- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 30, 2003

LONDON, March 30 (UPI) — The reason the United States and Great Britain went to war with Iraq, we were told, was to remove a potentially unfriendly regime that could cause great harm to the West and to its neighbors. Given Iraq's predisposition of invading its neighbors and its inexorable desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction, for the sake of world stability, regime change became the order of the day.

But in so doing, the United States and Britain have unwittingly laid out the groundwork for even greater hatred which will, without a doubt, come back to haunt the West for many generations.

At the end of this conflict, or quite possibly even before the guns fall silent, coalition troops may indeed discover weapons of mass destruction stashed away in one of Saddam Hussein's many secret hiding places, deep beneath some Baghdad government building. Depending on how you look at it, this find would, or would not, justify the invasion of Iraq and the casualties this war caused. Casualties that should be measured not only in human lives, but also in damaged relations between the Arab and Islamic world, and the West.

However, at the end of the day what the United States — who took the lead in this campaign — is certain to find, is renewed hatred from much of the Arab world. It may well be that the Sept. 11, 2001-type attacks Iraq's invasion was meant to thwart only paved the way for more anti-American sentiments around the world.

Already, there have been scores of demonstrations from Algeria to Yemen as Arabs have taken to the streets to voice their anger and opposition to a war which in the Arab world is largely seen as a neo-colonialist crusade out to control Arab oil. And already, there have been reports of Arab volunteers signing up to fight the coalition. And more alarming has been the beginning of "suicide" attacks against American troops. Just ask the Israelis about those and the dangers involved in getting dragged down into an intifada-like quagmire.

Talk to Arabs and their sentiment and distrust of U.S. intentions is unanimous. Naturally, such sentiments can easily be put off as popular Arab paranoia, mistrust and obsession that everything the West does — and especially the United States — is done with ill intent. "It is all an evil CIA plan," is a mantra frequently echoed in Arab coffee houses around the Middle East.

But I am not talking about unemployed Arabs who idle away in dusty cafes in Cairo or Khan Younis, or even militant Islamist students who demonstrate in the streets of Cairo, Beirut or the Gaza Strip. I am talking about highly educated pro-Western Arabs, wealthy businessmen, authors, publishers, even Christian Arabs, many of whom have lived most of their lives, if not all of it, in Europe or the United States. People I have been talking to in London, Paris and Washington since the start of the conflict. And the frightening reality is how close their views echo those of the common man in the Arab street.

"If there is a silent Arab majority — or even a minority — who believes the war is a good thing, I have yet to find it. If it exists it is so miniscule as to be politically irrelevant," writes Fergal Keane, a British Broadcasting Corp. correspondent, in The Independent after a week on the road, traveling around the Middle East.

The coalition for its part has voiced surprise at not being greeted with open arms in Iraqi cities they are fighting — and dying — to "liberate." Much to their detriment, they have found that residents of Basra, An Nasiriyah, Karbala and other centers of population welcomed them with bullets instead of flowers.

Writing in the Sunday Times from Baghdad, Hala Jaber, a veteran of several Mideast conflicts explains that "honor is Iraq's secret weapon."

Nearly two weeks in to the conflict many observers will agree on one thing; that is that the fighting the coalition is witnessing is not so much in support of Saddam but to defend Iraq's honor.

"For many Iraqis the allied forces are invaders desecrating their country's honor and dignity. This is an unforgivable sin in Iraq's culture. Land and territory are as sacred as the honor of women and occupation is as vile, shameful and abominable as rape," writes Jaber.

Additionally, fears of an American-imposed U.S. military administration on Iraq after the war is deemed unacceptable by all Iraqis, regardless of their political, religious, tribal or ideological affiliations.

The first meeting in London of the Independent Iraqis for Democracy reflected that view with some 400 Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds unanimously agreeing that post-war Iraq must be solely under an Iraqi — not an American — administration.

Adnan Pachachi, the leader of the new grouping of exiled Iraqi opposition figures not affiliated with Washington or any of the groups backed by the U.S. State Department voiced his concerns Saturday in London. An informed source in the IID told United Press International that the group specifically did not invite opposition groups supported by Washington. He said the IID wanted a "civilian administration that is not affiliated with the United States.

"Iraq," said Pachachi, "is not Afghanistan."


(Claude Salhani is a senior editor with United Press International.)

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