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Thursday, 12 December, 2002, 07:37 GMT
Viewpoint: Skilful Saddam plays to Arab opinion
The US is currently sifting through Iraq's dossier on its weapons programmes
In a new series, BBC News Online asks a range of contributors to comment on the conflict with Iraq.

Here, Daniel Neep of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies (RUSI) argues that Saddam Hussein's aim is to encourage the Arab masses to rise up against their Western-leaning leaders.

Iraq's official declaration of its weapons programmes dominated the headlines across the world.

Compliance with the demand to provide a complete, full and accurate accounting of its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) development programmes was never really in doubt: Iraq had little choice but to issue the declaration demanded of it by the international community.


The belief persists that the Arabs are not masters of their own fate but simply pawns in a much larger game of political chess

No-one expected this to be a process free from complication: Iraq has once again managed to exploit an opportunity to delay, divert and disorientate the fragile international consensus built around the United Nations Security Council resolution by overloading the system with information.

The 12,000 pages of the declaration distracted attention from an open letter from Saddam Hussein to Kuwait.

The professed intention was to set the record straight about the Gulf War, in which both Kuwait and Iraq were victims.

Colonial legacy

An oblique apology was offered for deeds which have been blamed on Iraq, but of which Iraq did not know - presumably a reference to the heavy-handed acts perpetrated by Iraqi troops in the invasion of Kuwait and the 600-plus Kuwaitis whose whereabouts is still a mystery.

The apology contained a barbed edge, however. Saddam Hussein once again demonstrated his supreme skill at manipulating the public opinion in the Arab street.


The Iraqi president quite neatly managed to remind the Arab street of his sterling nationalist credentials

Popular Arab nationalist sentiment is still smarting from the historical legacy of colonialism; the belief persists, even now, that the Arabs are not masters of their own fate but simply pawns in a much larger game of political chess played by distant powers.

By wishing for the Kuwaitis what Saddam Hussein claimed to wish for his own people - namely the freedom to live "without foreigners controlling your destiny, will, decisions, wealth, present and future" - the Iraqi president quite neatly managed to remind the Arab street of his sterling nationalist credentials while simultaneously pointing to the degree to which other regimes have failed to maintain their independence.

Not content to let the point be made by implication, he targeted Kuwait as one of the countries he had in mind.

US troops

The presence of foreign troops in the Arabian Peninsula has always been an object of concern to the Arab public, despite the recognition that they contribute to the stability of the region.

Public misgivings regarding the presence of such troops are on the rise, a fact which owes more to increasing discontent with US foreign policy in the Israel-Palestine conflict rather than concern for the fate of Iraq.


In his dying days, Saddam Hussein has rediscovered the roots of the Baath party

Capitalising on this potential schism between the rulers and public opinion in countries such as Kuwait, Saddam Hussein described Kuwait as under "direct military occupation" and called on Kuwaitis to expel foreign forces from their land.

"Why will not the faithful, the devoted and the holy warriors in Kuwait meet with their counterparts in Iraq under the blanket of their creator, instead of under the blanket of London or Washington and the Zionist entity, to discuss their matters on top of which is the jihad against the occupation of infidel armies?" he said.

Re-awakening

Only such a war would allow Kuwait and Iraq to eradicate the damage done by the Gulf War, the Iraqi leader explained. This would be the only way to cleanse the nation of its sins - not the Iraqi or Kuwaiti nation of course, but the Arab nation as a whole, still paying the price of its collaboration with the West, its betrayal of its authentic values and its inherent weakness.

Only a revival could save the day, a rebirth of real Arab nationalism which would rid the region of foreign interference, neo-imperialist plotting and nefarious designs.

The best vehicle for this rebirth is, naturally enough, the Baath of Saddam Hussein - not in its limited expression as a political party, but in the long-dormant sense of a re-awakening of consciousness across the Middle East.

In his dying days, the Iraqi leader has rediscovered the roots of the party laid out by Michel Aflaq - a much broader, cultural understanding of Baathism rather than one which uses it as a mere vehicle to gain power.

Saddam Hussein's tactic is to encourage the Arab masses to rise up against their leaders, a popular uprising without organisation or ideology.

Ironically, it may well be in the demise of the Baath party that the long-dormant renewal might occur. And it may not necessarily be for the best.

Daniel Neep is the head of the Middle East and North Africa programme at RUSI in London.

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Saddam has no need to play to Arab opinion when American/Israeli/British foreign policy is enough to stir up the masses. The idea that Western troops in the Gulf contribute to the region's stability is irrational given that the current turmoil has arisen due to what Arabs perceive as Western imperialism in the region. It's also curious to read Mr. Neep's apology for America's inexcusable and illegal handling of the Iraq dossier, but hardly surprising when one considers the general tone of obedience to America which is evident throughout the article.
Frank Lee, USA

As an Arab Muslim, believe that Saddam is a great leader. The UK should never forget what happen in the revolution of 1920 against its occupation to Iraq and what happened in the war of 1941. Iraqis have a great ability aided by god to defeat any enemy who tries to invade our country
Aissar A Abou, Iraq

I find it interesting that the "Arab masses" do not seem to include the Iraqis. And for good reason: the "Arab masses" in Iraq want Saddam gone - by any means necessary.
Inna Tysoe, USA

Saddam Hussein is far too astute a politician to believe that an Anglo-American led invasion will spark the entire Arab World into an anti-western uprising. For over a hundred years both Britain and the United States have overtly and covertly intervened in the region without facilitating the creation of a united Arab world. Saddam's appeal to Arab opinion is aimed at restricting the room for manoeuvre of Arab nations such as Egypt and Syria - both of whom joined the coalition against him during the Gulf War. Saddam has probably also realised that the US does not really want a war - and that Bush is hoping Saddam's regime will implode. By thwarting attempts to build a broad coalition against him, Saddam aims eventually to persuade the US to accept some kind of settlement that will allow him to remain in power.
Richard Stammers, UK

As for Arab disenchantment at the waning of their civilisation in modern times, they have only themselves to blame (and I might add European colonial powers of a century ago who partitioned the Arab world, not the US, which unfortunately has inherited the title of "leader of the western world" and therefore the natural scapegoat). Only the Arabs can raise themselves up constructively to greatness again. All this talk of jihad and Western/Zionist plots against the Arab world just serves to funnel intense emotions and resources to destructive purposes, rather than constructive ones. It's unfortunate that so many disenfranchised Muslims have taken the low road, the lesser instead of the greater jihad if you will.
Michael, USA

A very well thought out article. Having just come back from that area (Operation Enduring Freedom) I have seen what the Arabs on the street think. They are generally uneducated and get all of their information from whoever delivers it in the most entertaining manner. And, they have a long simmering dislike for the West. I do not know how all of this will work out in the end, but I hope that cooler Arab heads prevail (as in the First Gulf War), and the US and its allies are able to finally solve the Iraq problem in a timely manner.
Stacy Mosko, USA

The unjust foreign policy of the United States is the root cause of the suffering of innocent people in many countries, including Iraq, Eritrea, and Palestine. Control of foreign resources, like oil, should not come at the expense of other people's suffering. Although Saddam Hussein is unjust himself, his resistance to foreign domination is legitimate. As long as the US promotes its own interests at the expense of other people's pain, incidents like that of September 11 may occur again. It is in the nature of humans to react to injustice.
Teamrat Tesfay, Canada

Excellent analysis of MidEast situation, in particular as regards Saddam.BR> Robert Lantz, USA

I don't like Saddam because he is a very dangerous man. But I agree with him that Westerners used us to control our resources and our destiny. Even now, after so many years living in Canada, I see how the US and UK use our resources to help Israel. I can see and feel it in my every day life. I am not even Arab. We do not deserve the way in which you guys use us.
Kazem Atighetchi, Canada

Saddam Hussein is a weasel. His attempts to hoodwink the Western world seem to be paying off. Thank God for the resolve of the US and the UK. Anyone who remembers the Gulf War and the lead up to it should always keep in mind that he will trick, deceive and lie his way out of any situation. He is trying the same ploy now. The thing that worries me is people believe him!
Ann Sutherland, Canada

Brits and Americans have lost all perspective. By today's perverse standards, the League of Nations would have forced Britain to stop deployment of radar sites, cease production of the Spitfire, and agree to replace Churchill with a Nazi puppet. How can anyone in their right mind expect Arabs to accept the same degree of interference in the domestic affairs of their sovereign nations by George Bush? It is only right for the Arab masses to rise up against foreign occupation and aggression!
Richard, USA

The scariest thing about the showdown between Iraq and the US is that it seems Saddam is winning the propaganda war. He claims to be concerned about his Arab brethren but anyone who believes this must have forgotten that he has slaughtered his own people and attacked two of his neighbours just to increase his personal power base. One of the main reasons why there is a build up of foreign troops in the region is because of the conflict that Saddam has caused himself. He's a classic dictator and a threat to peace in the region.
James, USA

I hope the 'Arab Street' is intelligent enough to see Saddam for what he is and, appropriately, let the US and whoever else wants to do the dirty work finish him off. Once the 'Arab Street' gets a taste of prosperity and freedom, they won't go back. The 'colonial' issue is a scapegoat for domestic incompetence and corruption, as are Zionism, US imperial aspirations, and however many other excuses Arab governments tell their people. I know too many Arab Canadians to believe the populations of these countries are going to be so easily fooled. No doubt Saddam will reach those who want to hear what he has to say, and perhaps they will continue their jihad against the West. But they should understand that they will not win, and all they will bring is increased suffering unto themselves. Arab governments must put on a grim face and protest US war efforts, mostly for public opinion, though, I would think. Behind closed doors, the truth is well known. Kuwaitis know Saddam and will not be deceived, and neither will the majority of Arabs.
James, Canada

What Saddam has told the Arab world might be new to Western world but not at all new to most Arabs. The American's cow boyish approach has awakened even the most foolish. The war this time, if it takes place, will surely draw a great rift between Arabs/Muslims and the Western world. The world may change for ever.
Said al-Mughairy, Oman

What or Who gives the west the power to act as big brother to the world? I am completely against the regime of Saddam and the likes of Saddam, but I understand that they are rebelling against the west (US) as even other western countries do. Saddam's plan to "turn" the Arabic world against the west is not new, but it may lead to the next war.
Stuart Donaldson, Netherlands

US & UK meddling in the Middle East is playing right into the hands of Osama Bin Laden. He despises Saddam and the Saudi royal family in equal measure and is not appealing to their regimes to get rid of the Americans but to the Ummah or the Arab community of believers. Saddam was put in power by the CIA (described at the time as "our favourite coup") but is no longer required (sacrificed millions of people stemming the Iranian Islamic revolution in the 80s) and is a hindrance to tapping in to the oil because he nationalised it. US foreign policy has always favoured imposing and propping up hated dictators (South America with Pinochet, Africa with Mobuto) because for them to survive, they have to set up a terror machine to subject dissent, thus making them easy to patronise and control.
Charles Monroe, Ireland

Imperialism hasn't disappeared, it has just taken a modern form and both the UK and US are after the Iraq's oil. And why is Iraq being targeted, while Israel is in violation of UN sanctions? Isn't that double standards?
irfan shah, UK

Saddam is coming out as honest and more skilled than Bush. Bush only looks for war. He doesn't understand that nobody will show any other nation their military secrets in the same way that Saddam did. Bush may need to learn something from Saddam.
Raj, CANADA

The fact that we discuss the fate of the Iraqi people so lightly, and only by reference to the actions of their dictator Saddam shows just how big the problem really is. I look forward to a day when I can make friendship with people from that country.
Jordan, USA

What was the American administration thinking of when they short-tracked the declaration, with the excuse that they had more secure copy facilities. They have in fact made the declaration invalid by this action. Now Saddam has the opportunity to state that the original documents have been tampered with by the Americans.
A. Randall, The Netherlands

The biggest casualties of this war are the Arab/Muslim nations, the American people, the American companies and the American values. The biggest winners of this war are: Israel, George Bush and his re-election team for 2004 elections and extremists in the Islamic world who are going to be flooded with young volunteers who lost their parents either due to war or the poverty that caused by the effects of the war.
Amaar, USA


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