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Arab World Shocked Over Fall of Baghdad

Arab World Shocked Over Fall of Baghdad

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- The fall of Baghdad provoked shock and disbelief Wednesday among Arabs, who expressed hope that other oppressive regimes would crumble but also disappointment that Saddam Hussein did not put up a better fight against America.

"Why did he fall that way? Why so fast?" said Yemeni homemaker Umm Ahmed, tears streaming down her face. "He's a coward. Now I feel sorry for his people."

Arabs clustered at TV sets in shop windows, coffee shops, kitchens and offices to watch the astounding pictures of U.S. troops overwhelming an Arab capital for the first time ever.

Feeling betrayed and misled, some turned off their sets in disgust when jubilant crowds in Baghdad celebrated the arrival of U.S. troops.

"We discovered that all what the (Iraqi) information minister was saying was all lies," said Ali Hassan, a government employee in Cairo, Egypt. "Now no one believes Al-Jazeera anymore."

Mohammed al-Shahhal, a 49-year-old teacher in Tripoli, Lebanon, said the scenes reminded him of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"Those who applauded the collapse of Lenin's statue for some Pepsi and hamburgers felt the hunger later on and regretted what they did," al-Shahhal said.

However, Tannous Basil, a 47-year-old cardiologist in Sidon, Lebanon, said Saddam's regime was a "dictatorship and had to go."

"I don't like the idea of having the Americans here, but we asked for it," he said. "Why don't we see the Americans going to Finland, for example? They come here because our area is filled with dictatorships like Saddam's."

Tarek al-Absi, a Yemeni university professor, was hopeful Saddam's end presaged more democracy in the region.

"This is a message for the Arab regimes, and could be the beginning of transformation in the Arab region," al-Absi said. "Without the honest help of the Western nations, the reforms will not take place in these countries."

The overwhelming emotions for many Arabs were disbelief or disillusionment after weeks of hearing Saddam's government pledge a "great victory" or fight to the death against "infidel invaders."

"We Arabs are clever only at talking," Haitham Baghdadi, 45, said bitterly in Damascus, Syria. "Where are the Iraqi weapons? Where are the Iraqi soldiers?"

Many resorted to conspiracy theories to explain the rapid collapse.

"There must have been treason," said Ahmed Salem Batmira, an Omani political analyst.

"It seems there was some deal. Saddam has put himself ahead of his people," said Yemeni government employee Saad Salem el-Faqih, 50.

Three men having tea and smoking in a coffee shop in Riyadh were unsettled as they watched the TV -- even though they said they were against Saddam and felt sorry for the long-suffering Iraqis.

"I can't say that I'm happy about what's going on because these are non-Muslim forces that have gone in and I hope they will not stay," said Mohammed al-Sakkaf, a 58-year-old businessman.

Many said they were disturbed by images of U.S. troops lounging in Saddam's palaces or draping the U.S. flag around the head of a Saddam statue.

"Liberation is nobler than that," said Walid Abdul-Rahman, one of the three Saudis. "They should not be so provocative."

In Jordan, hotel receptionist Wissam Fakhoury, 28, said he was disappointed in the Baghdad crowds.

"I spit on them," he said. "Do those crowds who are saluting the Americans believe that the United States will let them live better?" Fakhoury said. Americans "will loot their oil and control their resources, leaving them nothing."

Bahraini physician Hassan Fakhro, 62, said he was saddened.

"Whatever I'm seeing is very painful because although Saddam Hussein was a dictator, he represented some kind of Arab national resistance to the foreign invaders -- the Americans and the British," Fakhro said.

After an anti-war march in Khartoum, Sudan, lawyer Ali Al-Sayed said U.S. troops should not misinterpret the relief as an invitation to stay.

"Those people under oppression will not have any national feeling, so they will be happy to see someone removing a dictator and liberating them," al-Sayed said. "But the moment they feel free and liberated, they will not tolerate a foreign presence."

His sentiments resonated around a region where Iraq is far from the only place that lacks democracy.

Abdel Khaleq Abdulla, a political analyst in the United Arab Emirates, said many Arabs, plagued by a sense of powerlessness, will feel depressed at first, despite Saddam's crimes.

"For a while, there will be a sense of resignation, letdown, that this is one more defeat," he said. "But what was defeated primarily in Baghdad is Arab oppression, the one-party system which was unable to defend its country for more than three weeks, and its capital for more than 48 hours. What was defeated in this battle was not the Arabs but the regime of oppression."

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, an uncomfortable U.S. ally in the war, said the quickest way to achieve stability now would be for U.S. troops to withdraw. "Iraqis must take control over of their country as fast as possible," Mubarak told Egypt's official news agency, MENA.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud, looking upset at a news conference, called for a quick end to Iraq's "occupation." In a rare departure from diplomacy, Saud responded to a question about Arab anger toward the United States with: "I don't want to talk about anger if you don't mind today."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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