An appeal from Jordanian King Hussein for the Arab world to rally behind Iraq received some tentative responses today, further isolating Iran in the Middle East, but the Arabs appear to be far from unified on the issue.
The Jordanian monarch seized the initiative yesterday by calling for a unified Arab stand to assist Iraq in "defending its dear homeland and national soil." Jordan's ambassador in Baghdad delivered that message to President Saddam Hussein today.
While initial calls of support have involved rhetoric rather than promise of action, the Iraqi news agency said King Hassan II of Morocco told the Iraqi ambassador in Rabat that his country was "fully ready to dispatch military aid to Iraq."
While some Arab states invoked pan-Arab unity and calls for collective support of "Arab dignity," others called only for an end to hostilities so a common effort can be sustained against Israel on behalf of Palestinian nationalism.
On the more committed end of the scale, Tunisian Chedli Klibi, Arab-League secretary general, was quoted by Baghdad radio as telling the Iraqi Revolutionary Command Council in a telephone message that he fully supports Iraq's steps for "liberation of its usurped territories."
However, the Tunisian press agency, Tunis Afrique Pesse, offered a more modest version of Klibi's message, saying that he had phoned several Arab governments, including Iraq, to discuss ways of ending the fighting and calling for a cease-fire.
North Yemeni leader Col. Ali Abdallah Salih was reported to have urged Iraqi President Saddam Hussein by telephone to defend Iraqi sovereignty in the Shat-Al-Arab region and preserve "Arab dignity."
Palestine Liberation Organization Central Committee secretary Muhammed Zuhdi Nashashibi declared revolutionary support for Iraq and "every Arab state" in regaining control of violated territory.
In a meeting with Iraqi Minister of Industry Tahir Tawiq, Nashashibi was quoted by Baghdad radio as denouncing the Iranian attacks and calling on Iran to recognize Iraq's rights of navigation in the Shatt-al-Arab waterway.
Nashashibi's statement was broadcast as PLO chief Yasser Arafat went to Baghdad in an effort to mediate the dispute. Arafat is said to be planning to go on to Tehran after meeting with Saddam Hussein.
Other Arab reaction to the conflict has been muted or sometimes evenhanded as evidenced by Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi's appeal to stop the fighting and save both sides' efforts for the "battle of honor" against Israel.
King Hussein's pronouncements on Iraq, which Jordan has both supported and benefited from financially in increasing dimensions, have been by far the most supportive of any Arab leader.
In a Cabinet meeting at which the conflict dominated the agenda, Hussein was reported to have told the ministers that in light of the Iranian "aggression" against "fraternal Iraq," Arab rights cannot be relinquished "whether in Palestine, Iraq or any other Arab state." Iran is not an Arab country.
He urged Iraq to "defend every particle of its dear Arab soil" and said Iran's "continual threats" in the Persian Gulf have served only to undermine a common stand against Israeli expansionism.
The monarchs stand was received by the Iraqi ambassador to Jordan, Seleh Hurani, with profuse gratitude. Hurani praised King Hussein as "the noblest of the Arabs" and said Iraq is attempting to mesh its war against Iran with the goals of all Arab nations.
With Iraq a major financial supporter, Jordan has reciprocated with preferential arrangements, such as sharing port facilities at Aqaba and improving land transport to them.
The only concrete Jordanian support of Iraq's war effort to surface publicly has been making available a remote northeast airbase as a haven for Iraqi troop transport planes held in reserve.
Arab and Western diplomatic sources here noted lack of overt Syrian support for Iraq and even some expressions of sympathy for Iran. Similarly, most of the gulf states have shown signs of unwillingness to stand up and be counted, partly for fear of being drawn into the conflict.
"The knife is cutting all different ways in the Middle East, and there is a lot of uneasiness about what's going on," said a Wesern diplomat here. "There is a distinct feeling that the smart thing to do is hold your head down and hope there is a cease-fire."
The lack of unanimity over the conflict puts King Hussein in a delicate position. He has gone to some lengths to rally Arab support for Iraq, including telephone calls to Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia and President Hafez Assad of Syria, after his talk with the Iraqi leader.
An Arab summit is scheduled to convene here in November, and the Jordanian monarch reportedly has been counting on the conference to advance his long-cherished dream of a unified Arab alternative to the Camp David peace process.