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Arab Nations Fear Iraq Is Only First Step For Bush Invasion

by George Baghdadi

Syria Worries: "After Iraq, It Could Be Us" (Oct 2002)
(IPS) DAMASCUS -- President George W. Bush's suggestion that the removal of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein will be a step towards democracy in the Middle East and reduce terrorism does not seem to convince most Arabs.

Most Arab leaders say they would like to see Saddam relinquish power. But they are apprehensive about the Bush administration's proclaimed mission of bringing democracy to the Arab world, starting with Iraq.

As many as 83.4 per cent people said in a survey across five Arab countries that a war against Iraq would only encourage terrorism. The survey from Feb. 19 to March 11 polled 2,620 people in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.

Anti-U.S. sentiment is visibly on the rise. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators take to Arab streets every day to protest U.S. plans to attack Iraq. Most demonstrations have been peaceful -- and so far not directed at Arab governments.

Beyond the anti-American slogans, however, the protestors have expressed little if any support for Saddam Hussein, once lionized in the Arab world as the liberator of Palestinians.

In Syria, there is anger that an Arab nation is in the firing line. "I don't deny we are afraid of a war on Iraq," says Haitham al-Killani, political columnist and former Syrian ambassador to the United Nations. "There is a view in government that Syria will be next."

Such fears are not entirely unfounded, going by remarks made by Richard Perle, chairman of the U.S. Defense Advisory Board. "A lot will be required from Syrian President Bashar Assad not only in terms of reform, but also the closure of the offices of terrorist organizations and the return of Lebanon to the Lebanese," says Perle, who is close to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Syria, now a member of the United Nations Security Council, is on the U.S. State Department's list of states sponsoring terrorism because it supports Hizbollah, the Lebanese guerrilla group. The United States says Hizbollah is a terrorist organization.

Syria also hosts political leaders from the militant Palestinian Islamic groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, along with older secular groups battling Israel.

Many Syrians see U.S. intervention in the Middle East as a continuation of imperialist moves by the British and the French to split the Arab world after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire during WWI. The "lines in the sand" drawn by the French and the British have bedeviled the region ever since.

Few governments have more to lose from a new pro-U.S. leadership in Iraq than Syria, analysts say.

"Syria would find itself surrounded by hostile or unsympathetic neighbors -- Israel and Jordan to the south, Turkey to the north, and Iraq to the east," says analyst Nicola Naseef. Many Syrians also say a hidden goal is to strengthen Israel by breaking up countries like Iraq.

Whatever the Arab nations suffer, the U.S. faces increased hostility. "The Americans should know that blood is not cheap," says school teacher Mohammed Arafa. "The Iraqis and the Arabs will get their revenge, no matter how long it takes. Our history is long. We know that other wars will follow."

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Albion Monitor March 19, 2003 (

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