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Iraq: Diplomacy Effort Wins Little Support

By David Nissman

Prague, 8 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The war of words now emanating from Baghdad is the inevitable response to Desert Fox.

While the military operation was an air war of bombs and missiles in which the United States and Great Britain were sure to prevail, Iraq's response has been and is a barrage of words in which Baghdad might prevail.

Both were preplanned. U.S. strategists had generated a list of targets that would avoid as many civilian casualties as possible. Iraqi strategists are targeting only civilians. Baghdad has no military capability equivalent to that possessed by the U.S.; thus words are its only effective ammunition.

In Iraqi terms, their targets are guided by an apparent schism between the official Arab response to Desert Fox and the response of the somewhat more malleable Arab masses. The Arab masses were the primary target of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's speech delivered on the 78th anniversary of the establishment of the Iraqi army. Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz carried the same message in a lengthy article broadcast by Iraqi radio the same day as its appearance in the pro-government "Al-Jumhuriyyah" newspaper on January 5.

Inspiration for both the speech and article were provided by pan-Arabism, an idea involving a search for a pan-Arab solution to all matters concerning Arab states and excluding any kind of outside interference. The motivating factor was the delay in an Arab summit which had been planned to discuss and resolve issues arising from Desert Fox. According to both Hussein and Aziz, the delay was caused by the non pan-Arab official reactions of both Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

From Iraq's perception, the strong contrast between these official reactions and the popular reaction involving mass demonstrations and protests against the bombing is an exploitable commodity. In his Army Day speech, Saddam called upon the pan-Arab masses, especially in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to rise up and cast out their governments.

Baghdad's goal is the preservation of the present Iraqi government and leadership. This self-preservation, the Iraqi authorities maintain, is vital to the preservation of Iraq's sovereignty. In other words, Saddam is not the problem but the solution.

Other Arab countries, however, perceive Saddam and his aggression in the 1980-88 war with Iran, and the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, as the problem.

The day after Hussein's Army Day speech, the Egyptian newspaper "Al-Ahram" said Hussein urged the Arab peoples to revolt against the Arab regimes as if the Iraqi regime had appointed itself a judge to pass the verdict that the Arab leaders had separated from their people.

It is still too early to say if Saddam's oration and Aziz's somewhat less emotional words will have any effect on the Arab masses they have targeted. A spokesman for the U.S. Department of State said on January 6 that Saddam had no support anywhere in the Arab world. When and if the Arab League meets later this month, it will be possible to determine if there is any residual support for Bathist Iraq, or whether the country's isolation will continue.