Saddam has repeatedly said that he would
rather die like the last Abbasid Caliph (facing the Mongols in the 13th
century) than go to exile.

In London, Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to the United
Kingdom, reinforced the idea that even with a second United Nations
resolution, Arab countries will keep trying to convince Saddam to step down.
But much more important was what he said concerning the American presence in
Saudi Arabia. According to Turki, Saudi Arabia will open talks on US troop
withdrawal immediately after the war. "If there is no longer any need for a
no-fly zone in Iraq, then the discussions would take place between us and
the US about the removal of those forces from the kingdom."

This is extremely significant because it comes from none other than the man
who sent Osama bin Laden to fight a jihad in Afghanistan in the early 1980s.
And this development - American forces leaving the "land of the two mosques"
- is exactly what bin Laden had wanted all along.

After the Gaddaffi-Abdullah exchange and before the release of the final
summit declaration in Sharm el-Sheikh, some Arab diplomats and commentators
- who insisted on remaining anonymous, and obviously fired by Gaddaffi's
intervention - went into back to the future mode, trying to shed some light
on recent history. All agree that Saddam invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990
after misinterpreting a series of dubious American signals. Saddam thought
that he would be able to get away with it. All remember the 1980s when the
Arabs - ostensibly - and the US - more or less discreetly - supported Saddam
in the bloody eight year-war against Iran. The Saudis thanked Iraq for
defending the eastern flank of the Arab nation from the Persians with cold
hard cash. And the Americans praised Saddam for doing the dirty work of
containing the armies of the Islamic revolution- selling loads of military
equipment and chemical and biological material to Iraq in the process.

But when Saddam invaded Kuwait, King Fahd was tricked by US intelligence
into believing that he was next in line after the emir of Kuwait - although
Iraq had explicitly promised that it would not attack Saudi Arabia.
Diplomats remember George Bush senior called Fahd on August 3, 1990, and
telling him that the Iraqis were about to invade Riyadh - while Jordan's
King Hussein was trying everything he could to solve the crisis peacefully
among the Arabs themselves. The Arab League met in Cairo on August 3, and
bowing to relentless American pressure it passed a resolution, with a feeble
majority, condemning the invasion. On August 5, Saddam said that he agreed
to withdraw his troops and negotiate. But Bush senior said it's a lie, and
was about to order American forces to rush to the Gulf.

Fahd at this point still does not want American troops on Saudi soil because
he views his role as a mediator capable of solving the crisis. But the US
shows him doctored satellite photos as evidence that Iraqi armies are
massing at the gates of the country. According to diplomats, Fahd says "yes"
on the same day that Saddam guarantees to an American charge de affaires
that Iraq will respect Saudi Arabia's sovereignty. On August 6, American
forces start disembarking in Saudi Arabia to mount operation Desert Shield.

That's where bin Laden comes in. Immediately after the invasion of Kuwait,
he sent a message to the Saudi royal family. He would be able to raise a
force of at least 10,000 mujahideen to confront Saddam's Republican Guard in
the event that the Iraqi leader had some ideas. Bin Laden deeply believed a
Muslim army should defend its homeland if attacked. He thought that Riyadh
was considering his offer. But on August 7, bin Laden finally learned that
American troops would be in charge of the security of Saudi Arabia's oil. He
was assured that the Americans would leave after Kuwait was "liberated".
They didn't. So bin Laden broke with the Saudi royal family. Later, he said,
"They had betrayed Muslims, had become dependent on Christians and Jews and
couldn't be the custodians of the holy places any more." He was ordered to
leave Saudi Arabia - so he went to develop al Qaeda in exile in Sudan and

Back to the summit. As far as the UAE proposal was concerned, UAE President
Sheikh Zayed ibn Sultan al-Nahayan sent a message asking for the entire
"Iraqi leadership to step down and leave Iraq ... within two weeks of
adopting this Arab initiative". Iraq then should be governed jointly by the
Arab League and the UN and return to "its normal situation in accordance
with the will of the brotherly Iraqi people". Zayed was careful to add that
the Iraqi leadership should be given legal guarantees that it would not face

On hearing this, furious Iraqis, led by vice president Izzat Ibrahim,
threatened to leave the summit. But this time it was Mubarak and Gaddaffi's
turn to calm down the Iraqis, and the proposal was formally withdrawn. Iraqi
Foreign Minister Naji Sabri described the proposal as "US-inspired bilge".
The UAE were dejected. According to their Information Minister, Sheikh
Abdullah ibn Zayed, Gulf states are in favor of the arrangement because it
"could spare Iraq the torment of war". After the summit, Kuwait and Bahrain
- hosts to the awesome American military machine - officially supported the

Politically, Gulf states are worried about the consequences of an armed and
dangerous US in their vicinity, while in economic terms regime change
couldn't be a more popular arrangement. Small Gulf nations are already
profiting from a war that has not even started. With oil prices shooting up
to almost US$40 a barrel, the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have nothing to
lose. They also have their eyes set on the endless golden opportunities in
terms of economic reconstruction and long-term foreign investment in the
post-Saddam era. Businesses in the Gulf are already planning for a mini-boom
starting on the second half or the end of 2003, and accelerating in 2004
towards 2005. Iraq's reconstruction will be financed not only by Iraq's oil
revenues, but most of all by a mix of international aid and soft loans from
Arab nations. There will be a construction boom for Gulf-based contractors,
suppliers and consultants. Much will be financed by Gulf banks. Kuwaiti
traders have been praying for Saddam to bow out for more than two decades.
But the economic hub of the UAE, Dubai - which will become the gateway to
Iraq - will probably be the biggest winner.

Where does this all leave the Arab street? Moroccan sociologist Mohamed Tozy
offers an explanation, "People in the Arab world simply don't accept the US
linkage of Islamism terrorism-Iraq. They can't stand this kind of confusion.
Anti-American sentiment at the same time is comforted by the
anti-Americanism of non-Arab societies: this is not merely an Arab or Muslim
sentiment any more. Now, many pin their hopes in a sort of global conscience
incarnated by mass movements in different capitals. There's a feeling that
the Arab world is being reinserted back into the world. We are not the only
ones concerned about what's happening. We see this paradoxical mix: on one
side, the despair and impotence of an Arab world which cannot trust a summit
any more, nor any Arab resolution; on the other side, a real hope carried
through by this alternative globalization, this global civil society who
says 'no' to the United States."

Even the not-exactly-free Arab press mirrors these feelings. The point is
made by an editorial of the Saudi English-language daily Arab News, "Bush is
one of America's least traveled presidents. It seems that he only knows of
the Middle East that which is whispered in his ears by his largely
Zionist-influenced advisers. The subtleties and complex history of our
region are entirely beyond his ken. He thinks in terms of the good guys and
the bad guys. Saddam is the bad guy and the Iraqi people need to be bombed
into liberation and freedom from his clutches. Pax Americana will afterward
be delivered to the wreckage, on Washington's terms. Every item on this
potentially catastrophic agenda entirely ignores the wishes and concerns of
every other country in the region. A US-occupied and destabilized Iraq will
become a breeding ground for the botulism of terrorism, far more deadly in
nature than anything that the world has yet encountered."

Which leaves Arab intellectuals in a terrible impasse. In Sharm el-Sheikh,
many posed three crucial questions. Is Arab nationalism really dead? Or if
it means the defense of a status quo which allows dictators like Saddam to
remain in power, what is it good for? And how is it possible to subscribe to
a democratic project supposedly entertained by the Americans, when their
attitude towards the Palestinian tragedy and their support of repulsive
dictatorships around the world for decades totally destroys American

Gaddaffi may have blamed Saudi Arabia for the Arab world's current
predicament, but that may have been just the tip of the iceberg - or the
sand dune. The crisis of the Arab world is now so severe because there are
no political or social institutions capable of framing the terms of the
debacle. There's nothing for the Arab masses apart from engaging themselves
in what for many is a very remote idea, the global anti-war movement. It may
not be enough as too much Arab repressed anger and frustration is about to

by Francesca Sawalha
Jordan Times, 4th March
AMMAN  Analysts disagree on whether Saturday's Arab summit rose up to
people's expectations and regional circumstances, but agree that, in
practical terms, there was little it could do to avert a war on Iraq.

Although powerless before a perceived US determination to strike Iraq, Arab
leaders should have come up with a stronger final communique and taken more
concrete steps against war, some say. According to others, leaders did all
they could, given their historic divisions, the dependence of many countries
on the US, and mounting pressures by the Arab street.

To some analysts, the Arab League's 15th ordinary summit should have been
more courageous, by issuing a firm condemnation of US policies. To others,
the summit should have been more courageous, too, but by entertaining
proposals for a regime change in Baghdad.

Equally discordant are analysts' and politicians' assessments of the
by-now-famous war of words between Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi and Saudi
Crown Prince Abdullah Ben Abdul Aziz, which caused the summit to be
suspended for half an hour and resumed behind closed doors.

"Too little too late," comments former Prime Minister Taher Masri, arguing
the summit should have convened earlier. "I don't think the conference
offered what was required from it by the situation: It rejected war, but it
did not take any practical steps to stop the war."

Arab leaders gathered in Sharm El Sheikh "completely rejected" war, asserted
their "refusal to participate in military action," and called for a peaceful
solution to the Iraqi crisis under UN auspices.

After intense negotiations over the wording of the final communique, a
Syrian draft asking Arab states not to extend any assistance or facilities
to the US in waging war against Iraq was amended to assert instead their
"refusal to participate" in the war.

Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher has praised the summit for uniting behind a
rejection of a US-led war on Iraq and "preserving Arab ranks following fears
of divisions."

The summit produced "frozen statements and paralysed decisions," declares
Abdul Latif Arabiyat, president of the Shura Council (the legislative body)
of the Islamic Action Front. "Arab leaders will be responsible for what is
coming," as they failed to take strong enough stands against it, Arabiyat

While the IAF leader accuses the summit of having "disappointed and
embarrassed" the street, politician Mamdouh Abbadi describes the final
communique as a "very strong rejection of war."

"Let us be honest: They [Arab leaders] can do nothing to stop the war,"
continues Abbadi, a political leader of the traditional, democratic left.
"But they did what was expected of them, they managed to come up with a good

Two other prominent leftists, Jamil Nimri of the Democratic Party of the
Left and Mohammad Ouran of the Arab Land Party (ALP), also declare
themselves satisfied with the anti-war message that emerged from the summit.

"It was what the Arabs wanted to hear," says Ouran, who is president of the
Jordan Medical Association and a former Lower House deputy, in addition to
being the ALP's secretary general. "Perhaps the statement could have
included a stronger message to the US that enough is enough, that Washington
should listen to the millions of people everywhere in the world, and in the
US, too, who are speaking up against war. But, all in all, it was a good

Nimri, who is also a popular columnist, stresses that the final communique
was "strong and clear" in rejecting Arab countries' participation in the
looming war. "More than this, they [Arab leaders] couldn't do," he says.

Still, the summit missed an opportunity to strengthen the anti-war camp in
the international community, especially France and Germany, by failing to
translate into a concrete proposal the "widespread perception that the
regime of [President] Saddam Hussein needs to be changed."

"This [need for a regime change] is quite a common stand, but the summit did
not have the courage to translate it into a plan," Nimri contends.

Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa said the summit decided not to
examine a letter by United Arab Emirates President Sheikh Zayed Ben Sultan
Al Nahayan proposing that President Saddam step down to avert war.

"This is a paper that comes from [Israeli Prime Minister] Ariel Sharon,"
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri told reporters on Saturday in reaction to
Sheikh Zayed's letter. The UAE letter envisaged a "general amnesty for all
Iraqis, inside or abroad," and suggested Iraq come under temporary UN and
Arab League administration. "A proposal coming from the UAE is a proposal
stemming from the desire to act in the interest of the Arab nation," Saudi
Foreign Minister Saud Faisal had commented 10 minutes after the Emirati
message was delivered to summit's participants, on Saturday.

The Sharm El Sheikh resolution rejected "all attempts to impose changes in
the region"  an apparent reference not only to US determination to remove
Saddam from power, but also to the UAE message.

Politicians generally praise the summit's decision to send a troika,
including former Arab League president Lebanon, current president Bahrain
and next president Tunisia, on a peace mission to Baghdad and "international
parties," starting from the UN Security Council.

"This was a fine step," comments Masri. "But I doubt this Arab delegation
will have time to make its trips before a war."

Others doubt that the troika's composition would give it enough weight to
effectively lobby for peace. "The Arab heavyweights are not in the troika,
which is bound to weaken it," points out Nimri.

The mandate and very destinations of the peace delegation remain largely
unclear, analysts stress. Some Arab countries would like the troika to go to
Baghdad to maintain pressure on Iraq to offer utmost cooperation with UN
international inspectors. But Baghdad has said it would only accept an Arab
delegation expressing solidarity with Iraq.

Jordanian officials have also indicated Washington  another possible
destination of the Arab troika  might not be inclined to receive a
delegation mandated with blasting its policies.

Muasher has stressed the "practical proposal" to set up a troika "provides a
chance to talk to all the parties in order to examine the possibilities of
solving the crisis through diplomatic means."

The foreign minister has expressed hope the committee will start on its
peace mission "as soon as possible because time is running out and the
chances for a peaceful solution are slim."

As for the incident that already threatens to characterise the summit in the
Arab collective memory  the row between Qadhafi and Prince Abdullah 
politicians remain split on its relevance.

"It happens everywhere else in the world," Ouran comments on the heated
exchange between the two leaders, who traded accusations of pro-Western

"Why shouldn't it happens to us [Arabs]?"

According to Arabiyat, however, the row "projected a very negative image of
the Arab world and weakened the summit as a whole."

by Saad Mehio
Lebanon Daily Star, 4th March

President George W. Bush has finally used language other than that of war.
At long last, Middle Easterners heard him reassure them that the day
following Saddam Hussein's exit would not witness the return of colonialism
but a new dawn for democracy.

"A new regime in Iraq would serve as a dramatic and inspiring example of
freedom to other nations of the region" and "could also begin a new stage
for Middle Eastern peace, and set in motion progress toward a truly
democratic Palestinian state."

That's what Bush told the American Enterprise Institute annual dinner on
Feb. 26. - words as wise, at least linguistically, as those uttered by
Zarathustra 3,000 years ago, Jesus a millennium later, and the Prophet
Mohammed 600 years after that. All these wise men, as is well known, came
out of the Middle East and conquered the ancient world with their smooth
talk and enticing promises.

This is not to say that George W. is about to be canonized just for saying
these words - far from it.

In fact, many people believe Bush's words were meant more for British and
French ears than for those of the peoples of the Middle East. He felt that
his only ally in his impending Middle East adventure, Prime Minister Tony
Blair of Britain, needed such verbal logistical support, especially after
more than 120 members of Parliament from Blair's own Labor Party rebelled
against him on the question of war on Iraq. Bush also realized that French
President Jacques Chirac was riding a wave of "non-Americanism" (not

To be even more frank, we in the Middle East have never trusted the words of
American governments. Arabs have been eating promises since the days of
Woodrow Wilson early in the 20th century, through J.F. Kennedy's presidency
in the 1960s. During this time, American policy in the region reeked more of
motor oil than the holy variety.

Nevertheless, Bush's words this time around are believable for reasons to do
with America proper rather than anything else. For the first time ever,
hundreds of thousands of young American men will be stationed in the wider
Middle East, from the mountains of Afghanistan to Iraq and the Arab
heartland. This will cause a major change in American thinking. From now on,
ordinary Americans will become far more interested in Middle Eastern
affairs; many of them will feel closer to Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus and Rabat
than to Paris, London or Bonn.

For similar reasons, the US administration will no longer be able to make
hasty political, military and economic decisions regarding this region, for
the lives of young American servicemen will be at stake.

It is important to stress that the Americans (and others) would be greatly
mistaken if they thought the US would be able to "do the job" in Iraq in
weeks and months. In fact, the United States will have to stay in Iraq for
at least five years in order to ensure that the country is rebuilt on
foundations that "will enhance US interests," as Secretary of State Colin
Powell recently pointed out.

During these five years, Washington will be responsible for ensuring the
security of its forces in Iraq. This means the Americans have to create a
new strategic reality in the Gulf region and in the countries surrounding
Iraq - the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states (namely, Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE), as well as Syria, Lebanon,
Palestine, Jordan and Israel.

For that to happen, America has to decide what regional role (if any) Egypt
and Turkey would be able to play. Washington would also have to deal with
Iran, which was recently described by Newsweek as the real font of terrorism
in the region.

These conclusions might sound exaggerated, but the picture is not like that
at all.

It is naive to believe that such a large number of troops from a superpower
can be withdrawn from the region without first effecting fundamental change.
Look at the changes wrought by the presence of American troops in Japan and
Western Europe after World War II, as well as in Turkey, Greece, Bosnia and

There is another, objective, reason why Bush's words are more believable
this time: The Middle East "continent" (for that is what it is if Central
Asia and North Africa are included) is set to become the world's major focus
of instability and conflict, inheriting the role Europe played for the last
50 years.

For it is in the Middle East that the new world order that is supposed to
replace the Cold War system will be defined. It is the Middle East that will
spark either major new global confrontations or great new global alliances.

To understand the last point, consider this: In their attempts to forge a
new European identity, France and Germany - rather than choosing such issues
to challenge the US as NATO expansion, Turkey's role in the European Union,
the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, or relations between Russia and the
West - picked out Iraq as a battleground to assert their independence from
Washington. Why? Because suspicions of American imperialist intentions are
more obvious in Iraq than anywhere else.

The Russians and Chinese meanwhile saw in North Korea's attempt to sidetrack
the US while it is preoccupied with Europe and the Middle East a good
opportunity to exploit the Iraq issue to the utmost.

There is no doubt that it would be in Beijing's interests for Washington to
expend most of its energies in the Middle East; that would help China
achieve its aim of dominating the Far East. As for the Russians, they seem
to be waiting for the Americans to dig themselves deeper in the Middle East
quagmire before taking any steps.

Even India is lying in wait. The Indians are hoping that America's
preoccupation with the Arab and Muslim worlds will facilitate its drive to
undermine Pakistan's role in Kashmir. Delhi also hopes Washington will
appoint it as a regional client not only in South Asia but also to confront

It is not unlikely that even Japan might rediscover its military and nuclear
potential - if the current Iraqi and Korean crises reveal America's
reluctance to engage in two confrontations simultaneously.

The strategic implications of direct American involvement in the Middle East
make clear that not only the future of Iraq (nor even of the entire Middle
East) is in the balance, but the fate of the global Pax Americana itself.

If the US succeeds in its Iraqi/Arab enterprise, this would then guarantee
that the 21st century would be an American century. If it fails, however,
America would then have to accept Henry Kissinger's advice to become the
first among (five or six) equals in a new multipolar world order.

I used the term "US," and not "the Bush administration" in this discourse
for good reason: Once the Americans invade Iraq, there will no longer be
Republicans and Democrats. Both parties will be involved in the Middle East,
and neither could afford to pull out without achieving something to ensure
US world leadership.

Those then are the reasons why we tend to believe Bush is serious this time
vis-a-vis the Middle East. He is now compelled to rethink all Washington's
policies regarding Middle Eastern dictatorships and will find himself forced
to come to grips with the Palestinian Israeli conflict - a conflict
described by Gerard Baker, the Washington bureau chief for London's
Financial Times, as being "the great cancer in the world's political

This, in fact, is our only reason for feeling optimistic.

Saad Mehio is a Beirut-based Lebanese journalist and writer. He wrote this
commentary special for The Daily Star

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