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Last Updated: Monday, 28 June, 2004, 16:42 GMT 17:42 UK
Arabs wary of Iraq handover

By Paul Wood
BBC Middle East correspondent

US soldier
Many Arabs oppose the US military presence in Iraq

The man who parks the cars on our street in Cairo waved us into our space and took the small folded Egyptian pound note with a smile.

He pocketed the money, then his face darkened.

"You are Americans," he said. "Americans are bad people."

After the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, that pretty much sums up the view of the ordinary man or woman in the Arab street.

So in the eyes of many Arabs, the legitimacy of the new Iraqi government will stand in direct proportion to how much distance it can put between itself and the United States.

The response from governments in the Middle East is more varied and more nuanced.

From America's allies in the Arab world, there has been a welcome for the transfer of authority.

Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah said the handover would prove to those attempting to destabilise the country that Iraqis were in charge and not Westerners.

Negative press

The Jordanian government too said it hoped the change would mean improved security and stability.

Neighbouring Syria - perhaps not surprisingly, given its poor relations with the US - made the opposite prediction.

A Syrian spokesman told an Arabic satellite channel that calm would return to Iraq only with the departure of US troops.

The mood in the Arab press is predominantly sceptical or hostile.

A newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, for instance, accused the Americans of using honey-coated words about freedom and the birth of a new Iraq, while the reality was occupation, destruction, chaos and the absence of true sovereignty.

It is too soon to tell yet whether the early handover of sovereignty will convince Arabs that Iraqi leaders are taking charge and that Iraq is not occupied, but independent.

The BBC's Orla Guerin
"Now Iraqis have the power and the problems"


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