The deadly bombing of the U.N. compound in Baghdad last week has spurred Arab commentators to gauge Iraq’s future with a combination of fear and cynicism. Many note bitterly that a war ostensibly against terrorism has in fact transformed Iraq into fertile ground for terror groups.
“All Arab governments immediately condemned the U.N. bombing,” says Rami Khouri, editor of the Daily Star newspaper in Beruit, Lebanon. But Arab public opinion was more revealing, Khouri says, ranging from “This is a terrible crime, but no surprise,” to the darker, “It was inevitable, given what the United States did with its aggressive army.”
“There’s a ‘we told you so’ feeling among Arabs,” Khouri says. “We told you this would open up a Pandora’s Box of violence and instability in the region.”
Columnist Jihad Al Khazen echoed the sentiment in the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper. “The U.S. is now paying in Iraq the price for the lies it made up to justify the war,” he wrote. “U.S. presence in Iraq is like the story in the Torah of a house built on sand.”
But Al Khazen concludes, “I am still convinced that Saddam Hussein’s regime could not have been overthrown had it not been for the American attack, and any future regime, except for a civil war, would be better... Damn that person who caused all this, that coward who wasted Iraq’s independence and ran away.”
Jalal Ghazi translates and monitors Arab media for the “Mosaic News” program of WorldLink TV in San Francisco. He says the U.N. bombing and other recent attacks point to the unintended consequences of the U.S.-led invasion.
“Before the occupation of Iraq, there was much state terror, but no active terrorist organizations in the country,” Ghazi says. “Now you can add Iraq to the list of areas of the world where terrorism flourishes.”
Ghazi says that a whole host of groups, foreign and indigenous, are now attacking U.S. troops in Iraq. Rami Khouri agrees, saying, “Iraq has become to America what Afghanistan was to the Russians—an arena for anyone around the world who wants to fight it.”
U.S. occupation of Iraq has brought two formerly bitter enemies—the supporters of Osama bin Laden and those of Saddam Hussein—together, Ghazi says. “They now have a common objective: the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Ironically, this is what bin Laden called upon his supporters to do before the start of the war.”
The possibility that the U.N. bombing and the growing violence could hasten a U.S. withdrawal worries Ghazi. “I think a civil war could develop. Already, Shia Arabs in Iraq are being criticized by some Arab commentators because they’re not supporting the resistance.”
Halim Al Aaraji, writing in Al Hayat, concurs, noting on Aug. 21, “The majority of Iraqis believe that if the Americans were to immediately withdraw, Iraq would head straight into disaster ... and pave the way for a potentially destructive civil war.”
An Aug. 21 editorial in the Arab News, an English-language daily in Saudi Arabia, takes a different view. The U.N. attack will backfire on the perpetrators, which it guesses are Hussein loyalists upset at recent U.N. moves perceived as supportive of U.S. occupation.
“When the history of the last stand of the Baath Party diehards comes to be written,” the paper writes, “the attack on the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad will almost certainly be seen as their major mistake.”
The editorial compares the attack to a soccer team foolishly kicking a ball into its own goal and concludes, “George W. Bush’s campaign to involve more countries in suppressing Baathist resistance in Iraq has probably just become a whole lot easier.”
Nidal Ibrahim edits and publishes Arab American Business Magazine from Los Angeles, Calif. He says that while most Arab Americans have long recognized that the United States is involved in a guerrilla war in Iraq, “the U.N. (bombing) was something altogether unexpected.”
Ibrahim says he’s spoken to Iraqi Americans who have traveled to Baghdad since Saddam’s regime ended. They’ve reported “a tremendous amount of dissatisfaction with the U.S.” among local Iraqis.
It’s a sentiment common to Arab Americans, Ibrahim says. Whether accurate or not, he says, the feeling among many Arab Americans is that the United States has not prioritized the rebuilding of Iraq to benefit Iraqis, and that the Bush administration has squandered initial gratitude to U.S. forces for toppling Saddam.
“It’s incredibly frustrating to sit here and watch it happen,” Ibrahim says.
Khouri, the editor in Beruit, says he recognizes and is greatly saddened by a “degenerative situation” in Iraq all too common to the Arab world. “It’s more and more violence against more and more targets. The U.N. people are about as pure and noble as you can get.”
Brian Shott, an editor at PNS, talked to Arab American commentators in California and the Middle East.