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US show of force galls Arab world

A day after Baghdad's fall, many foresee American dominance in the Middle East - and possible reprisals.

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In the end, the "shock and awe" US war planners had promised for Iraq came not in a hail of bombs, but with the fall of a hollow bronze statue.

And the impact is reverberating far beyond Iraq's borders, stunning ordinary Arabs and their leaders across the Middle East.

As they digested the news of Baghdad's unexpectedly swift fall on Thursday, and watched TV replays of Saddam Hussein's statue toppled by a US Marine tank recovery vehicle, many Arabs saw not the dusk of Iraqi dictatorship, but the dawn of a frightening new world.

"This represents what is really happening," said a commentator on the Al Jazeera television network, watched by millions in the region, as an American soldier wrapped the Stars and Stripes around Saddam Hussein's face.

"Everything that happens in Iraq now will have an American flavor and smell."

The conclusive display of American military power will have gratified US allies in the Middle East, such as Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak or ruling royal families in the Gulf, who had been fearful that a protracted war would inflame their citizens.

They are also hoping, with Washington, that scenes of grateful Iraqis welcoming US troops will erode overwhelming popular opposition to the war in the Arab world.

But they could have reason for fear, as well, if America's declared vision of a democratic Middle East is ever realized.

"The fall of Baghdad will break the back of petty tyrants around the region," predicts Khaled al-Maeena, a newspaper editor in Saudi Arabia. "These self-appointed guardians of Arab pride must realize that they have to share power."

As for America's enemies, the speed of Baghdad's capitulation is a worrying blow.

"For the Americans it is good; for us it is bad," says Mohammed Shukri, a law professor in the Syrian capital, Damascus. "If the Iraqis had fought harder, the US would have lost morally and politically."

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