Saddam Pressures Arabs
Iraqi leader wants nations to show solidarity and at least cut US ties
APPARENTLY disappointed in Arab and Muslim reaction to the coalition bombing of Iraq, President Saddam Hussein has stepped up pressure on Arab and Islamic governments to take sides in the current confrontation. Saadoun Hammadi, a top-level aide to the Iraqi leader, has begun a tour of several Islamic and Arab countries to convey the president's message. The deputy prime minister has visited Tehran and Amman, Jordan, and is expected to leave for the Arab states in North Africa tomorrow.
Before departing, Mr. Hammadi, who met with King Hussein late Saturday, said the minimum show of solidarity Iraq expects is for Arab countries to sever relations with the United States and its coalition members.
``We urge all Arab countries to sever relations with the imperialist countries.... We urge them not to communicate with them or receive their envoys,'' Hammadi told a press conference here yesterday. ``This is the least that they can do.''
At an extraordinary Arab summit in Baghdad last May, Arab countries agreed that relations with any foreign country should be determined by that country's position on the Palestinian issue and Arab interests. Less than three months later, several Arab governments joined in alliance with the US against Iraq following its takeover of Kuwait.
Although Arab governments - including those most sympathetic to Iraq - are not expected to heed the Iraqi call at least in the immediate future, Iraq's bid is obviously aimed at further fueling popular Arab hostility against the US and coalition governments.
King Hussein has already come under popular pressure to cut off ties with the US as his country has become increasingly and directly affected by the war.
According to official reports, at least 14 people were killed last week when coalition planes bombed Jordanian trucks carrying Iraqi oil to Amman. Jordanian officials repeatedly say the government has United Nations permission to get oil from Iraq until it finds another source.
The strikes against the trucks have strengthened pro-Iraqi sentiment here as funerals turn into anti-US demonstrations.
Over the last 10 days, three Western targets in Jordan were attacked, including the French Cultural Center, a British bank, and the car of the US military attach'e, which was burned.
Last week King Hussein launched his strongest attack against the US-led coalition, accusing it of overstepping the UN resolutions' objectives by trying to destroy Iraq. He implied that the US would seek to fragment the Arab world once the war ends.
King Hussein's strongly worded speech marked an important shift in official policy, which has tried to maintain a middle ground.
Officials, however, say Jordan's opposition to the Iraqi occupation and annexation of Kuwait has not changed. But according to Information Minister Ibrahim Izz al-Din, extensive bombing of Iraq has brought in a new element.
King Hussein's speech focused on the fact that Jordan cannot be neutral toward what is viewed here as a deliberate and systematic destruction of Iraq.
But palace officials have denied that Jordan will sever relations with the US following reports that it was reconsidering its ties with Washington.
Judging by Hammadi's statements, however, Baghdad believes maintaining ties with the US and coalition members is not an option. ``Neutrality is simply unacceptable in this case,'' he said.
Iraq rejected this weekend a peace bid by Pakistan's prime minister, calling it an attempt to contain Pakistani popular support for Iraq and its stand against the US-led coalition.
Pakistan has sent 11,000 soldiers to help defend Saudi Arabia, but the air war against Iraq has prompted almost daily demonstrations in support of Saddam in most major Pakistani cities.
It is unclear how Iraq plans to pressure Arab governments to take a tougher stand vis-`a-vis the coalition, but analysts say the call will step up popular pressures on Arab states to take a more decisive stance.
Iraq enjoys tremendous support in Jordan, Yemen, and the North African countries of Morocco, Tunisia, Sudan, and Libya. Reports from Syria indicate there is broadening support for Iraq, while opposition against Egyptian involvement in the war has been growing.
Hammadi implied that his mission was not aimed at rallying public support for the Iraqi position on Kuwait but at trying to build up an Arab and Islamic front against the US.
``The new world order that the US talks about aims at imposing imperialist despotism,'' he said.
In an unexpected statement form an Iraqi official, Hammadi indicated that repression in the Arab world represented a popular outburst of anger against US policies in the region.
``The Arab popular action - in many cases - is suppressed and obstructed from expressing itself,'' Hammadi said, even though his own government has strongly suppressed freedom of expression over the past decade.
Absence of democracy in Iraq, however, is unlikely to alter the growing support for the country in Jordan and many other Arab countries, analysts say.
``It is not a battle between dictators and democrats. It is the battle for Arab liberation from subservience to the US and the West. Arabs cannot build democracy if they are controlled by foreign powers,'' says Monnes Razaz, a Jordanian novelist.