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I’m going to start calling this new war “DESSERT STORM”. 🙂

I frankly find the whole “Operation Iraqi Freedom” moniker insulting to my intelligence.

I think that this war will quickly become one between The West and The Arabs. That’s a frightening proposition.


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Some of Hussein’s Arab Foes Admire His Fight By NEIL MacFARQUHAR

DAMASCUS, Syria, March 25 — Normally the appearance of Saddam Hussein on television prompts catcalls, curses and prayers for his demise from a regular gathering of about 20 Saudi businessmen and intellectuals, but Monday night was different. When he appeared, they prayed that God would preserve him for a few more weeks.

“They want Saddam Hussein to go and they expect him to go eventually, but they want him to hold on a little longer because they want to teach the Americans a lesson,” said Khaled M. Batarfi, the managing editor of the newspaper Al Madina, describing the scene in a sprawling living room in Jidda, Saudi Arabia.

“Arab pride is at stake here,” he added, describing a sentiment sweeping the region from Algeria to Yemen. “American propaganda said it was going to be so quick and easy, meaning we Arabs are weak and unable to fight. Now it is like a Mike Tyson fight against some weak guy. They don’t want the weak guy knocked out in the first 40 seconds.”

From the outset, there has been a certain ambivalence in the Arab world toward the war in Iraq, an ambivalence tipping toward outright hostility as Baghdad, the fabled capital of “The Arabian Nights,” shudders under American bombing.

The region’s governments, edgy about the idea of a United States-inspired change of government in Iraq, have been trying to placate Washington and siphon the anger off their streets, although they have permitted larger demonstrations than usual.

The Middle East’s educated elite, seeking deliverance from repressive governments, hope Washington wants to create a model for the region in Iraq, but the United States lacks a credible track record. The public recognizes that leaders like Mr. Hussein abuse their people, but the suspicion that the United States is embarking on a modern crusade against Islam tends to overwhelm other considerations.

Since the creation of Israel in 1948, followed by repeated military setbacks, Arabs have felt a certain humiliation in their own neighborhood. The supposed benefits of breaking free of colonialism proved a lie — they could choose neither their neighbors nor their own governments. Fed on rhetoric about lost Arab glory, they have long waited for some kind of savior.

The Iraqi leader sought to fill that role, gaining vast public support in 1990 by contending that the road to Jerusalem led through Kuwait. Nobody believes him any more, but the yearning remains.

This week it seemed that the Iraqi people, or whoever exactly was fighting America, might win that role.

“If Saddam’s regime is going to fall, it’s better for our future, for our self-confidence and for our image that it falls fighting,” said Sadik Jalal al-Azam, a Syrian author and academic. “People are not defending Saddam or his regime, but they are willing to put Saddam aside for a much greater issue.”

Arab governments opposed the war in Iraq from the outset. They shared no great love for Mr. Hussein, but replacing him by force seemed a bad precedent.

“If they do not like 100 regimes around the world, are they going to change all 100?” asked Buthaina Shaaban, a spokeswoman for the Syrian Foreign Ministry, reciting a familiar argument used by opponents of the Bush administration’s policy.

That prospect is unnerving for Middle Eastern governments for a variety of reasons. In Syria, which is controlled by a rival branch of Iraq’s Baath Party, overthrowing the Baathists next door comes uncomfortably close to a scary preview of what might happen there.

“Nobody knows who will be next,” said Georges Jabbour, a Syrian law professor and member of Parliament.

Longtime rulers have begun making noises about reform.

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt recently announced a series of minor changes lightening the government’s repressive hand, including abolishing the special state security courts for ordinary crimes.

Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia also started publicly addressing the issue of reform, although that seems more inspired by the post-Sept. 11 discovery of widespread sympathy for Osama bin Laden rather than concern that democracy in Iraq might destabilize the kingdom.

“Frankly, we would prefer being attacked by missiles of Jeffersonian democracy to facing Scuds and other missiles,” Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said earlier this month.

Educated elites across the region once cherished the idea that the United States would push governments in the area to become more democratic, but they gradually abandoned hope. Promises for Iraq have rekindled that hope, although the Bush administration’s changing justifications for invading Iraq — from concerns about weapons of mass destruction to the need for a new government — have cast doubt on its sincerity.

“The U.S. has always supported the dictators who rule our countries,” said Haitham Maleh, the 72-year-old lawyer who is head of the Human Rights Association of Syria. “If they create a real democracy, then any dictatorship will fear its neighbor, but we doubt America will leave a democracy in Iraq.”

Much of the doubt comes from the perceived double standard in American foreign policy in the Middle East. Washington pushed the invasion of Iraq on the grounds that Iraq was flouting United Nations resolutions to disarm, Arabs point out repeatedly, while doing nothing tangible about similar resolutions demanding Israeli withdrawal from occupied Palestinian lands.

Given the lack of openness in the Arab world, assessing the broader public mood is difficult. The closest thing to an opinion poll is gauging the random opinions of people encountered.

“I have a question about the war,” a Palestinian said in Amman. “Why just Saddam, why not all of them?” He reeled off the decades in power accumulated by Yasir Arafat, King Fahd, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, Mr. Mubarak and on and on.

The surprise question hinted at support for getting rid of Mr. Hussein, but also pointed to the public debate over why the United States is singling out Iraq when the region has so many repressive governments.

Those reservations grew this week as the images of the bombs devastating Baghdad appeared on television and the civilian toll rose. It was not unusual to see Arabs both weeping and seething in front of the television news.

The Arab world started out angry that yet another Arab country was facing destruction, but it was braced for what was promised to be a short campaign. A sea change in that attitude materialized by Sunday morning, following the events at the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr.

First, American officials said Umm Qasr had fallen, while resistance clearly persisted; then, a marine briefly raised an American flag over the city, long enough for it to be filmed and shown repeatedly on Iraqi television.

“That electrified Iraqi patriotism,” said Walid Khadduri, an Iraqi expatriate and editor of the Middle East Economic Survey. “The mood changed. It has nothing to do with the regime.”

The sentiment proved infectious across the region — volunteers even showing up by the score at Iraqi embassies prepared to join the fight. Many Arabs cursed their own governments for doing nothing but issuing empty condemnations.

“The Iraqis are real men, and I am proud of them,” said Gasser Fahmi, a 30-year-old computer engineer interviewed on a Cairo street. “At the start of the war, I was very frustrated and did not want to hear the news, but now I watch the news closely to see how many losses the Americans suffer.”

The war is too young yet to see where the ripples will lead, and much hinges on its outcome. But it already seems certain that the war will prove to be a powerful watershed in the region.