BAGHDAD – Just like anywhere else in the Arab world, pro-Palestinian rallies take place practically every day in Baghdad. Strictly organized and highly choreographed by the ruling Baath Party, they always include a large number of Palestinians living in Iraq.

Palestinian women usually don’t deliver the inevitably passionate speeches, as do Iraqi women affiliated with the party. Everybody is ready to “fight the Zionist state.” And linking the Palestinian fate with the American menace over Iraq, the crowds repeatedly chant “We will sacrifice ourselves for Saddam.”

With or without a party directive, in the minds of the Iraqi population the Palestinian struggle to get rid of Israeli occupation is equivalent to the Iraqi struggle to get rid of the embargo imposed on Iraq by the US.

At Almustansyria University, photos are prohibited, even in the courtyard, even in the presence of the ubiquitous guide from the Ministry of Information. Nothing happens without a letter of authorization, signed by a battery of “high-level authorities.” But some of the uniformed students in white shirts and black trousers or skirts at least manage to talk. One of them, an economics major, says, “The whole world must know that the intifada is not a terrorist act as the US calls it, but on the contrary, it is a popular movement for independence, human rights and basic principles of justice and freedom.”

The Beirut Declaration, adopted unanimously last Thursday at the Arab summit in Beirut, represents – at least on paper – an unprecedented display of Arab unity and solidarity. It has set in no uncertain terms the parameters for any future Arab negotiation with the Jewish state.

The next day, Israel occupied and practically razed Ramallah in the Palestinian Authority.

Israel will never agree to Beirut’s parameters – especially the future of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But the real key to decode Beirut is the new agreement between Iraq and Kuwait, which is intimately linked to the unanimous Arab refusal to support an American attack against Iraq.

Essentially, through the powerful No 2 of the regime, vice chairman of the Revolution Command Council Izzat Ibrahim, Iraq has stated that it will not invade Kuwait as it did in 1990. Iraq and Kuwait should from now on be engaged in a “normal relation based on mutual respect of security, dignity and territorial integrity” for both countries, according to the Iraqi Ministry of Foreign Relations.

Arab diplomats admit off the record that to maintain its control of the oil flow from the Middle East, the US has been manipulating Saudi and Kuwaiti fears of Iraq for too long: more than 11 years.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri, present in Beirut, has repeatedly made the point that the summit “considered any threat against any Arab country, especially Iraq, as against national Arab security.” Sabri stressed the “very positive atmosphere” when Izzat Ibrahim met Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, whose “land for peace” proposition was unanimously adopted in Beirut.

After Beirut, it would be politically and morally impossible for any Arab state to offer its bases to the US military in the event of an attack against Iraq.

But Asia Times Online has learned from an European diplomatic source in the Middle East – who insisted on remaining anonymous – that this is all talk. US Vice President Dick Cheney, in his recent 11-stop Middle East trip, may have cajoled a host of Arab countries to give the US the green light for an attack.

In Baghdad as well as Damascus, Beirut and Cairo, the US response to the Arab unity in Beirut has been interpreted as approval for Israel to destroy the Palestinian infrastructure. This would be the first step. The next would be to destroy Iraq’s crumbling infrastructure – again.

According to the Iraqi daily al-Joumhouriya, destroying Iraq’s capacity to develop is essential for the US because “this is the only Arab and Islamic force which actively opposes the expansion of Zionism.” The “Zionist entity” is unanimously accused in Iraq of being “based on military terrorism, religious fundamentalism and expansionist policies.” The “terrorist” Ariel Sharon (as the Israeli premier is known in Iraq) in ordering his tanks to destroy the West Bank does not exactly contradict the Iraqi perception.

Nasra al-Sadoon, editor of the Iraq Daily, accuses the United Nations of “ignoring the Zionist occupation of Arab lands of three states, the right of return to all Palestinian refugees, and the right to a safe life for the population living in the occupied land.”

For al-Ahram Weekly Online, “the goal of eliminating weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq was used to maintain and prolong sanctions. After years of inspection and destruction, the elimination of the no longer existing weapons, together with unfounded accusations of international terrorism, “are now used to wreak further destruction on Iraq and install a puppet regime that will conclude a peace treaty with Israel.” It’s fair to say that this is the consensus in Baghdad – even among people who are not affiliated to the Baath Party.

For the daily Babil, the US target is “the installation of an American military base in Iraq.” But the US supreme interest, viewed from Iraq, is of course oil. According to al-Joumhouriya, “if the embargo was lifted, Iraq would double its oil production, from 3.3 million to 6.6 million barrels a day.” This would force other oil-producing countries to reduce their level of production to prevent lower prices. “And so the Arab oil market would evade the control of the Americans.”

Iraq is unanimously accusing the US of “naked imperialism.” It’s unlikely that the US will remain silent for too long.

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