Enter the new Salahuddin

Ayaz Amir, a Pakistani journalist maybe over-excited, but he writes well and his article makes interesting reading as a gauge to the mood in the streets of the Arab and Islamic world. Raja Mattar.

Since the Crusades the world of Islam has awaited the arrival of a new Salahuddin — the Salahuddin of Christian legend — someone who would redress its wrongs and redeem its lost honour.

Now from the smoke and ruins of America’s aggression against Iraq arises a Salahuddin in the unlikely form of the dictator of Baghdad. For all his past sins and follies, Saddam Hussein today stands high in glory as the unchallenged hero of the Muslim World.

Iraqi resistance has touched a resonant chord in Muslim breasts. In the space of a few days some of the helplessness and humiliation attending the Muslim World as a result of American and Israeli arrogance has begun to wash away. Such is the miracle wrought by the defenders of Iraq.

This is a war being fought on two fronts simultaneously: in the killing fields of Iraq and the hearts and minds of the Muslim World. Whatever the outcome of the first battle, Saddam has already won the second. His tyranny and brutality lie forgotten, his courage under fire and his defiance the only things registering with Muslims the world over.

Stalin killed more people than anyone in history. But when he stood up to Hitler and led the Red Army to victory over Germany, he became a hero to his people.

It was not supposed to happen like this in Iraq. Saddam was supposed to be ousted by his own army while the Anglo-American armies were to be greeted with welcoming flowers. The Shi’as were supposed to revolt in the south, the Kurds to march towards Baghdad from the north. The Iraqi army was supposed to melt away and it was all supposed to be over in a matter of days.

Instead, the Americans have an incipient nightmare on their hands. There has been no uprising in the south. Umm Qasr (pop. 45,000) did not fall for many days. Nasiriyah is still being fought over. Wednesday evening CNN was reporting an absurdity: that, according to American military sources, the whole of Nasiriyah was not their objective at all but just a “corridor” through the town. Such truths are becoming the staple of this war.

The Iraqis have not played according to script. They have refused to become sitting ducks in the desert and have retreated before superior forces. Holed up in the cities, on ground of their choosing, they are harassing the Brits and Americans wherever they can. And they are refusing to be cowed down by missile attacks or precision bombing. If the Americans want them they’ll have to go after them. After the tough fighting in the south this is not a prospect to gladden American or British hearts.

There’s even the murmur now beginning to spread on the airwaves that perhaps the Americans put too few troops in the field for the job in hand. Well, for a walkover their troops were pretty sufficient. But a walkover is the last thing anyone is seeing in Iraq.

Understandably, the Brit-American coalition is crying foul. At Centcom HQs in Doha (shame on Qatar) one of their more asinine spokesmen said that Iraqi irregular tactics–riding in pick-ups, melting into the population–were akin to the methods of global terrorism. Goliath’s brutality is kosher. David’s fighting back is terrorism.

Hence the cottage industry of lies which is the comic side to this brutal war of aggression. Iraqi resistance is being attributed to such dark villains as “diehard loyalists”, “Feda’yeen”, etc–names meant to inflame the imagination. No one in the Anglo-American camp will be caught placing Iraqi resistance where it truly belongs: the grit and valour of the Iraqi Army.

Whatever happened to the Iraqi division which was supposed to have surrendered on the first or second day of the American attack? There’s been no word about this phantom formation since. What about the popular uprising in Basra the Brits were crowing about two days ago? This bit of propaganda has also ended in a whimper. In the telling of lies the Brits, as always punching above their weight, are outstripping the Americans.

No wonder the BBC sounds more pathetic than CNN. The spirit of Blairism seems to have infected everything British. The Iraqi Information Minister, Said Al-Sahhaf, had it about right: ” I think the British Nation has never been faced with a tragedy like this fellow”, referring, of course, to Tony Blair. Sahhaf said this jovially which gives you some idea of the morale of the Iraqi leadership.

It’s a remarkable fact that in the midst of devastation and conflict the Iraqi leadership is looking so relaxed and confident. If anyone looks drawn and tense it is Bush and Blair.

And mind you the Iraqis are on their own with no supply lines from anywhere. General Aslam Beg’s assessment was just 12 years off the mark. In the first Gulf War there was precious little ‘strategic defiance’ on the part of Iraq. But during the second by God there is. Iraq is now the victim of aggression, not the aggressor. Defending their hearths and homes is giving a steely edge to Iraqi determination.

What a contrast with our behaviour. Or should the curtains remain drawn around this subject? One phone call, just one, from Colin Powell and Pakistan, or its military government, caved in to every last American demand. That and a bit of arm-twisting applied to the then ISI chief, the luckless Lt Gen Mahmood, visiting Washington at the time. The swiftness of our submission took even Powell by surprise.

True, the Taliban were bad business and it was only sensible to sever all ties with them. But the ruling military carried Pakistani acquiescence too far. Ostracizing the Taliban was one thing, offering the Americans bases to attack Afghanistan quite another. We even delivered the Taliban Ambassador to Islamabad, Zaeef, to the Americans. There was no need for this piece of infamy.

And for what? For peanuts. We offered the Americans what they wanted not because of what they were giving us but to assuage our own fears. Important Pakistanis had convinced themselves that if Pakistan were slow to capitulate, American retribution would be swift and severe.

Look at the Turks. They put up a stiff price for their collaboration and even though the Americans were ready to bribe them, it was the Turkish Parliament which scuppered a deal, thus denying American troops access through Turkey. And thus preventing the formation of a northern front against the Iraqi Army.

Nor is this all. The Turks are giving the Americans another headache by sending their troops into Northern Iraq with a view to keeping an eye on Kurdish ambitions. The Americans want to use the Kurds against Saddam, much as they used the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan against the Taliban. But the Turks are wary of Iraq’s Kurds assuming too many airs fearing that their own Kurds might catch the infection. The lesson is plain: Turkey has exceedingly close ties to the US but it is not allowing its interests to be compromised.

The Arab League and the Islamic Conference are not even worth talking about. The atmosphere of the Arab World is thick with the smell of collaboration, either openly or behind-the-scenes. Why is the Arab World supplying oil to the Americans and giving them the use of their airspace and other facilities? This question put by Iraq’s Vice-President, Taha Yasin Ramadan, has been greeted with a resounding silence.

In this dark hour for the people of Iraq the world of Christendom is behaving with infinitely greater honour. Pope John Paul has spoken out against this war and there have been huge anti-war demonstrations in the very countries which form part of America’s infamous coalition. Nothing the Muslim Countries can do will deter Bush or Blair. But public opinion at home turning anti-war is another matter.

Meanwhile, as the battles rage on, the Brits and Americans are hitting the Iraqis with the most destructive and terrible weapons the world has known. These “shock and awe” tactics were meant to break the Iraqis but they are having just the opposite effect. Iraqi resistance is hardening, not weakening. And Saddam’s heroic stature is rising by the day.

© The DAWN Group of Newspapers, 2003