Iraq conflict heightens suspicions of US intentions

April 9, 2003

(ENI) While American-led coalition forces continue their progress in the Iraq war, the reaction in parts of the Arab world point to a continuing problem of perceptions over the underlying purposes of the war. An unflattering cartoon of US President George W. Bush, for example, appeared on Sunday on the front page of one of Jordan's Arabic-language newspapers. It depicted him attired in Texas cowboy garb, trying to corral Iraqi President Saddam Hussein with a lasso. Other newspapers featured graphic photographs of Iraqi troops and civilians maimed or killed by US military forces. The Jordan Times, an English-language newspaper, gave prominence to a report saying southern Iraqis had lost faith in US "invaders" and were "deeply disillusioned with the war." The same paper printed a photograph of Iraqis in Jordan greeting the appearance of the Iraqi leader on television with victory signs. Such reactions, in a region where there is long-standing distrust of US foreign policy, reveal, according to some church representatives on the ground, a depth of sustained anger that may prove difficult for the United States to overcome. "The war is destabilizing the region," said Edmond Adam, who heads the Amman, Jordan, office of the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC). "We don't know where we are headed," he told ENI in an interview as the war neared its third week. The television war In stark contrast to earlier wars in the Middle East which were not as extensively reported on the ground, the conflict in Iraq is marked by constant and detailed televised coverage. People do not like what they see, said Adam, particularly the civilian deaths that have been widely reported in the Arab media. "This is what is angering people in the region," he said. "Some of these so-called 'smart bombs' are dumb because they have hit the civilian population." The issue of weaponry being used in the war is carefully watched. In a statement on Sunday, UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, said it was concerned about reports that cluster bombs--bombs that maim with projectiles--were being used in densely populated urban areas. A group of US, Canadian and British peace activists who recently arrived in Amman from Baghdad told ENI in a 5 April interview they had seen civilians who appeared to be wounded by such weapons. The visibly shaken members of a group called Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) were dismayed by the US bombardment of Baghdad. The Iraqis kept asking them: "Why are Americans killing kids?" said activist Scott Kerr of Chicago. Symbol of resistance? Calling the US led-action against Iraq a "huge mistake," David Havard, an Anglican deacon from Sheffield, England, said many Iraqis saw Hussein as a kind of "symbol of resistance". Noting that even moderate leaders like Jordan's King Abdullah have condemned the US-led war against Iraq, Adam said Bush's claims that the war is an act of liberation were falling on deaf ears, given widespread cynicism about US support for Israel and stalled efforts to promote a Palestinian state. On Friday, the traditional Muslim day of prayer, thousands filled the streets of Amman for a third successive week protesting against what some called a US-led "crusade" against Arabic-speaking peoples and Islam. Arabs see Iraq and the issue of Israel and Palestinian independence as intertwined, noted Adam, and think the United States is "sacrificing Iraq and its people" for long-term strategic goals. --Chris Herlinger, ENI's US correspondent, has been on assignment in Jordan as a communications officer for Church World Service, the US-based relief and development agency of the National Council of Churches.