by Robert Fisk
March 2, 2003
It was pathetic. The President of the United Arab Emirates – too old and too sick to visit Sharm el-Sheikh – sent a message begging Saddam Hussein to go into exile, just as the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, had told the Arabs to do last Thursday, when he urged them to get President Saddam "out of the way and let some responsible leadership take over in Baghdad".
Even the Saudis didn't oppose the Emirates' plea, while the Egyptians – host to the Arab League summit – could only claim that they were "not in the business of changing one regime for another". How much does it cost to produce this kind of subservience? In Egypt's case, $3bn (£1.9bn) in US aid and other credits, plus another $1bn in gifts. Another $1bn for Jordan, which has just accepted US troops on its territory – only to man Patriot missile batteries, of course.
Money seems to make the Arab world go round. The Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram and the Saudi newspaper Al-Hayat are singing the Emirates' tune and demanding a "regime change" in Baghdad. Turkey – not an Arab country – is waiting for its $26bn in promises to let the US army tramp across its border into Iraq.
Syria alone – since it may well be number two on Washington's list for "regime change" – said that it was a mistake to identify the Iraqi leadership as the source of the current crisis. President Bashar Assad said that America wanted Iraq's oil and wished to "redraw the region's map". The latter is undoubtedly true, since Mr Powell unwisely admitted just that last week. "We are all targeted ... we are all in danger," President Assad said.
The Iraqis, needless to say, responded with considerable anger to President Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan's demand from the Emirates. Other Arab leaders were meanwhile scurrying to form a consensus over whether they should send one of their beloved delegations just to Baghdad, or to Baghdad, the US, the UN and the EU as well.
What it came down to was whether the Arabs should allow the Americans the use of their territory to attack Iraq or whether – this from President Assad of Syria – they should ban the US from their territory if they wished to use it as a springboard for war. The Kuwaitis, liberated from Iraqi occupation by the US and its coalition partners 12 years ago, said that this view was "not realistic". The real problem is that the US is already, in effect, in occupation of a fairly large number of Arab nations.
US forces control half of Kuwait; they are in Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman and in Jordan. Every one of these countries will be called an "ally" if – when – the Americans storm over the border into Iraq. So will Turkey. So, probably, will Egypt. And so, of course, will Israel.
Robert Fisk is an award winning foreign correspondent for The Independent (UK), where this article first appeared. He is the author of Pity Thy Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon (The Nation Books, 2002 edition)