Middle East - AP

Anger at U.S. Is Challenge to Arab Allies

Date: Mon, Apr 12, 2004

By DONNA BRYSON, Associated Press Writer

CAIRO, Egypt - Arab protesters compare U.S. troops in Iraq (news - web sites) to Israeli troops in the Palestinian territories and say Iraqi civilian deaths are "evidence" the United States is anti-Arab and anti-Muslim.

Fierce calls to defend Iraq pop up on Internet sites frequented by sympathizers of al-Qaida and other militants.

Amid that anger, fanned by satellite TV images of violence in Iraq, U.S. allies such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak (news - web sites) and Jordan's King Abdullah II are under pressure to prove their relationship with America does not undermine their loyalty to Arab causes.

Mubarak had warned his U.S. allies not to go to war in Iraq, saying he feared it would plunge the Middle East into "a state of disorder and chaos." Now the Egyptian leader, who met Monday with President Bush (news - web sites), is urging Washington to cede more authority over Iraq to the United Nations (news - web sites).

Salama Ahmed Salama, an Egyptian political analyst, said a larger U.N. role would give Iraqis and other Arabs confidence that Iraq will be peaceful and stable one day soon.

Khalid al-Maeena, editor of the Saudi newspaper The Arab News, feared Arabs would have little patience for such a measured approach.

"The voices of those people who advocate dialogue and peace are being dimmed by the voices of extremists," he said.

Friday prayers in Cairo last week turned into anti-American demonstrations, with speakers demanding the government expel the U.S. and Israeli ambassadors and saying that Iraqis and not Arab leaders were defending Arab honor by fighting U.S. troops.

Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab states that have peace treaties with Israel. While they are seen as moderate and close to Washington, both have vocal hard-liners who wield great influence over public opinion.

Jordan is also facing a terror threat. Security officials there have recently announced the detention of al-Qaida suspects accused of plotting attacks in the kingdom. Jordanian officials were trying to determine if they were linked to Jordanian militant Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi, believed to be directing al-Qaida operations in Iraq.

"There are signs that the chaos in Iraq is strengthening the political position of the Jordanian parties opposed to close ties with the U.S.," said Jordanian analyst Labib Kamhawi. "King Abdullah seems alert to such a prospect and promptly instructed his government to improve its relations with the Islamic parties in Jordan."

Abdullah, who has his own meeting with Bush next week, has sounded increasingly critical of U.S. tactics in Iraq, his eastern neighbor. Last month, he said the United States and Britain should stop focusing on trying to justify the war in Iraq and start showing more concern for its security and people. Last week, he dispatched humanitarian supplies to Fallujah, saying the city was subject to "blockade, killing and destruction."

U.S. forces began a siege against Fallujah, near Baghdad, after insurgents killed and mutilated four Americans there on March 31. In the week since the city was encircled by U.S. Marines, Arab media has shifted its focus from the brutal killings of the Americans to the sufferings of Iraqis in the siege, with commentators saying the whole city is being forced to pay for the crimes of a few. That criticism evokes Arab accusations that Israeli tactics in the Palestinian territories often amount to unjust collective punishment.

The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq denounced two Arab TV stations Monday, accusing them of lying about American attacks in Fallujah.

Army Gen. John Abizaid said Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya were broadcasting false reports that American troops were deliberately targeting civilians in Fallujah.

"They have not been truthful in their reporting," Abizaid said of the two television stations. "They haven't been accurate. And it is absolutely clear that American forces are doing their very best to protect civilians and at the same time get at the military targets there."

Arab satellite stations, for example, reported scores of civilians were killed when a U.S. helicopter fired three missiles at a mosque compound in Fallujah on Wednesday. Witnesses said the strike came as worshippers gathered for prayers, but Marines said they were firing at militants holed up in the place of worship and that there were no civilian casualties.

While U.S. military officials say there is no authoritative figure on Iraqi civilian deaths, the head of Fallujah's hospital has said more than 600 Iraqis, mostly civilians, have been killed. He refused to disclose a list of those killed or provide a breakdown of the number of insurgents among those killed.

Egyptian Interior Minister Habib el-Adly said al-Qaida, the terror network blamed for the Sept. 11 attacks, was using events in places such as Fallujah to fan emotions and inspire potential recruits.

"Al-Qaida still exists and is mobile, and its contact channels are open," el-Adly said at Sunday's inauguration of a new security forces camp in Egypt, adding repercussions from Iraq would be felt around the world.

A posting Saturday on several militant Muslim Web sites urged al-Qaida to avenge Iraqi dead. Earlier, a Web site broadcast a video purportedly from al-Qaida's chief of operations in Saudi Arabia vowing to avenge the slaying of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan (news - web sites) by expelling Americans from the Arabian Peninsula.

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Associated Press correspondent Shafika Mattar contributed to this report from Amman, Jordan.

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