U.S.: Strangers To Iraqis

Thousands of anti-war protesters cheer, as an American flag is burned at the al-Wihdat refugee camp for Palestinians, in Amman, Jordan, Friday March 21, 2003. Across Jordan protestors came out in the streets to voice their opposition to the US-led war in neighboring Iraq. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder) AP

The Arab world is beginning to explode — from Cairo, to Damascus, to Amman.

Young adults spearhead most of the protests, but the rage spans generations and political perspective, reports CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston.

"I feel that President Bush is barking up the wrong tree if he wants really to tell us that Iraq is threatening the United States," says Dr. Sari Nasir, a professor at the University of Jordan. "I think that this is not rational. Iraq is not and has never and could never threaten America — never ever."

Dr. Nasir studied at Harvard and MIT before he married an American and worked in the states for 13 years.

"I don't really like Saddam as such, but I think any change cannot be imposed from outside," says Dr. Nasir. "America must not ever think, you see, that it has the right to remove people and change systems."

In 1967, during the Six Day War, Nasir left Jerusalem and moved to Amman to watch the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unfold. It is, he says, the issue underlying the outrage over the war.

"Let's put it this way: the United States is coming to this part of the world because of wanting to remove Saddam because he is suppressing people — doing nothing about Israel who are suppressing the Palestinians," says Nasir.

But there are other issues at play. The Bush administration says the war in Iraq is supposed to open the window to democracy. That could mean trouble for many Arab regimes — few of which are democracies. Rulers are walking a political tightrope, balancing relations with the U.S. and their own self-interest.

"All the regimes are vulnerable to accusations of being betrayers of the Arab cause, overfriendly with imperialist America and corrupt in their dealings with international business," says Rosemary Hollis of the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

The Arab world's attitude toward the U.S. has dramatically shifted, according to Hollis.

"In the aftermath of the second World War, the attitude towards the U. S. was basically positive," says Hollis. "Over time, they came to see the U.S. as only interested in its own oil needs, in controlling the flow of oil to the market and in protecting Israel irrespective of what Israel did to the Palestinians."

With the war under way, President Bush and British Prime Minister Blair now promise to focus new attention on Israel and the Palestinians. But Arabs feel the west has done little for Palestinians.

"I feel, listening to people, Bush does not have any credibility," says Dr. Nasir. "His credibility is zero in the Arab world. They don't believe in him."

Nowhere is the credibility issue more key than among Iraqis, whom the U.S. are supposed to be liberating.

In Amman, busloads of Iraqis are leaving a safe haven to enter a war zone. One woman showed her Jordanian passport. She could stay in Amman; instead, she's going to Baghdad to join her family.

"We are comfortable and at the end of the day, Saddam is one of us and not a stranger, not a colonizer," she says. "He's Iraqi."

There's an Arab saying: "My brother and I will fight my cousin. My cousin and I will fight a stranger."

For much of the Arab world, America is the stranger.
  • Rome Neal

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