Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Masks off
Sterling performances by most Arab media to the footage of Iraqis finally rid of Saddam. Syrian satellite is still ignoring the story, so is Hizbullah's Al-Manar station (though the scenes of celebrating Shiites was right down its alley). Al-Jazeera is showing some street scenes, but is mixing this with shots of men removing the body of its correspondent who was killed yesterday in a U.S. attack. Orbit's excellent Egyptian journalist Imad al-Din Adeeb sat aghast as he interviewed two former generals who showed that the fog of battle had terminally enveloped them--both, St. Thomas-like, insisted they were "only seeing one side of the story."

The masks are off. This may have been a revolutionary war for many Arab stations, but it was a typically Arab type of revolution, one blending an aspiration for technical prowess with dismal ideological rigidity and backwardness.

A word of warning on the freedom demonstrations, though: one of the first things the Shiite throngs did was to pray and hold up a portrait of who I believe was the martyred Hussein. The clock is already ticking on the U.S. presence. Those Iraqis want freedom, but what they want most is to rule over themselves--not have the U.S. and Jay Garner do it for them. And the religious edge to the whole thing is already alarmingly palpable.

I don't think the Bush administration knows what Pandora's Box it has opened in trying to figure out how that complex religious and tribal structure in Iraq can be managed to everyone's satisfaction. Here's a scenario: What if Saddam is indeed in Tikrit and uses Sunni fears of the Shiites to feed a new religious-tribal conflict?

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