March 21, 2003 Special Dispatch No. 483

Countdown to War in Iraq - Arab Press Perspectives

March 21, 2003
Iraq | Special Dispatch No. 483

As most Arab dailies went to press in the early hours of the morning of March 20, they were anticipating the start of the war at any moment. Even after the passing of President Bush's declared deadline, some newspapers published commentaries which discussed ending the conflict by encouraging Saddam to seek asylum. The following are excerpts from various Arabic newspapers on this topic and others relating to the war:

Saddam Hussein on TV

A few hours after President Bush announced the start of the war, Saddam Hussein spoke on television. In a defiant speech, meant both for the Iraqi people and perhaps even more for the countries which oppose the war, he said:

"You have just noticed how frivolous Bush has ignored your calls for peace and [how] he has committed his despicable crime. On your behalf and on behalf of the Iraqi leadership and people - Iraq the civilization, history, and faith - we pledge to resist the invaders and drive them to the limit in which they will lose their patience so they will fail…"

Invoking poetry from historic Arab battles, Saddam called on the Iraqi people to "draw your swords, saddle the horses, prepare to charge and keep the fire burning."[1]

Political Asylum to Saddam

In an effort to contain the conflict, the Emir of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Issa Al-Khalifa, said his country was prepared to host the Iraqi president "venerably and generously."[2]On the other hand, Saudi Arabia has categorically denied that it is prepared to provide asylum to the Iraqi president.[3]

The Lebanese daily Al-Safir maintained that the Russian Embassy in Baghdad has kept 35 of its staff in Baghdad ready to accommodate Saddam Hussein and his family with their luggage and money and to transfer them aboard a Russian plane to an isolated villa in the vicinity of the Russian capital.

At the same time, Al-Safir reported that the French have closed the gates of their embassy publicly and in front of journalists' cameras to "dispel any doubt about the French position toward the Iraqi regime and to assure everyone abroad that Paris is not prepared to offer political asylum to Saddam or to any of his family or comrades."[4]

Thousands of Islamist Volunteers in Baghdad

The London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat quoted Islamist fundamentalists in London as stating that thousands of Arab Afghans (a term applied to Arabs who volunteered to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan) have entered Iraq to participate in suicide missions against American forces. The same sources also revealed that 2,500 Lebanese Islamists have been in Iraq for six months in special training camps.

In what the newspaper describes as "a gentleman's agreement" between the Iraqi government and the Islamists, the latter will be allowed to carry out their operations without operating under the banner of the Ba'ath party, as is a secular party.[5]

Arab Leaders Blame Saddam

President Hosni Mubarak, in a speech to the Egyptian people, expressed his regret at the failure of diplomatic efforts to avoid war. This was the result "of many mistakes, beginning with the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in 1990, which opened the door to the foreign presence, and the absence of any genuine Iraqi effort to deal with the crisis of confidence which ensured."[6]

In a statement read by his brother on television, the Emir of Kuwait declared: "The State of Kuwait does not toll the bells of wars, they are tolled by a regime which does not learn from experience [so as] to protect a group of adventurers and lovers of domination."[7]

The Saudi daily Al-Watan blamed the war on the policies of a leadership which participated in "reckless behavior." These policies, reported the paper, "are not useful in dealing with a unipolar [power] which the Iraqi abilities are unable to confront."[8]

Critical Views of the War

The ruling Syrian party newspaper, Al-Ba'th, published an article titled "America does not want to see a peaceful world?!" The article stated that "America with its enormous abilities and power cannot see the world in peace… Insanity alone can explain [the reason] it is being led by a group of murderer Zionists to draw a new map for the world."[9]

Under the title "A point of view—the final fall," the Syrian government daily Teshreen characterized President Bush's ultimatum to Saddam as falling "outside international legitimacy and the inhuman behavior [sic.] – it is entirely a war of the outlaws… The United States of America may win the battle against Iraq due to its immense power, but it will definitely lose the war… History is a witness [to] the fall of decadent empires of yesteryear."[10]

Writing about "Bankruptcy and War," the other Syrian government daily, Al-Thawra, cited the bankruptcy of American corporations as the primary reason for the U.S.'s drive to control Iraq's great oil wealth.[11]

The editor of the pro-Iraqi London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Abd Al-Bari Atwan, wrote under the heading "Unjust and Immoral War":

"No one expects that Iraq, besieged, starved and shunned by his Arab brethren, would be a challenge for the great American military machine which seeks to destroy it [Iraq] and keep it under occupation, but we have the right to expect Iraqi resistance in keeping with its status and deep-rooted civilized history."

"This war has been imposed on Iraq and its people, just like the two previous wars, in Iran and Kuwait, because the American invader wants occupation, the theft of wealth and to humble the Arab and Muslim nations through the subjugating and humbling of Iraq."[12]

The daily Al-Khaleej, published in Dubai, attributed the "debasement" of American policy regarding Iraq to President Bush's religious beliefs which have rendered his speeches more like "preaching than political directions and analysis." [13]In contrast, D. Nabil Luqa Babawi wrote in Al-Ahram that the war on Iraq is not a Crusader war because the cross and the New Testament do not condone it. "Indeed, the entire Christian world, including the Vatican, is against it. It is a war waged by America as an expression of its arrogance and its desire to control the oil as a means of controlling the world economy."[14]

[1]Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 20, 2003.

[2]Akhbar Al-Bahrain (Bahrain), March 20, 2003.

[3]Okaz (Saudi Arabia), March 20, 2003.

[4]Al-Safir (Lebanon), March 20, 2003.

[5]Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), March 20, 2003.

[6]Al-Ahram (Cairo), March 20, 2003.

[7]Al-Qabas (Kuwait), March 20, 2003.

[8]Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), March 20, 2003.

[9]Al-Ba'ath (Syria), March 20, 2003.

[10]Teshreen (Syria), March 20, 2003.

[11]Al-Thawra (Syria), March 20, 2003.

[12]Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), March 20, 2003.

[13]Al-Khaleej (United Arab Emirates), March 20, 2003.

[14]Al-Ahram (Cairo), March 20, 2003.

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