Disillusion, Anger on the Arab Street

by Firas Al-Atraqchi

Dissident Voice

March 21, 2003


Feelings of anger and outrage in the Arab world are becoming more vocal as the first day of military action winds down.


At approximately 5 AM Baghdad time, U.S. warships and submarines in the Persian Gulf launched 42 Tomahawk cruise missiles at "selected targets" where the CIA determined Iraqi President Saddam Hussein might be residing.


They missed. Ninety minutes later, Saddam Hussein, appearing tired and somewhat unorganized in a televised speech, debunked rumors that he had been killed.


Meanwhile, U.S. officials are divided over whether the man in the televised speech was actually Saddam or a body double.


Nevertheless, Arabs have taken to the street to protest a number of things.


The first, as one may expect, concerns the actual beginning of hostilities. While most Arabs are not supporters of Saddam and openly resent him, they are very much against a war in which innocent Iraqi civilians will be killed.


The second matter of protestation focuses on the fact that the U.S. cruise missile attack came at precisely the same time as the fajr (dawn) call to prayer for Muslims. Arab sentiment, relayed to this writer, believes that such timing was no coincidence and was a message to the Muslim world.


The third matter of protestation involves the announcement by White House officials today that Israel had been granted a 10 billion (U.S.) dollar military aid and loan guarantee package.


U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told "Netanyahu that the [Bush] administration decided to raise the amount of the guarantees by $1bn over what had been planned because the Americans were impressed by the economic plan that has been presented to the government," Israel's finance ministry said in a statement.


The aid package is part of the U.S. administration's war budget.


Arab analysts have been hitting the airwaves claiming that the Israeli aid package is the most bungled public relations fiasco they have ever seen by a U.S. administration.


"To announce this package on the same day that Iraq is bombed is as stupid as it is arrogant," said Nabeel Ghanyoum, a military analyst in Syria. "This is effectively telling the Arab world, 'look we are bombing Iraq as we please and we are giving Israel as much financial aid [as] it wants.'"


Hours after Israel announced that it was receiving a $10bn aid package from the U.S., and after initial shock and anger from Arab governments, the White House is downplaying the news. According to the BBC, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters at a briefing: "We don't have any new decisions on that. The request has been made by the Israelis. The status today is the same as yesterday. We are looking at it. We are considering it."


In addition, news surfaced recently that the U.S. general who will oversee the alleged reconstruction of Iraq maintains strong ties with Jewish interests in and outside the U.S.


Lieutenant General Jay Garner "is said to maintain ties with the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs [JINSA], a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening American foreign and defense policy," says The Forward, a Jewish newspaper.


"In October 2000, shortly after the outbreak of the intifada, Garner was one of 26 American military leaders to sign a staunchly pro-Israel statement released by JINSA condemning the escalating violence," The Forward goes on to say.


Garner is known for his strong pro-Israeli ties and leanings. For example, the pro-Israel statement he signed in October stated: "the security of the State of Israel is a matter of great importance to U.S. policy in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean, as well as around the world. A strong Israel is an asset that American military planners and political leaders can rely on."


When told of Garner's appointment to head the reconstruction effort in Iraq, Ghanyoum was not surprised.


"Look, what is the one reason that was not discussed in the American media for this war? Israel, of course. So now the truth comes out after war has taken place. This is about securing Israel by eradicating Iraq and securing the oil wealth to that purpose."


At press time, twenty thousand Egyptian demonstrators battled riot police in Cairo, Egypt in one of the more violent clashes the city has seen, as they tried to storm the Israeli and U.S. embassies. The demonstrators called on Egypt to kick out both ambassadors.


Firas Al-Atraqchi, B.Sc (Physics), M.A. (Journalism and Communications), is a Canadian journalist with eleven years of experience covering Middle East issues, oil and gas markets, and the telecom industry. He is a columnist for YellowTimes.org, where this article first appeared. He can be reached at: firas6544@rogers.com



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