Arab opinion of Iraq

Why do Arab countries by and large oppose the US attacking Iraq?
Has it been forgiven from invading Kuwait? Are they frightened of Iraq or do they hate the USA that much?

I think it differs among the countries. This essay explains (from last March):

I’m not sure how the support is currently running.

From this article in the current issue of Time, it seems that Saddam has lost a lot of support in the Arab world. That’s not to say they’re in favor of war, however.

Arabs may or may not like Saddam Hussein. But they like America even less. They hugely, hugely resent what they perceive as America’s interference, imperialism, heavy-handedness and greed for their oil.

Even in Kuwait - the people who arguably should be the most “pro-America” - there is hugely anti-feeling. (And not just in this region, think of the resentment against US troops in South Korea). Regardless of the good work or benefit they may or may not be providing, their presence is hugely, hugely resented from all sides.

I work with several Iraqis who loathe Saddam. They think he is evil and dangerous. But they hate the threat of war even more, because they know their friends and families back home will suffer even more. They want Saddam gone, but on their own terms. They are also extremely bitter at the suffering caused by sanctions.

Given the mindsets of people like this, it is easy to see how much better it would be to push diplomacy and internal revolution - a coup as “bloodless” as is possible - rather than having US troops go in and take over.

Given that US presence in the region is one of the main things enraging the (mad) terrorists, the danger as I see is this anger filtering down more and more to moderate elements of Arab society. Even most of us (westerners) here shake our heads with disbelief and sadness every day at Bush’s attitude. Maybe he does have some miraculously clever solution up his sleeve, but from where we’re sitting it looks like a huge, and dangerous, gulf of understanding.

I fear for my relatives back home in the UK. I fear for innocent people in America. I even fear for innocent Israelis the hornet’s nest that is being stirred up by all this, beyond anything Sharon could stir up alone by his aggression in Palestine. I fear that even if this is just “posturing”, or a game of “chicken”, the US really has not read the Iraqi mindset well enough for it to succeed, or to force Saddam out without truly dire consequences.

Perhaps, in part at least, there’s a fear that the US is simply pro-oil and anti-brown-people, and that they’re not given much more respect in Washington than Iraq is? After Saddam’s ass is kicked, assuming it is, whose is next?

Great OP; this is a nice opportunity to explain this from the “other side of the fence,” as it were. The “why” you are wanting an answer to has a lot to do with the social politics of the Middle East in general, and especially in the last 30 years. Briefly, it goes like this:

Throughout the late 70’s and early 80’s, most of the Gulf was not considered very developed; countries such as Iraq, Saudi, and Kuwait loomed over the others. Lebanon, once considered the most metropolitan of Arab countries, was suffering a brutal and debilitating civil war; Egypt, though populous, was still mostly agrarian and undeveloped; Jordan was stable, but small and economically stagnant; Syria was closed; UAE and Bahrain were developing and investing, but focusing inward. Saudi and Kuwait were ostensibly wealthy and attempting massive modernization programs; Iraq was arguably the most advanced country in the region, as far as industrialization, education, and economy are concerned, but was also heavily concentrating on it’s military capabilities (unlike most of the other Arab nations). Oil wealth was supporting all of the most successful countries at the time; in Iraq, however, a secular government was in power, and there was actually, to the Arab mind, a semblance of modernity. For example, Iraq was investing in it’s infrastructure, relatively open to Western influence, and was something of an assistance to it’s Sunni Arab neighbors: Iraqi support for the Palestinians has existed for many years (they actually shut down relations with Jordan in 71 over that country’s actions towards its Palestinian population), and it has often been the spearhead of Pan-Arabism throughout the region. Saddam’s coup in '79 marked a definite change in the country, but the leadership since the overthrow of the monarchy had been mostly despotic, in any case; Hussein was simply the logical culmination of the Ba’athist regimes.

In most of the Arab world, therefore, Iraq was not seen to be particularly evil; even during the Iran/Iraq war, Iraq was largely seen to be on the “good” side, especially considering that the majority of the Arab world is Sunni, not Shi’a. Throughout this same period, countries such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have not enjoyed a good reputation; in fact, during the same time period (late-70’s to late 80’s), most Arabs could be said to have placed Saudis and Kuwaitis on their “most-hated” lists, even above the Israelis. Both countries were known for their elitist and arrogant attitudes, poor treatment of foreigners and other Arabs, and lack of support for both Pan-Arab and Palestinian causes. Iraq had made it known, ever since just before Kuwait independence in 1961, that it saw the area as simply another province, and that Kuwait had no real right of existence as a country (the Iraqis agreed to recognize sovereignty in 1963, but have continually bickered about it ever since). As Iraq increased its military capabilities, it more and more eyed Kuwait; although the Iraqis have a large amount of oil, they saw the main restriction to its exploitation as the lack of decent port facilities. Basra is the only real port in Iraq; both the Shatt al Arab (main cause of the Iran/Iraq war) and Kuwait offer serious expansion capabilities, and have therefore been fairly obvious targets for Iraqi expansion.

Sorry I had to lay out such preparation, but, to get back to the original question, historically, it was really no surprise to anyone that Iraq was going to eventually make some kind of attempt on Kuwait; the Iran/Iraq war had been fought to a bloody and costly draw, with Iraq still not able to utilize the Shatt al Arab as expansion of its port capabilities. Kuwait had ready made port facilities, its own oil wells, and an amassed wealth that made it quite attractive; Iraq still had a sizeable army that was relatively well-equipped, and didn’t see that there would be a huge outcry if they simply occupied Kuwait. At the time, Kuwait was not an ally of the US, and there were disputes between the two countries involving debt repayment and border determination; there was also much internal dissention within Kuwait, as the government had yet again (in 1986) dissolved the national assembly, and was strongly controlling its re-formation. In fact, Iraq, after the invasion, stated that it had received an “invitation” to invade from insurgents that had already overthrown the government; although this was found to be patently untrue, there were many Arabs that easily believed that an internal coup was entirely possible, such was the amount of unrest in Kuwait at the time. In Bahrain, which lies a short distance from both Saudi and Kuwait, the news of the invasion was not particularly stirring; it didn’t receive front page status in the local newspaper until a few days after the fact. The Saudis, of course, were alarmed: they saw themselves as a possible next target, and wanted attention brought on the subject. But even the Arab League didn’t unanimously condemn the invasion: only 14 of 21 states agreed to a formal censure of Iraq, and just 12 agreed to form a “Protective” force to prevent Saddam from going into Saudi Arabia. In general, the Arab countries favored a “non-military” response to the Iraqi invasion; it wasn’t until 4 months of occupation had gone by that they were finally turning to a military option, and many believe that was only at the instigation of the US, under the guise of Operation Desert Shield. So I think it is safe to say that a large majority of the Arab world (outside of Saudi Arabia) was not particularly concerned about the Iraqis, whether they were in Kuwait or not; no forgiveness was really needed. I think it is even safe to say that had Saddam pulled out of Kuwait by December, the incident would have been largely forgotten; certainly most of his neighbors would have simply written it off as the Kuwaitis having “played with fire” once too often.

As such, the socio-political landscape here has not changed a great deal since Desert Storm: most Arabs still dislike and resent the Saudis and Kuwaitis, most see the Iraqis as having paid a much heavier penalty then was warranted for their actions, and most can easily see that further actions by outside parties will seriously disrupt the current situation, economically, politically, and strategically. It is very hard for the average Arab to even see why the US is concerned: the Kuwaitis are just as despotic as before, they and Saudis dislike Americans more than ever before, and Iraq is at an economic level more akin to Pakistan or Bangladesh than to most of the Arab states. Add to this attitude the opinion that Americans blindly support the Israelis against the Palestinians, Osama bin Laden’s rantings about American hatred of Muslims (which get wide play in the Arab world, although the average Arab is educated enough to see the fallaciousness of his arguments and his opportunistic changes in focus), and the general support for the Iraqi people, and I think it becomes quite natural to see where the Arabs don’t really see a need for an attack on Saddam.

Although there are Arabs that have come to hate America, this is mostly due to what they see us standing for; to the average American, we stand for freedom, courage, and the basic rights that our Constitution enshrines. To many Arabs, however, they see us as wielding our power in support of despotic monarchies (Saudi and Kuwait, for example), in support of the Israelis in what they term “illegal” and “immoral” acts (settlements in the Occupied Territories, destruction of houses of families of suicide bombers, etc.), and, basically, our using our status as the only superpower to bully and force things our way. Though many in the West and particularly the US see our way of life as exemplary, most Arabs don’t: a democratic Iraq may sound great, but not if it is imposed by us. There is a basic idea that each people needs to construct its own plan, be it right or wrong; of course, that doesn’t mean that an entity is allowed to subjugate or threaten its neighbors, but there is a fundamental right to self-determination. The US was a strong supporter of such a policy in the past; most Arabs don’t see the current “evidence” against Iraq as strong enough to warrant a compromise of that policy. This isn’t to say that most actually like Saddam; on the contrary, his brutality to his own people is well-known, and highly disliked. However, the Kuwaitis and Saudis have been well-known for their abuses of people within their realms, as have the Syrians and even the Jordanians (the quelling of the Palestinian or Fedayeen groups being a sore spot still); Saddam’s use of gas on the Kurds was a horrible event, but both the Iranians and the Turks have killed many Kurds (and other ethnic minorities) in their fairly recent pasts.

I have tried to put together a clear answer to the OP; sorry if I digressed at times. If there are clarifications that need to be made, please let me know; I have been away for a couple of weeks, but am now able to check the board regularly.

Thanks -


greco_loco: Completely off-topic, but I just wanted to mention how pleased I am you have joined the board and are involving yourself in these sort of discussions ( which frankly I have partially burnt out on participating in myself ). Always good to see an informed, articulate, even-handed voice :).

  • Tamerlane

Tamerlane - thanks for the support. :o Coming from one who seems to be about the calmest and most educated in these matters, it is seriously appreciated.

Glad I can be of some use.