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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 May, 2004, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
Analysis: US fails to placate Arabs

By Paul Wood
BBC Middle East correspondent

There is no sign that President Bush has been able to undo the damage caused by the photographs of Iraqi prisoners being humiliated by the very troops sent to liberate them.

Bush on Al Arabiya
Audiences across the Arab world watched Bush on TV

Looking at the front pages in Cairo this morning, President Bush might be forgiven for feeling he might as well not have bothered going on television to try to woo Arab opinion.

The problem for the Americans is that no-one in the Arab world believes these are isolated incidents; everyone expects far worse yet to come.

So al-Wafd, an opposition newspaper in Egypt, shows what are described as photographs of American soldiers shooting civilians from a helicopter in Iraq - a story with unhelpful echoes of Vietnam.

Mass rape of women by Americans, disgrace for the Arabs
Cairo newspaper headline

Al-Ahrar, another Egyptian newspaper, leads with the slightly incredible tale that the military authorities in Baghdad are subcontracting the running of prisons to an American security company well known, the paper says, for making money off drugs and kidnapping girls for prostitution.

US military intelligence needs someone to do its dirty work in Iraq, the paper says.

The headline in another newspaper reads simply "Mass rape of women by Americans, disgrace for the Arabs".

The newspapers here in Cairo also report that the Arab street is boiling and show a picture of an old woman praying in the street for the defeat of the Americans in Iraq.

No apology

This is what people are reading and hearing across the Arab world this morning and it is already drowning out what President Bush has to say.

The only thing President Bush could have done to satisfy them was to announce a complete and immediate withdrawal of American forces from Iraq

The reaction on the Arab satellite channels and in the Arab street was little different - President Bush's performance was not seen as convincing.

Mr Bush did call what happened in Abu Ghraib abhorrent.

But the people we spoke to faulted the US president for not seeming angry enough and for not apologising.

Tough sell

I watched the broadcast with a middle-class Egyptian family.

They listened as Mr Bush said that in democracies people made mistakes, but the important thing was to face up to those mistakes and correct them.

A group of bound Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, Iraq in this undated photo. (AP Photo/Courtesy of The New Yorker)
The pictures were seen worldwide (AP Photo/Courtesy The New Yorker)

In common with most people in the region though, the family I was with saw the Abu Ghraib photographs not as an aberration, but as part of a systematic pattern of abuses, the true face of the occupation.

The only thing President Bush could have done to satisfy them was to announce a complete and immediate withdrawal of American forces from Iraq.

The commentary on al-Arabiya, one of the two stations to interview the president, was sceptical.

Arab satellite channels like al-Arabiya have been criticised by the US-led coalition, accused of hostile inflammatory and inaccurate reporting.

Now those channels feel vindicated and also believe there are many new allegations of abuse yet to come out.

This was always going to be a tough sell for President Bush.

People in the Arab world are still angry. They are cynical about American motives and disbelieving of the US president.

The BBC's Paul Wood reports from Cairo
"The problem is, most Arabs believe these are not isolated incidents"


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