Iraqis reject Bush's request for support against Hussein

They blame U.S. for woes instead of government

January 30, 2003|By Marjorie Miller | Marjorie Miller,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BAGHDAD, Iraq - When President Bush told Iraqis in his State of the Union speech that their leader, Saddam Hussein, is their enemy, many answered yesterday that their enemy is in Washington, not Baghdad.

When Bush appealed to Iraqis for support, saying the "success of our cause will depend on you," they stared back blankly.

And when Bush said Hussein had missed his final chance to deliver up banned weapons - issuing the clearest sign yet that war is imminent - they responded by digging into a deep reserve of pride.

"Who accepts that America or any other foreigners interfere in our affairs?" asked Safah Rahim, a 26-year-old medical assistant.

Whatever the Iraqi people think of their president - and in many cases that can only be inferred - they say they will view the arrival of U.S. troops as an invasion rather than as the liberation that Bush promised them. They are highly suspicious of U.S. motives in Iraq.

"Do you really think Bush is spending millions of American dollars just for the Iraqi people?" asked Ahmed Ghassan, 19, a dental student. "He wants a war to control everything. Iraq is rich in oil, and it is a fulcrum for the Middle East. If he can control this point, he can have access to Iran and the [Persian] gulf."

Hussein continues to show defiance. "If they believe their illusion [and attack Iraq], by God, America will be hurt," the Iraqi leader was shown on state television yesterday as telling a group of military officers.

"When we talk to the Americans in this way, we are not afraid of evil, but we are trying to avoid it, to drive it away," he said. "But when evil is determined, God willing, we break its neck in Iraq."

In the past few weeks, Iraqis have been stocking up on food, storing water and digging wells to prepare for war. Some of the 5 million residents of Baghdad have been making plans to send their families out of the capital to safety in the countryside. Others have been buying weapons.

Whether average Iraqis will use those weapons to fight for or against the government - or just to protect their homes - remains to be seen. Many say they will fight against "imperial America" or against the "colonizers." But when asked who, really, can stand up to the overwhelming military and technological power of the United States, they shrug in resignation.

"Some people say Bush will use all his weapons in this," said a 70-year-old retiree who stopped at the Al Zahawi teahouse in central Baghdad. "If this is what America wants, what can we do?"

Western diplomats believe that, after more than 20 years of war and United Nations economic sanctions, Iraqi civilians will not have the will to fight for the regime. They say people are tired of being poor when they know the land beneath their feet is oil-rich.

But Iraqis blame the United States more than their government for their poverty. They have been humiliated by the American policy of battering Iraq, diplomats say, and will not necessarily support a U.S. assault to oust Hussein.

Marjorie Miller writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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