Arabs Call Bush 'Cowboy' but Some Mull Exile Idea
Tuesday, March 18, 2003; 11:19 AM
By Caroline Drees
CAIRO (Reuters) - A U.S. ultimatum telling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to quit now or face war is a throwback to the Wild West where might made right, Arabs said on Tuesday.
But some hoped the Iraqi leader would bite the bullet and spare his people their third war in two decades.
"It's unbelievable how Bush is ignoring the international community and all his citizens who oppose war. It's the era of the cowboys, but at least they had a code of ethics," said Nadia, an Egyptian professional.
Qatar University professor Mohamed Saleh al-Musfir said a speech by President Bush late on Monday giving Saddam 48 hours to leave Iraq showed Americans had become "blind" with power, adding that suddenly ending U.N. arms inspections to wage war was both illegal and unjustified.
In the Gulf, where many states host U.S. troops and some have suggested Saddam should accept exile, some officials and analysts said his resignation might be the only way out.
"Either the Arab countries have to go and defend Iraq militarily, which is not possible, or to force the leadership to quit in order to save Iraq," a senior Gulf Arab official said.
Saddam rejected Bush's ultimatum on Tuesday, and has said he would rather die than go into exile.
"I hope that Saddam Hussein will do one good thing in his life and leave Iraq," said Bahraini accountant Ahmed Ali.
In the United Arab Emirates, which earlier this month became the first Arab state to propose exile officially, al-Ittihad newspaper wrote: "Does the Iraqi leadership want to win the respect of the whole world? Does it want to make its mark on history? It has only three options: exile, exile and exile."
Many ordinary Arabs said Washington was a global bully who wanted to control Muslims, Arabs and world oil supplies. While most Arabs dislike Saddam and would be glad to see him go, they believe Washington has no right to unseat him.
"This war, which is illegal according to international law and immoral by any standards, is about oil and America's strategic dominance of the Middle East -- no more, no less," wrote the Saudi English-language paper Arab news.
Fawziya Mohamed, a fruitseller in the congested streets of downtown Cairo, said Washington's approach to Iraq mirrored its policies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and spelled nothing but trouble for the region.
"First they want to go and control Iraq and then make the Palestinians accept Israeli control and then they will move on to all the other states in the Muslim world," she said.
Saudi newspaper al-Riyadh said Washington's determination to attack Iraq had wiped out widespread Arab sympathy after the September 2001 attacks, and could lead to more terrorism.
Egyptian doorman Ahmed Abdel Hafiz Ahmed spoke for many in the region when he lamented the failure of Arab diplomacy to avert a war in a fellow Arab state.
Arab states have been at pains to convince their citizens they had exerted all efforts to avert war, lest popular anger turn inward and threaten domestic stability.
"Arab leaders are useless. They aren't able to even stop America using their own soil for an attack on Iraq," Ahmed said.
In non-Arab Iran, which fought a brutal eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s, the dislike for Saddam was laced with concern that the Islamic republic could be Washington's next target.
Iranians remain suspicious after Washington last year said Iran was part of an "axis of evil" with Iraq and North Korea.
"Two crazy people are fighting with each other and we as people of the region must pay the price for their madness," said Hadi, a shopkeeper in central Tehran.
Hosniyeh, a retired teacher whose son was killed in the Iran-Iraq war, said she had mixed feelings about a possible war.
"On the one hand I'm very glad the butcher of my son is under pressure," she said. "But on the other I'm thinking about the hundreds of Iraqi mothers who are going to suffer like me."