BEIRUT, Lebanon, April 9 (UPI) -- The minimal resistance U.S. troops faced in Baghdad and the quasi-collapse of President Saddam Hussein's regime came as a surprise to many Arabs Wednesday, triggering speculation about the unimpeded advance of U.S. forces into the capital.
With numerous Iraqis taking to the streets, looting whatever was available to them under the watchful eyes of the U.S. Marines, no Iraqi official, soldier or even policeman seemed in sight to try and control the mob.
Rumors are running high in Baghdad over the disappearance or killing of their leaders. The main questions remains: where is Saddam? What happened to him and the ruling clique?
"Baghdad without a regime" and "Baghdad in Chaos" were the main headlines on Arab TV stations that were broadcasting images of widespread looting in the Iraqi capital.
In contrast to the surprise and tough resistance showed by the Iraqis in the first two weeks of the war, the battle for Baghdad, which was expected to be the "Mother of all Battles," simply did not happen.
Signs of limited and unorganized resistance in the capital began to appear over the weekend. U.S. tanks and forces were in and out of Baghdad, facing sometimes tough resistance, but this proved to be only intermittent and in confined areas.
"Where are the Iraqi army, the Republican Guards and the Baath paramilitary combatants?" asked an analyst who wished not to be identified. "Was there a deal with the U.S. to neutralize the army?"
The analyst asked whether the resistance collapsed because Saddam was killed, went underground or maybe concluded a deal with the United States as certain Russian reports suggested Wednesday.
Lebanese House Speaker Nabih Berri wondered why the Russian ambassador to Iraq, Vladimir Titarenko, returned to Baghdad only few days after he left the country.
Berri said there might have been a deal to move Saddam to Moscow and maybe the Iraqi leader is already hiding in the Russian Embassy in Baghdad. Russia has denied that report. A Russian diplomatic source told the Interfax news agency, "This is complete and utter nonsense."
Samir Atallah, a well-respected Lebanese journalist, said no one could have expected such little resistance and lack of a proper plan to defend the city.
"The Iraqi army and civilians have been paying the price of their leaders' mistakes not only now but for the past 20 years," Atallah said.
The majority of Arabs have rejected the U.S. war on Iraq not because they supported Saddam but rather because they opposed any foreign occupation of the Arab country and potential American threats of targeting more Arab states.
"I don't blame the Iraqi people. They got rid of a tyrannical regime. They did not fight because they don't have a cause like we did in 1982," said a Lebanese bank director who also asked not to be named. He was referring to the Israeli invasion.
"We at least sealed and defended Beirut to the end. Iraqis did not even destroy a bridge to prevent the advance of the U.S. troops."
Beirut resisted the onslaught of the Israeli army for 83 days, and the Israelis only entered the city after Palestinian guerrillas evacuated under an international agreement. Lebanese guerrillas later fought the Israelis until they were forced to pullout from southern Lebanon in May 2000 after 22 years.
"Let me remind the Americans. Those who are now greeting and kissing you in Baghdad are the same people who yesterday were burning Bush pictures and shouting support for Saddam," the bank director said. "Those same people, who were exhausted by wars and sanctions, will have another say when they will discover that the U.S. is an occupying force."
For Tewfic Mishlawi, editor of the English-language Middle East Reporter, the collapse of resistance in Baghdad was "a very sad thing."
"No one regrets Saddam's departure but the war in Iraq is wrong as a whole," Mishlawi said. "The way it happened was wrong: a superpower that ignores all legitimacy, charters and everything."
He asked what right Bush might have to change regimes.
"This pre-emptive policy is wrong and I don't think it will last," he said.
He said he hoped France and Germany would try to restrain Bush's doctrine.
Mishlawi said he was surprised that Iraqis did not resist the coalition forces. He explained that the fear of Saddam's regime and lack of confidence in the coalition forces were some of the reasons.
"Despite that, Iraqis want to see Saddam removed from power and have suffered from his brutal regime, they will resent a foreign power," he said. "If there will be an escalation of popular resistance, I will be extremely happy."
Mishlawi, like the majority of Arabs, fears that Bush's ultimate aim was not to liberate Iraq but establish U.S. hegemony on the region.
"The purpose is to establish Israel as a dominating power in the region on behalf of the U.S.," he said.
The war in Iraq may be almost over but the argument whether it was a war of liberation or occupation war may continue for some time.