James Taranto dug up these fascinating passages from the Arab News, “Saudi Arabia’s First English Daily”–whose reporter Essam Al-Ghalib is in southern Iraq:

Arab News asked several of the refugees waiting to enter Basra what they thought of regime change. Accompanying Arab News were several international TV crews. What the refugees said on and off camera were very different things. On camera, the general feeling among the crowd was sorrow at losing Saddam. Off camera, the citizens of Umm Qasr and Basra appeared genuinely exhilarated at the prospect of a brighter future, after Saddam had been removed. [Arab News, 3/28/03]

When we finally made it to Safwan, Iraq, what we saw was utter chaos. Iraqi men, women and children were playing it up for the TV cameras, chanting: “With our blood, with our souls, we will die for you Saddam.” I took a young Iraqi man, 19, away from the cameras and asked him why they were all chanting that particular slogan, especially when humanitarian aid trucks marked with the insignia of the Kuwaiti Red Crescent Society, were distributing some much-needed food….He said: “There are people from Baath here reporting everything that goes on. There are cameras here recording our faces. If the Americans were to withdraw and everything were to return to the way it was before, we want to make sure that we survive the massacre that would follow as Baath go house to house killing anyone who voiced opposition to Saddam. In public, we always pledge our allegiance to Saddam, but in our hearts we feel something else.” Different versions of that very quote, but with a common theme, I would come to hear several times over the next three days I spent in Iraq. The people of Iraq are terrified of Saddam Hussein. [Arab News, 3/30/03]

I asked several what they thought of the US/UK plan to remove Saddam. They told me: “Now that they have started to remove him, they cannot stop. If they do, then we are all as good as dead. He still has informants in Umm Qasr and he knows who is against him and who isn’t.” When asked about what they think of this war, most Iraqis said that they were against the loss of innocent life and the destruction of their cities, but they seemed adamant about the removal of Saddam. They were happy about the “liberation” of Umm Qasr but were disappointed in the US/UK for not keeping their promises to provide humanitarian aid. [Arab News, 3/31/03]
Taranto notes:

An Arab News editorial, however, seems to come from an alternate universe: Iraqis are being subjected the “wrath of invading forces” by a “power that has come to occupy and conquer” and aims for the “wholesale destruction” of Iraqi society, “criminal enterprise–unjustified, unprovoked, illegitimate, catastrophic.” Iraqis “do not believe for one moment a word of the marauders’ promises.” Do the Arab News editorialists read their own newspaper? [“Best of the Web Today,” 3/31/03]

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