1. Arabs Credit Washington with New Sensitivity

The top-level appointments of Iraq’s provisional government were greeted with relief in the Arab world. Arab leaders perceived the Bush administration as having discarded its democratic Greater Middle East vision, which they had always regarded as strange and alien, and come down to earth. They regard Washington as finally accepting the traditional role of tribe, family and religion in centuries of Middle Eastern politics, particularly strong among the 25 million Iraqis. Washington’s Arab allies feel that the Washington has finally come to terms with the region’s ethnic-tribal-religious tapestry as the key to understanding the Arab political soul.

“Bush has returned to the old political fundamentalism of the Middle East. It is good for us and it is good for him,” one senior Arab statesman told DEBKA-Net-Weekly.

“It is a Middle East every Arab leader knows, a Middle East in which we also function best. I am certain that Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and Syrian president Bashar Assad will support Ghazi al-Yawar and trust him not to neglect their interests in Iraq.”

By a single, probably inadvertent, step, the Bush administration recouped much of the ground it lost in the Arab world after its invasion of Iraq, along with UN legitimacy for its role in the country. In these circumstances, the tortuous deliberations at the UN Security Council may become partly irrelevant. Europe, and especially France, will no longer enjoy a monopoly in claiming to speak on behalf of the Arabs.

But is Washington’s rift with the Arab world really at an end?

Our Middle East experts believe it is too soon to tell.

“March 2003 (when the US-led coalition invaded Iraq) is still a festering wound for us,” the senior Arab statesman said. “We must see first if Bush has made a genuine policy turnabout or only a tactical retreat to ease some of the pressures weighing down his re-election campaign. We’ll be wiser after the November vote. That will be the time to see if the new approach is a piece of pragmatism or here to stay, and also if he means what he says about handing complete transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi administration in Baghdad.”

Tuesday, June 1, shortly after these comments, the United States and Britain inserted a rough timetable in their UN resolution draft for the withdrawal of US-led foreign forces. The original text left the multinational force’s mandate open-ended. The revised reversion said the mandate “shall expire upon the completion of the political process” in Iraq. No date was set but the process is expected to wind down on December 2005 or January 2006.

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