Writing On the Wall

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BAGHDAD: Imagine 535 congressmen squatting on a D.C. sidewalk scribbling anti-Iraqi graffiti, and you have some idea of the level of hysteria prevalent in Iraq right now. While Saddam Hussein continued to insist he does not want a war, all 250 members of his parliament met outside the building Monday to chalk "down with America" on the stone streets. Speaker Saadoun Hammadi urged all Iraqi families to do the same outside their homes.

Such telegenic stunts have replaced any serious attempts at diplomacy in Iraq's 20-day standoff with the United Nations. With most Arab countries even Kuwait expressing opposition to a U.S. air strike, Saddam is evidently maneuvering himself into the position of anti-American leadership he always sought. Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz is pushing the image for all it's worth: In Morocco Sunday, he warned of a backlash by "Arab masses" in the event of military action.

The only question now is whether Madeleine Albright's whistle-stop weekend tour of surrounding Gulf states Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia has drummed up any support for U.S. action to punish Iraq. Without it, Saddam will turn an air-strike into the greatest pro-Iraq propaganda of all.