Commentary: Iraq and Arabs' larger fears
By DALAL SAOUD
BEIRUT, Lebanon, Aug. 23, 2002 (UPI) -- Was this week's take-over of the Iraqi Embassy in Berlin by a previously unknown group just an isolated incident -- or the start of a war against Iraq to depose President Saddam Hussein?
One thing was clear: this incident drew no reaction from the Arabs.
They have bigger fears: what would be the fate of the region after any war on Iraq? Would Saddam's overthrow lead to efforts against other Arab rulers?
Initially, the Berlin incident caused many to wonder if these hostage-takers were part of a U.S.-orchestrated campaign to overthrow Saddam. But this soon proved to be an isolated case.
At its source were five Iraqi opposition exiles who called themselves the Democratic Iraqi Opposition in Germany. They sought to liberate Iraq from Saddam and his ruling Baath Party, and to liberate Iraqi Embassies everywhere.
Some think that the group might have wanted to send a message to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder over his resistance to a possible U.S. military action against Iraq.
"The takeover probably served only one goal: deliver this protest message to the German government," said Sateh Noureddine, political analyst of Lebanon's As Safir newspaper.
If so, it would be natural that Arabs refrain from comment on the incident and "the protest for Germany's failure" to support purported U.S. plans for a military strike against Iraq.
"No Arab can say that he supports this war (against Iraq)," Noureddine told United Press International.
"Because in principle, they are afraid of the pre-war phase and have big questions: can the war really succeed in overthrowing Saddam? What after Saddam: chaos, civil war or partition? What would be the next country to be targeted after Iraq? Would this war be the beginning of a comprehensive change in the political and geographical map of the Middle East?"
If American officials have no answers to these questions -- and they apparently do not -- "this means that we are entering a phase of worry, danger, threat and confusion more than ever before," Noureddine said.
The general sentiment in Arab countries is that the United States was launching one of its fiercest attacks on the region using the pretext of its war against terror.
By voicing opposition to striking Iraq, Arabs are not saying they are fond of Saddam's regime; they are expressing fear for their own countries and uncertainty over the United States' ultimate goals in the region.
Recently, it seemed that the U.S. -- faced with mounting Arab and European opposition -- had backed off the idea of launching a war against Iraq.
The takeover of the Iraqi Embassy in Berlin might have been a reaction to such opposition, or it might have been an attempt to show -- as Noureddine said -- that the Iraqi opposition is doing something instead of "just meeting in Washington and lying to each other."
Previously, the idea of a united Iraqi opposition wasn't taken seriously. The many groups were unable to join forces. Many had different agendas and many of their members were accused of being corrupt, or being agents for this or that intelligence service.
But now, they are being gathered by the United States to play a role in deposing Saddam. And this makes it hard for Arab countries to openly support them at a time when Washington was apparently planning drastic changes in the region.
"Even if the U.S. drops the idea of launching a war against Iraq, it will go ahead with toppling Saddam," Noureddine said.
Although the United States failed to do so during the decade after the 1991 Gulf War -- either for lack of will or effort -- now, it is felt, the United States will redouble its efforts until it succeeds.
If Arab fears are well-founded, why would the United States insist on such a big change in the region -- especially since its long-time close allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are being heavily criticized and targeted? So far, there are no clear answers.
After the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington, the United States awoke to the realities of the phenomenon of terrorism.
While Arabs partly blame the United States for financing the Osama bin Laden-style terrorism in the first place, U.S. officials found out that the source of this terrorism lay in allied countries.
"Al Qaida emerged from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and not from Syria or any of the hard-line Arab countries," Noureddine said.
"But the Americans still did not engage in a serious discussion about such terrorism and are still stuck with the na´ve question: Why they (Arab-Muslim terrorists) hate us."