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Arab Perspective: Playing US Politics with Iraqi Blood for Oil

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Bracing for 2008 presidential election, US Democrats in opposition and the ruling Republicans have embroiled the American public in a political crisis between the executive and legislative powers over deadlines for combat operations in Iraq that could develop into a constitutional showdown, but for Arabs and Iraqis in particular it is merely playing electoral politics with Iraqi blood for oil because the Democratic Alternative for President George W. Bush's strategy, when scrutinized, promises them no fundamental change to the bloody status quo.


Building on the recommendation of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group of James Baker and Lee Hamilton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi engaged Syrian leaders amid cautious Arab diplomatic and media welcome (1) after her arrival in Damascus on Tuesday in a visit that enraged President George W. Bush, in the latest manifestation of Democrat-Republican colliding approaches to secure American national interests in Iraq. Pelosi said she hoped to rebuild lost confidence between Washington and Damascus, but American politicians of both mainstream parties have a long way to go before they could win over the hearts and minds of the wider Arab masses and redress the negative public image of their country among Arabs, an image that the occupation of Iraq has damaged probably beyond repair for a long time to come.


Democrats were perceived by Arabs as promising to offer an alternative to Bush strategy in Iraq, but so far have merely proved themselves responsive to their voters' anti-war sentiments: 60 percent of the public wants to get out of Iraq, the election defeat of the Republicans was a strong indication of public sentiment, expectations have risen, yet the killing goes on, and in some ways gets worse. Yet the Democrats' supplemental budget bill provides funding to continue the war, while setting a controversial date to end it, and there is disagreement on its strategic effect. They could neither raise the "mission accomplished" banner nor could promise to do so in the near future, not even after Bush's constitutional mandate expires. How do frustrated Iraqis and Arabs make sense of "this" Democratic alternative?


Large majorities of Arabs want U.S. troops to leave Iraq sooner rather than later. According to a recent survey conducted between late February and early March in five pro-US Arab countries, namely Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Lebanon, and released in Washington D.C. on March 28 by the Arab American Institute (AAI) and Zogby International, a polling firm, 68 percent of Saudi respondents said they considered Washington's influence in Iraq as negative, 83 percent in Egypt, 96 percent in Jordan. An earlier two surveys in late November and early December conducted by Zogby International in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco found not only that Washington's standing in the Arab world had hit rock bottom, but also that Iran was the principal beneficiary.

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*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and Palestine. He is based in Ramallah, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.
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