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Arabs Split Over Saddam

Across the Arab world, some watched intently as Saddam Hussein (search) went on trial Wednesday for crimes against Iraqis but others seemed not to care — a sign the former Iraqi leader still divides this region two years after his fall.

The region's influential satellite television networks, Al-Jazeera (search) and Al-Arabiya (search), carried nonstop coverage starting hours before the trial began. Pan-Arab dailies like al-Hayat also splashed the opening day on their front pages.

But Saudi Arabia's Arabic language-daily Al-Watan used the headline: "Saddam's Trial: No one cares" and added: "The curtains have opened, the cast is ready and the audience is busy with other issues ... Even if we concede that the majority of Iraqis hate Saddam, they also hate how things have developed."

Yet in Kuwait, which Saddam invaded in 1990, feelings in support of the trial ran strong.

"We have been waiting for this trial for a long time — not only us, but the Iraqi people and Iranian people as well. We say this is the end of every oppressor," said Omar Al-Murad, a 43-year-old architect.

Many Palestinians also watched closely, but with the opposite view.

Weal Naser, a 42-year-old Palestinian owner of a Gaza vegetable shop, said Palestinians can never forget Saddam's past support for their cause. At the start of the Palestinian uprising against Israel, Saddam paid $15,000 to families of Palestinian suicide bombers, later raising it to $25,000.

"He supported the martyrs' families and he helped many students in Palestine or during their studies in Iraq," he said.

Saddam is "paying now the price for being a hero, for saying 'No' to America and to (President) Bush," Naser said.

"If the world wants justice, as they claim, they should bring Bush and (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon to trial before Saddam."

Palestinian taxi driver Saed Souror, 32, was more ambivalent about Saddam but equally critical of the trial.

"I am not a Saddam supporter, but I am against this trial because it came upon American orders," Souror said. "If Saddam was a murderer, what can we call the American acts there?"

Egypt's state-owned press chose to mostly ignore the trial, with a few carrying small stories inside but none putting it on the front page.

Jordan's media reported on Saddam's trial but provided no independent commentary or analysis, apparently to avoid stirring public anger already high because of opposition to the U.S. invasion.

A columnist in respected pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat said the trial has lost much of its meaning because of the bloody insurgency that now attacks Iraqis daily. Some of the worst terror attacks are blamed on al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

"It should have been held when Iraqis' memory was full of images of humiliation and that of tens of thousands of the victims and handicapped of the wars," Lebanese columnist Samir Attallah wrote.

Instead, he added: "Al-Zarqawi has erased from the minds and hearts all the past horrors. Innocent Iraqis used to die in prison and in their homes, now the occupation resistance is killing the Iraqi innocents and their children in the streets."

In Dubai, the Gulf News paper said in an editorial that not just Saddam, but Iraq itself is on trial, to see whether its new government can rise to the occasion and give Saddam a fair hearing.

"Anything less will be a permanent scar upon Iraq and its future," the paper said.

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