Muslim World Virtually United
Against US - Pressure Grows

By Caroline Drees

CAIRO, Egypt (Reuters) - Muslims leaders kept a united front of pressure on Washington Thursday to avert a strike against Iraq, saying it could unleash fresh turmoil in the Islamic world by widening a gulf between Muslims and the West.
But Britain and Belgium marked a subtle European shift in tone, reminding Iraq it had to abide by U.N. resolutions or risk facing Washington's wrath.
Although European states have repeatedly stressed their opposition to striking Iraq, some analysts say reluctant U.S. allies may now be turning to the United Nations to get political cover for falling in behind an American war on Iraq.
Iraq chimed into the debate Thursday by saying there was no point in allowing U.N. weapons inspectors back into the country, because an "insane, criminal" U.S. administration was determined to attack and oust President Saddam Hussein.
Vice President Dick Cheney said this week that arms inspections could provide no guarantees of Iraqi compliance with U.N. disarmament resolutions, and a U.S. official said on Wednesday Washington would seek "regime change" whether or not he allowed inspections to resume.
While Saddam sent his deputy Taha Yassin Ramadan to Damascus and Beirut and Foreign Minister Naji Sabri to China seeking support this week, ordinary Iraqis went about business as usual, seeming to accept whatever comes with fatalistic calm.
"We are not scared any more by American bombs," said one Baghdad shopkeeper. "If they start bombing, let them do so."
Washington says Iraq poses a threat to world stability because it is trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction in violation of U.N. resolutions imposed after the 1991 Gulf War.
Iraq says it has dismantled all such programs and wants an end to punitive U.N. sanctions. It has refused to allow U.N. weapons inspectors into the country since a U.S.-British bombing campaign in December 1998.
Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf, a vital U.S. ally in its war on terror, said Washington would not have the broad backing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld forecast this week if it launched a strike against Baghdad.
"This would have very negative repercussions around the Islamic world," Musharraf told BBC Radio.
"Muslims are feeling that they are on the receiving end everywhere. So there is a feeling of alienation in the Muslim world and I think this will lead to further alienation," he said, predicting greater Islamic militancy in Pakistan if Iraq came under fire.
Muslims around the world believe they were the main casualty of Washington's war on terror amid rising anti-Islamic sentiment and a perceived Western bias against their faith.
They say many say issues close to their heart, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and protecting civilians in war, have received short shrift while Washington plowed ahead with its agenda to rout alleged terrorists across the globe.
Indonesia's biggest mainstream Muslim organization, the 40-million strong Nahdlatul Ulama, also said it strongly opposed any U.S. attack and would protest if the United States launched military action against Iraq.
Rumsfeld's assertion that a U.S. strike would win international support has already triggered negative reactions from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, two strategically important nations should President Bush take on Baghdad.
In Europe, where NATO allies have often said they opposed attacking Iraq, Belgium and Britain marked a subtle shift of tone Thursday, putting the onus on Iraq to prove it was sticking to U.N. resolutions if it wanted to avert a strike.
Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel said "Europe will find it very difficult to remain squarely opposed to a preventive strike" if Baghdad refused to abide by the resolutions.
Michel said he hoped foreign ministers of the 15-nation bloc meeting in Denmark Friday and Saturday would discuss Iraq.
In Britain, the Foreign Office said it would consider pressing for a deadline by which Iraq had to comply with the resolutions.
Separately, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the Financial Times that the return of weapons inspectors was only a first step, adding Britain did not rule out military action.
"What we are doing, what I want to do, is putting the ball back in Saddam Hussein's court," the paper quoted him as saying.
"It's certainly the case that the reintroduction of weapons inspectors per se would provide no assurance of itself that there would be compliance (with U.N. resolutions)," Straw said. "But it's a first step on the way to ensuring compliance."


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