Iraq's Muslim Supporters Dismayed

IRAQ: Students at the Fine Art Faculty in Damascus hold an exhibition in Damascus, Syria Monday, April 7, 2003, to send "a civilized message to the world public opinion about their rejection of war in Iraq." Seen below, one of the political paintings displayed by the students.
Arabs throughout the Middle East reacted with dismay and disbelief Monday to television images of U.S. tanks rolling through the heart of Baghdad, and some rushed to sign up for a holy war against the U.S.-led forces.

A Muslim group in Bangladesh also started recruiting volunteers to fight for Iraq, while Indonesia's president seemed to denounce the U.S.-led war as the "law of the jungle."

Few Arabs believed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime could hold out indefinitely against an allied onslaught, but many had expected Baghdad to put up a bloody fight.

Over a breakfast of croissant and coffee at a cafe, Saudi accounting instructor Haitham al-Bawardi said he was having a hard time believing the reports.

"How can we know this is for real and not just coalition propaganda?" the 30-year-old said. "We had hoped Saddam would inflict as many casualties on the invaders as possible to teach them a lesson and make them think twice before striking another Arab country."

In Cairo, Egypt, the news made some more determined to join the fight in a jihad, or holy war, alongside the Iraqis. The Lawyers' Syndicate, known for organizing people to join the war in Iraq, began filling up with volunteers shortly after the news was broadcast.

"As Arabs, we cannot see this and not move," said a man in his early 30s who would not give his name for fear of government retribution. "We are selling ourselves for a higher cost, for God, not for Saddam."

Another volunteer, Abdelfattah, 41, a worker in a regional city council, said the reports were "all lies."

"It is a psychological war," said Abdelfattah. "If it is true, then it is only a military strategy, to lure the American forces into a trap."

Abdelfattah insisted that "Saddam himself will fight until the very end...He will remain standing until he dies while fighting for Iraq."

Amjad Mohammed, a 23-year-old Syrian hairdresser, said he felt "very sad."

"The Americans can never stay in Baghdad," Mohammed said. "Baghdad is noble Arab land."

Ali Oqla Orsan, head of the Arab Writers' Union, described the U.S. incursion as a "propaganda parade," and said he hoped the allied troops would face "total defeat."

"They are practicing terrorism against a sovereign country," said Orsan, a Syrian. "If the allied forces occupy Iraq, it would signal the beginning of a liberation war against the colonialists."

Students at the Fine Art Faculty in Damascus held an exhibition Monday to send "a civilized message to the world public opinion about their rejection of war in Iraq." They showed their political paintings.

In Muscat, Oman, scores of men watched the news from Baghdad with angry and resentful faces. One shouted, "Where is your army, Saddam?" Another, not believing the television images, grumbled, "These Americans are relying on false propaganda!"

In Lebanon, most citizens stayed close to their TV sets or radios to follow the news. Many refused to believe the reports, opting instead for Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf's version of events, in which he denied that Americans had entered the capital.

"Sahhaf said they were not yet in Baghdad, didn't you hear him?" said Hisham Moniyyeh, 27, who runs a currency exchange shop in the southern port city of Sidon. "The Americans have been lying a lot since the beginning of this campaign so I don't believe them."

Merhej Shamma, a 39-year-old Lebanese architect, was shocked at how easy it has been for the Americans to enter Baghdad. "I thought some of the fiercest fighting was supposed to take place in Baghdad. Where are the Republican Guards?" he asked.

"I hope they are preparing for a counter attack that would turn the tables once again," he said.

A Saudi university student echoed those sentiments.

"The Iraqi people will resist and turn Baghdad into another Vietnam for the Americans, a trap from which they will not emerge alive," said Saleh al-Nuaim, 20.

In an apparent reference to coalition forces in Iraq, Indonesia's President Megawati Sukarnoputri Monday denounced those who "claim themselves to be the world's machos."

"We are saddened to watch their show of strength which is not only destructive but also retrogressive and wrong," Megawati told an international conference of some 3,000 Muslim women in Jakarta.

Megawati has previously denounced the Iraq war as illegal and some of her ministers predict the conflict will whip up Muslim militancy around the world.

"We, the women of the world need to remind those who claim themselves to be the world's machos that we do not admire what they are doing," said Megawati, who has a habit of speaking indirectly. She did not mention Iraq or the United States in her speech.

"There are signs today that humanity is suffering setbacks because the law of the jungle is being practiced ... where the strong feels they have a right to impose their will against the weak."

New Zealand diplomats have apologized to Washington after Prime Minister Helen Clark said the war with Iraq would not have happened if Al Gore had been elected U.S. president instead of George W. Bush. The U.S. Embassy in Wellington said Clark's comments were "regrettable."

The Bangladeshi Islamic group said it has signed up more than 1,200 Bangladeshi men, aged between 20 and 45, to fight against the U.S.-led coalition.

"We are getting huge response to our call to join the Iraqi people in their fight against the enemies of Islam," said Jafarullah Khan, a leader of the Khelafat Andolan group.

India's upper house of Parliament was adjourned in uproar after opposition members shouted anti-war slogans and attempted to put forward a resolution condemning the United States — going further than the government, which has only said it opposes the war.