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When the Enemy Is a Liberator

by John Burns Monday, Feb. 17, 2003 at 2:57 PM

Bottom line is that the Iraqi people do want GW Bush to go forward with the war

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 ( news -web sites )'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 dismay.

"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 society.

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 States.

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 civilians.

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 celebration.

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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The Anti War Movement has no place to hide Bush Admirer Monday, Feb. 17, 2003 at 3:00 PM
simple Simple Simon Monday, Feb. 17, 2003 at 4:44 PM
So waht? anti-american Monday, Feb. 17, 2003 at 5:01 PM
Hilarity Redux Diogenes Monday, Feb. 17, 2003 at 6:03 PM
Bush Admirer supports terrorism Xenia Monday, Feb. 17, 2003 at 11:13 PM
Xenia fresca Monday, Feb. 17, 2003 at 11:33 PM
Communism and Socialism must defeat America truth teller Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2003 at 12:35 AM
OneEyedMan KPC Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2003 at 3:10 PM

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