- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

AMMAN, Jordan, April 17 (UPI) — For some hearing the Iraqi president's characteristic closing to his public remarks, it was empty routine. But to many Palestinians, Saddam Hussein's inclusion of "Long live Palestine" was a sign that not everyone had forgotten their plight, stateless and subjugated in the Middle East.

"Even if it was a lie, at least there was one Arab leader left reminding the world of the rights of the Palestinians," said Amani Younes.

Younes, 32, was born in Baghdad to a Palestinian father and an Iraqi Kurdish mother. She came with her family to the Jordanian capital, Amman, in 1994, fleeing economic hardships under the crippling international sanctions imposed on Iraq since its 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

"To me, the fall of Baghdad is a catastrophe equal to the Palestinian catastrophe," she said, insisting Saddam was targeted "because he was a true Arab nationalist who refused to accept the Israeli occupation of Palestine." Younes, a mother herself now, did not hide her admiration for Saddam Hussein, whom she described to United Press International as "more Arab than Iraqi."

Younes, who has a 10-year-old daughter, could not stop weeping at what she felt was the loss of her birthplace to U.S. forces. She said her father was as devastated at losing his home in Iraq as he was at losing his home in Jerusalem to the Israelis in 1967.

"I wish I was not alive to see the greatest Arab country fall under occupation," she said. "I keep wishing this is all a nightmare and I will wake up."

Younes, who holds Jordanian citizenship, said foreign Arabs living in Iraq enjoyed the same rights to reside and work there as Iraqis did and also benefited from free education up to university level. "Every Arab student was given a monthly stipend to live a dignified life in this country," she said, and even under the sanctions, non-Iraqi Arabs were given the same food rations as Iraqis.

Her views, echoed by many Palestinians in Amman, are by no means universal. Many Iraqis, severely persecuted for voicing any criticism of the regime, learned to conceal their thoughts from others for fear of being reported to the notorious mukhabarat, or intelligence service.

Younes, who works at a childcare center for pre-schoolers in Amman, blasted other Arab states. She said she wished "they had given back half as much as Saddam gave them, instead of turning against him like this."

Younes said her Iraqi Kurdish mother was just as desolate at seeing the fall of Iraq and saddened by the Kurdish alliance with U.S. forces, saying the Kurds "should have stood by Iraq, regardless of the regime, and not with the occupation."

But other Iraqi Kurds take a very different view of Saddam. Analysts point out that although there were a few tribes allied with Saddam, the majority of Iraqi Kurds hated his regime for chemical weapons used on them to suppress a Kurdish uprising in 1988. The Anfal campaign against the Kurds that year, according to David McDowall, a British historian, probably killed between 150,000 and 200,000 of them.

Younes, however, said her mother believed his regime had been "more fair to the Kurds than in other countries." Even before the Kurds took control of their homeland in northern Iraq the 1990s under the protection of a no-fly zone, they had "autonomy, their own schools, and the right to speak their own language … unlike in Turkey where the are punished even if they wear their national dress," she related.

Fuad Hussein, an Iraqi Kurd, told United Press International during a visit to Washington that the Kurds were allowed to use their language, have their own schools and wear their traditional dress from the establishment of the Iraqi state in 1921, something that was reaffirmed by the 1958 revolt that overthrew the monarchy and declared a republic of Arabs and Kurds.

On the other hand, Hussein said, the Kurdish autonomous region declared by Saddam in 1974 remained a dead letter. In areas subject to ethnic cleansing, Kurds were obliged to change their legal identity to Arab and even cemeteries were desecrated to make the Kurds buried in them appear to be Arabs.

Analysts said Arab masses were attracted by Arab nationalist slogans such as those in Saddam's rhetoric, especially where Palestinian rights were concerned. While these slogans proved to have been empty promises of "Arab solidarity and liberating Palestine," the people were "still hungry to hear such words because it gave them a sense of hope," one political commentator told UPI.

Younes's husband, Salam Shalabi, said he shared the same feelings: "Anger at the United States, disappointment at the Arabs and a lot of frustration at the result of this war." Shalabi, born to a Palestinian father and Iraqi mother in Kuwait, and raised in the Iraqi capital, said Iraq was "the only Arab country left — and to a certain extent, Syria — that was teaching school children the principles of Arab nationalism and instilled in us that Israel was our number one enemy."

He said, "Now all this has vanished, and Syria is probably next because it still has and teaches these principles — thanks to America, which is Israel's striking arm."

Younes and Shalabi were among many Palestinians — who make up the majority of Jordan's population — that believe the United States went to war with Iraq to subdue all opposition to Israel in the region. Ahmad Nashef, a 23-year-old student at one of Amman's private universities agreed that the United States was "fighting Israel's war" in Iraq.

Nashef, a Palestinian who holds Israeli citizenship, was "in as much pain at the fall of Iraq to the Americans as any other Arab would be," he said.

Iraq "was our last hope as Arabs and Palestinians that we would someday have justice and independence, and now it's gone."

Nashef, a pharmacy student, was born and raised in al-Taybeh, part of historic Palestine where the state of Israel was established in 1948. He believes Iraq was "betrayed and deserted by the Arabs just as we were in 1948 and 1967, when they let the Israelis confiscate and occupy our country."

He said he was particularly angered by the Iraqis turning against their government after the disappearance of the regime to side with the U.S. forces, warning that "Iraqis don't know yet what it means to live under foreign occupation."

An Iraqi Shia Arab religious figure saw things very differently. Speaking to UPI from London, Sheik Muhammad Muhammad Ali said that having lived through three wars — the 1980-1988 war with Iran, the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and the current one — the Iraqis knew who was for them and who was against them.

"The Arabs were with Saddam to the end and all Iraqis see the Arabs in the same light they see Saddam," said Ali. He particularly criticized what he considered the biased reporting of the war by the Arab television stations al-Jazeera, al-Arabia and Abu Dhabi.

The Arabs chose Saddam as their friend, not the Iraqi people themselves, said Fuad Hussein.

Now the Arabs should show responsibility, Ali said, by sending aid to the Iraqis, but without interfering in Iraqi politics.

(With additional reporting by Derk Kinnane Roelofsma in Washington.)

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