- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 26, 2003

KUWAIT CITY, March 26 (UPI) — Friday is the big day when the battle for Baghdad is likely to come to a decisive head, suggest Kuwaiti military sources who have been in close touch with British and French planning staffs.

With the end of the sandstorm and the combat helicopters unleashed once again, they see the U.S. 3rd Infantry division from Karbala and the U.S. Marines from Al Kut battering through the Republican Guard defenses and being engaged in the Iraqi capital by the weekend.

But from their particularly Arab perspective, they also suggest that Friday is the day to watch for Arab reaction. Noting with alarm the increasingly strident reaction to the war of the Arab media and the violent demonstrations that have rocked cities like Cairo and Amman, they are getting nervous about the impact of this Friday's sermons in the mosques across the Arab world if the war still rages and the Iraqis still fight.

Last Friday, for example, preaching at the Sheikh Ijlin mosque in Gaza, the preacher Ibrahim Madeiris minced no words in his sermon, broadcast over Palestinian Authority TV.

"Allah will drown America in our seas, in our skies, in our lands," he began. "The Crusader-Zionist American has started an attack against our Iraq, the Iraq of Islam and Arabism, the Iraq of civilization and history. If Iraq is defeated, if the nation of Islam is defeated, this will be our last breath of life."

The Arab media, particularly in countries usually seen as U.S. allies, have been inflammatory more than critical. One Egyptian paper, Al Wafd, said "The Iraqi steadfastness and resistance is noble and gallant." Another, Al Akhbar, said that the United States "in its aggression against Iraq has proved that it is the first country which sponsors terrorism to realize its hegemony over the world." And the venerable Al-Ahram asked "What more perilous breeding ground for terrorism could there possibly be?"

A Saudi paper, Al-Jazirah, said "the blood that flows from the smart bombs is an extreme provocation of the ill-fated Iraqi people and of the entire world." Another, Uzad, said "the occupation of Iraq ill be the beginning of the worst disaster for our entire region."

It has become fashionable in Washington to dismiss "the Arab street" as so much vainglorious posturing and the massed demonstration of students as a kind of shadow play. The Bush administration's Middle East experts dismiss demonstrations as a way for authoritarian regimes to their people let off steam against the convenient American target. But then these are the same experts who assured us that the Anglo-American armies would be welcomed with cheers and flowers by liberated Iraqis.

They also sneer at the Arab League, whose ministers meeting in Cairo this week declared the war on Iraq to be a "violation of the United Nations Charter" and a "threat to world peace". With Libya hailing "Iraqi heroism," the resolution was adopted unanimously by the 22-member League with the sole exception of Kuwait.

But it is harder to sneer at the revelation Tuesday by the Jordanian authorities that there had been more than 5,000 applications for passports from volunteers seeking to go and fight for Iraq. And there is widespread speculation that the destroying of a Syrian minibus carrying a group of young men close to the Iraqi border was not accidental, but a warning signal to stop the flow of volunteers.

Nor is it possible to sneer at the way Islamist sympathies swayed the new Turkish governing party to refuse to let its traditional American ally land troops to drive on to open a northern front in Iraq. The West had few real friends in the Islamic world and it looks as if it is losing one in Turkey.

This is going to make it far more difficult for friendly Arab regimes to vote anti-American at Arab League conferences while discreetly acting as allies. Jordan is now under intense domestic pressure for allowing U.S. troops and warplanes to use its territory. Saudi Arabia, currently turning a blind eye to the American use of the Prince Sultan Air Base, is now being pressed to let the U.S. 4th Division land at its Red Sea ports and race across the desert into the fight.

There are far more pro-reform, pro-American and even pro-war Arabs than might be assumed from watching Arab riots and scanning the Arab press. But as the war looks as if it might drag on into a grinding guerrilla campaign, they are more worried than ever before, because they see something new and ugly under way in the Arab street.

"These demonstrations are being organized by Arab political movements grouping the leftists, nationalists, communists and religious and rightist parties," said Kuwait University Political Science Professor Shamlan Al-Issa. He sees these bizarre new coalitions of anti-Americanism as "fascist factions, that neither believe in democracy and political pluralism nor respect for human rights."

America's friends in the Arab world want this war over and Saddam Hussein out soon, very soon. Preferably before the mosque sermons Friday.

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