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Iraqis Mute Their Anger, Revel Over Iran's Propaganda Loss in U.S. Deals

December 14, 1986|G.H. Jansen | G.H. Jansen is a Middle East author and correspondent based in Nicosia, Cypress.

BAGHDAD, IRAQ — The United States is lucky that Iraq was the country primarily vicitmized by American duplicity in the Iran arms deal. If the victim-country had been Syria, or Egypt or Tunisia, the U.S. Embassy would have been attacked and American citizens would not be able to walk the streets. But because the Iraqi government sternly imposes law and order, it is business as usual at the embassy here, which, wholly coincidentally, is adding another layer of reinforced concrete to the fortifications in which it is wrapped.

Iraq has reason to be particularly angered because it accepted the total embargo on the sale of U.S. arms with the American assurance that it applied equally to the other combatant in the Gulf War. Now the Iraqis express their ruffled feelings by indirection--that is by allowing their media to repeat the denunciations of the U.S. action in the media of other countries, such as Jordan and Egypt.

There are several reasons why the usually tough, fierce Iraqis have taken the U.S. double cross with such unusually controlled calm. They make the astute point that if they lashed out at the Reagan Administration, they would be playing into Israeli policy, because Israel always likes to see the Arabs at odds with the United States, and actively strives to bring that about. In fact, it is the Israeli involvement that has partially deflected anger away from the United States. It was Israel, the Iraqis are convinced, that initiated the whole project and inveigled Washington into participating. This is further evidence to them of Israel's domination of U.S. Middle Eastern policy and the Iraqis are waiting to see whether, having learned yet another bitter lesson, Washington will free itself and begin to serve its own national interests in the area, not those of "the third party."

The Iraqi attitude is one of wait and see. The government has told the State Department, in very stiff terms, that its restraint is both temporary and conditional. Because the department in the past few weeks has repeatedly assured the Iraqis that, despite the skulduggery, it is still American policy to do what it can to end the Gulf War, the Iraqis hope to see in the very near future deeds, not just words, to prove that the United States has directly stopped the supply of arms to Iran and, indirectly, through the third party--Israel. Iraqis feel that the scandal aroused by the deal is so embarrassing that the supply could not possibly be resumed at any time in the foreseeable future.

Iraqis have found it easier not to let off steam because so much steam is being let off in Washington itself. Criticism of the Reagan Administration by Americans--and even by members of that Administration--is more wounding and effective than any condemnation from far-distant Baghdad.

Indeed the Iraqis contrast the volume of indignation pouring out of Washington with the very moderate reaction of Arab countries. Curiously enough it is only the pro-Western governments like Jordan, Egypt and Kuwait, plus Algeria, that have spoken out. That should be especially disturbing for Washington; its friends are the ones being alienated, by disillusionment and disappointment.

Anger and disappointment aside, the Iraqis simultaneously also have a reaction of genuine joy: The unmasking of U.S.-Iran collusion has destroyed the religious and ideological basis of Iranian propaganda. Iran can no longer claim to be the vanguard force of militant Islam waging holy war to liberate Jerusalem when it is seen to be in cahoots with Israel, the present occupiers of the Holy City. The Iraqis are looking forward to the opportunity of giving Iran a good drubbing at the summit meeting of the Islamic Conference Organization to be held next month in Kuwait. The Iraqis especially enjoy the embarrassment of their other antagonist, Syria, a discomfort so acute that Syrians have claimed there was no arms deal at all and that the story is merely a Zionist invention.

Apart from the beneficial pan-Islamic aspect of the scandal, Iraq derives internal benefit. Even before the start of the Gulf War, Iran was calling on Iraq's Shia Muslim majority community to overthrow the Sunni Muslim government in Baghdad. The appeal failed because Iraqis do not want to be ruled by Iranian-type mullahs; now, any residual anti-Sunni sentiment in Iraq has been effectively undermined.

The Iraqis have also kept their cool militarily. Iraqi analysts told this correspondent that although the quantity of materiel supplied to Iran--by Israel and then in association with the United States--was substantial, it was not enough to tilt the balance to Iran; Iraq still has much more arms and equipment than Iran. While not decisive, the arms supply, they said, did enable Iran to prolong hostilities. The Iranians, meanwhile, may be saving sophisticated U.S. arms for use in a so-called "final" offensive.

Iranian propaganda has claimed that the Iraqi leadership is dismayed by evidence that a great power, the United States, was trying to curry favor with Iran, a country of enduring regional importance. There is no such Iraqi dismay in evidence here. Iraqis point out that the first attempt to implement this new policy, if such it is, failed ignominiously and will fail again because there are no such persons as "moderates" among the Iranian mullahs.

The Iraqis have said they would have no objection to the United States at some point resuming relations with Iran, but they are suspicious of any renewal, under Israeli sponsorship, of the anti-Arab tripartite alliance between the United States, Israel and Iran, which they believe existed in the time of the shah. Iraqis feel confident that such an alliance could not come about because even its tentative beginnings, in their eyes, have aroused such a negative reaction at all levels of American public feeling.

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