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Commentary: No dancing in Iraq yet

By STEVE SAILER, UPI National Correspondent   |   March 26, 2003 at 2:39 PM
LOS ANGELES, March 26 (UPI) -- This article is part of a continuing series on public opinion about the war.


Through Wednesday morning, the invasion of Iraq had wracked up a historic record for most miles penetrated into enemy territory per soldier killed by hostile fire. Yet, one disappointment to the White House has been the paucity of video of Iraqi civilians dancing in the streets to celebrate their liberation. Instead, civilian attitudes have ranged from pleased to hostile, with the average response seemingly somewhere between neutral and sullen.

Some of the architects of the war remain confident they'll get footage like that taken in 2001 after the conquest of Kabul during the Afghanistan conflict. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz told the British Broadcasting Corp. on Monday: "I think when the people of Basra no longer feel the threat of that regime, you are going to see an explosion of joy and relief." And there were reports that indeed some residents were rising up against Iraqi troops.

Still, it's worth reviewing reasons why the Shiite Muslim Iraqis of the south may have seemed not terribly appreciative of the United States' estimated $74.7 billion war to eliminate their dictator, Saddam Hussein. Probably not all of these apply, but they are worth keeping in mind.

-- As Wolfowitz noted, with Saddam's forces still operating guerrilla fashion in much of southern Iraq, it would be prudent for American sympathizers to just keep their heads down and try to stay alive at present. Wolfowitz, a long-time advocate of the war, pointed out: "Saddam is still maybe alive and certainly his goons and his assassination squads are still there."

-- No humanitarian aid has yet reached Iraqi civilians.

-- Many Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq might fear that the United States will abandon them, as it did during their 1991 uprising against Saddam following the end of Operation Desert Storm. The ruler then put down their rebellion savagely.

-- While American planners hoped that Shiites would view the allies as their friends in struggle with Iraq's Sunni rulers, Middle Easterners don't always subscribe to the catch phrase that "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Sometimes, he's just one more enemy.

-- Since Sept. 11, 2001, Americans have worried more about Sunni Muslims such as Osama bin Laden and (the mostly secular) Saddam, but, traditionally, Shiites have not been well disposed toward the West. The Iranian Shiite Ayatollah Khomeini constantly denounced the United States as "the Great Satan."

-- Saddam's fedayeen irregulars have been using the kind of tactics -- dressing as civilians and pretending to surrender -- that inspire itchy trigger fingers among nervous American soldiers. One of Baghdad's goals might be to encourage a U.S. massacre of its civilians in order to outrage Iraqis and the rest of the world against America.

-- Just as Saddam's role model -- Joseph Stalin -- appealed to Russian patriotism and Greek Orthodox piety after the German invasion in 1941, the Iraqi strongman's televised speeches have been full of Iraqi nationalism and Islamic enthusiasm.

-- In the same manner that the poll ratings of George W. Bush and Tony Blair have surged since last Wednesday, Iraqis may be rallying round the flag as well. Throughout the world, humans have tended to fight to defend their land from invaders, no matter what the invaders promise.

Other reasons are particularly germane to Arab cultures.

-- For example, it's not surprising that Iraqis haven't shown much trust toward the allies. By American standards, Iraqis don't even trust other Iraqis much. Throughout the Arab world, it's common for the "radius of trust" to not exceed much beyond the extended family. This makes them poor at going on the offensive in war.

-- In an article in American Diplomacy, entitled, "Why Arabs Lose Wars," retired U.S. Army Col. Norvell De Atkine wrote: "First, the well-known lack of trust among Arabs for anyone outside their own family adversely affects offensive operations. In a culture in which almost every sphere of human endeavor, including business and social relationships, is based on a family structure, this orientation is also present in the military, particularly in the stress of battle."

-- On the other hand, family loyalty can make them good at guerilla fighting, terrorism, feuding and other pastimes in which small groups dominate. The Iraqis of southern Iraq have more pressing matters to concern themselves with than U.S. expectations. Tyrants and conquerors come and go, but feuds go on and forever. With no civil authority in much of southern Iraq at present, the night of the long knives is again at hand. While people have been farming between the Tigris and the Euphrates since the invention of agriculture, Iraqi culture also reflects some of the ancient manners of the nomads.

-- Just as American cattlemen in the Old West learned to shoot first and ask questions later, desert-dwelling herdsmen long lived beyond the rule of law. They were greatly in danger of having their herds rustled if they showed signs of weakness. This encouraged a strong concern for honor: a fear of being insulted. Invasion could be interpreted as the ultimate insult. Even if Iraqis believe the Allies are coming to help them that could be considered a slur, an assertion that they need help.

-- Finally, we might be seen as violating the principle of hospitality, which is important in Arab cultures. As Ben Franklin pointed out, the best way to get someone to like you is not to do him a favor, but to ask him to do you a favor. Similarly, Arabs prize hospitality highly, but there are obligations upon guests as well as hosts. Guests should be dependent upon hosts. In that regard, the mighty allied war machine is not a good guest.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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