an iranian on iraq and arab reaction

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    April 11, 2003

    A REGIME regarded by every sane person as the worst the Arabs have seen in contemporary history has collapsed with relatively few casualties and limited material damage.

    The Baathist criminals who killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including some by chemical weapons, over a quarter of a century, are either dead or will soon be captured and tried. For the first time since 1958 Iraq has a chance to dream of something other than bloody dictatorship.

    Logically, Arabs should be jubilant. But some of the Western media tell us that they are not. Are Arabs masochists? The answer is no.

    Arabs can be divided into three groups with regard to the war to liberate Iraq.

    The first consists of Arab regimes, most of them despotic, who secretly wished to see the end of Saddam Hussein while praying that they would escape a similar fate.

    The second consists of the Arab masses who, as yesterday's scenes of jubilation showed in Baghdad, are happy to see at least one of their oppressors kicked into the dustbin of history.

    The so-called "Arab street" did not explode in countries outside Iraq, thus disappointing the don't-touch-Hussein lobby in the West. All in all, 17 demonstrations were held in four Arab countries. The largest, organised by the Syrian Government in Damascus, attracted just 12,000 people.

    Then we have the long-distance heroes, corrupt and confused elites who, tortured by what is left of their numbed consciences, still hope that someone else's sacrifices will somehow redeem them. These are not Iraqis. They are people far from the scene of the conflict who urged the Iraqis to die in large numbers so that they could compose poems in their praise or pen incendiary columns inciting them to martyrdom. They dreamed of a second Vietnam or, failing that, at least a Stalingrad in Baghdad.

    Much of the Arab media went hysterical about imaginary battles in which resisting Iraqis supposedly inflicted massive losses on "the invaders". They forecast a war that would last "for years", if not "until the end of time".

    Al-Ahram, the Egyptian Government weekly, promised that "the heroic Iraqis, ready to fight to the last of their blood", would turn their country into "a vast graveyard for America's imperial dreams".

    Many Arab newspapers imported their illusions from the West. Throughout the war, the Saudi, Egyptian and Lebanese press syndicated hundreds of articles from British and French anti-war newspapers. (The Saudi Arab News, for example, ran up to 10 articles from The Independent each day.)

    The headlines screamed "Americans slaughter civilians" and "Thousands of Iraqis prepare for suicide missions". None of that happened. The Iraqis proved to be wiser than some of their Arab brethren had assumed.

    The Iraqi army, which suffered from Hussein's savagery as much as other Iraqi institutions, decided not to fight from the start. Its units did not become involved in a single engagement, above company level, against the coalition forces.

    Iraq's elite 4th Army Corps, based in the southeast, for example, evaporated. Had the Iraqi army and people wanted to fight, coalition tanks would not have reached the gates of Baghdad in two weeks.

    The first Gulf War, for the liberation of Kuwait, lasted six weeks – including only 100 hours of ground fighting – and indicated the unwillingness of the Iraqi army to fight for the despot. (By comparison, the war to liberate Kosovo from Serbian terror lasted 11 weeks, and the war to liberate Afghanistan from the Taliban took nine weeks.)

    When it became clear that the army was intelligent enough not to fight in defence of its oppressor, the long-distance heroes began urging civilians to go and get killed in large numbers in the forlorn hope of keeping Hussein in power.

    The fugitive terrorist Osama bin Laden, or whoever pretends to be him, issued a statement calling on Iraqis to commit suicide, presumably so that he could have a chuckle in his grotto. The sheikh of al-Azhar seminary in Cairo, and Hussein Fadlallah, the Hezbollah spiritual chief in Lebanon, issued fatwas for jihad which they mistakenly take to mean holy war, and then went to bed, leaving the fight to Iraqi "candidates for martyrdom". The Iraqi people ignored them.

    The Iraqis did not wish to suffer the fate of the Palestinians, that is to say, to die in large numbers for decades so that other Arabs, safe in their homes, would feel good about themselves. The Iraqis know that had the Palestinians not listened to their Arab brethren, they would have had a state in 1947, as decided by the UN Security Council. The Iraqis know that each time the Palestinians became heroic to please other Arabs they lost even more.

    These days the Arab media is full of articles about how the Arabs feel humiliated by what has happened in Iraq, how they are frustrated, how they hate the US for having liberated the people of Iraq from their oppressor, and how they hope that the Europeans, presumably led by Jacques Chirac, will ride to the rescue to preserve a little bit of Hussein's legacy with the help of the UN.

    Thank god the peoples of Iraq, not deceived by Arab hyperbole, are ignoring such nonsense.

    Are the long-distance heroes humiliated? If they are, so what? They should jump in a river. Iraq is free and, despite its legitimate concerns about the future, cautiously happy.

    Amir Taheri, an Iranian, is the author of The Cauldron – The Middle East Behind the Headlines. This article first appeared in British newspaper The Times.
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