CAIRO -- After only a week of war, Arabs are saying there's a new butcher of Baghdad.
Long an epithet for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the West, Arab newspapers and citizens said pictures of burnt bodies and pools of blood in a busy Baghdad neighbourhood proved the name was more suitable for the American government.
"Massacre in Baghdad" screamed a headline in Lebanon's daily as-Safir on Thursday after two explosions devastated a street in the Iraqi capital and killed as many as 15 people.
Iraqis called it a US attack, while the US military suggested it might have been a stray Iraqi anti-aircraft missile or sabotage.
An Iraqi comforts a friend at the site hit by two US-British missiles in Baghdad, leaving 14 people dead and dozens injured.(AFP/Ramzi Haidar)
Egypt's al-Ahrar condemned the "American slaughter of civilians", while Morocco's L'Opinion called the blasts a "murderous raid", and Palestinian newspaper al-Hayat al-Jadida mourned the "savage bombardment" of Baghdad.
"They call Saddam Hussein a butcher. Aren't the Americans butchers? They're worse. They're killing children who've done nothing wrong," said Iman, a 26-year-old woman working in a Cairo haberdashery shop
Throughout the Arab world, from long-time US allies to states Washington accuses of sponsoring "terrorism", citizens were outraged by graphic media images of bodies charred beyond recognition in a war many believe is a sinister plot to subjugate Arabs and dominate the region.
Many said the Baghdad blasts just confirmed their long-held fears that innocent civilians would pay the highest price for a war they increasingly blame on Washington alone.
"It has to stop, that's all. There are women, men and children, innocents who have no connection with the war. It is the civilians who pay," said Moroccan receptionist Bouchra.
Attia, the 55-year-old owner of a ball-bearing shop in Cairo, stabbed his finger at a page full of pictures of Iraqi children wounded in the attack and the body of a civilian.
"What would happen if the Arabs did this in London or Manchester or Birmingham?" he asked. Pointing at a picture of a weeping, injured child, he said: "(British Prime Minister Tony) Blair has four children, doesn't he? What would happen if this was one of his?"
Iraq said on Thursday that more than 350 Iraqi civilians had been killed since the invasion began a week ago, with women, children and elderly people making up most of the victims.
Ali, a 27-year-old Lebanese lawyer, said the rising civilian death toll "makes you wonder whether they are really after our blood, whether we are people who are not allowed to live and must be squashed like insects".
"I pray to God to take them (US and British forces) all to hell," said Ahmad Shehab, a Syrian civil servant. "Why? Because they lie and say they want to protect Iraqis. But watch TV and you will see that all they want to do is to kill Arabs in Iraq and Palestine."
Analysts say the blow-by-blow media coverage of the war, replete with daily pictures of blood and gore, is sure to fuel anti-American sentiment which could trigger renewed protests throughout the Arab world after Muslim midday prayers on Friday.
Thousands of Arabs have held anti-war rallies throughout the region since the war erupted a week ago, and some of the protests have turned unusually violent.
It may also fan latent anger at Arab governments, who have bent over backwards to convince their publics they had done all they could to prevent a war on fellow Arab state Iraq. Many Arabs accuse their governments of failing to protect their own.
"Shame on all Arab leaders who saw this scene and did nothing to stop the massacres of our Arab brothers in Iraq," said Abdel-Naser Nadeem, an engineer in Gaza.
Some analysts say the protests from the Gulf to the Atlantic have the potential to undermine regional stability. But most say tough Arab security services should manage to rein in the fury and ensure the rallies do not threaten government control.
Many Arabs are also angry that popular protests have failed to match the anti-war fervour in European and other countries much further from the conflict.
While several hundred thousand people marched in Damascus on Tuesday, most regional demonstrations have been limited to a few thousand people.
"When I look at Egypt which has 70 million people and I see a protest with a few thousand, what does that mean? That means there is no Arab solidarity," lawyer Ali said.
© 2003 Reuters Ltd