Iraq Defiant, Arabs Alarmed
By New Bush War Talk

By Alistair Lyon
Middle East Diplomatic Correspondent

LONDON (Reuters) - Renewed U.S. talk of war to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein drew defiance from Baghdad on Tuesday and a warning from Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak that any such attack could plunge the Middle East into chaos.
U.S. warplanes attacked a radar site in northern Iraq and an air defense command facility in the south after what the U.S. military called hostile acts against U.S. and British jets patrolling two no-fly zones in Iraqi airspace.
The allied planes struck as Arab leaders digested Monday's call from U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney for pre-emptive action against Iraq, saying Baghdad's weapons of mass destruction posed a mortal danger to the United States.
"We could not care less about the threats that are out there. Iraq has a long history with these threats and such despotism," Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan told reporters in Syria after meeting President Bashar al-Assad.
In Baghdad, President Saddam Hussein told Qatar's foreign minister that a U.S. assault on Iraq would be an attack on "all the Arab nation," the official Iraqi News Agency reported.
Saddam said Iraq had implemented all its obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions and accused the world body of failing to reciprocate by lifting crippling sanctions imposed 12 years ago for Baghdad's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
"If there is a genuine desire to find a solution, it has to be based on international legitimacy, international law and the U.N. charter...and has to include implementing commitments by all parties," the Iraqi leader added.
Iraq has refused to allow U.N. weapons inspectors into the country since a U.S.-British bombing campaign in December 1999.
U.S. fears that Iraq is developing doomsday weapons and might turn them over to terrorists increased after the September 11 attacks on U.S. cities, which killed around 3,000 people.
But Cheney's remarks caused fresh alarm among Washington's Arab allies, which strongly supported the U.S.-led coalition that drove Iraqi troops from Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War.
"Striking Iraq is something that could have repercussions and post-strike developments. We fear chaos happening in the region," Egypt's Mubarak told a group of students, adding there was "no need" to attack the sanctions-hit Arab country.
Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani said he was visiting Baghdad to avert a "catastrophe," in clear reference to U.S. threats to oust Saddam by force.
Qatar, which hosts a big U.S. airbase that is now being upgraded, has joined other Arab countries in opposing any U.S. attack on Iraq. "We are of course against any military action," al-Thani told reporters Monday.
Saudi Arabia, whose domestic and foreign policies have come under sometimes hostile scrutiny in the United States since the September 11 attacks, also opposes any attack on Iraq.
President Bush pledged in a meeting with the Saudi ambassador Tuesday to consult with Saudi Arabia and other countries as he approaches a decision on military action.
"On the topic of Iraq, the president stressed that he has made no decisions, that he will continue to engage in consultations with Saudi Arabia and other nations about steps in the Middle East, steps in Iraq," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said after Bush held an hour-long meeting at his Texas ranch with ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
Anti-American feeling is high across the Arab world because of U.S. support for Israel as it tries to crush the Palestinian uprising against Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"(Cheney's) position can only express the depth of rancor and hatred for the Arab and Muslim nations," said Ramadan, urging Arabs to close ranks in response. "Public opinion increasingly rejects the dominance of American despotism."
Ramadan was quoted by Iraq's Rafidain newspaper Tuesday as saying the return of U.N. weapons inspectors to Iraq -- a step the U.N. inspection chief has said might avert war -- was futile if Washington planned to attack Iraq anyway.
Syria's official al-Baath newspaper accused Washington of seeking to install puppet regimes across the Middle East to serve U.S. and Israeli interests. "All the Arabs without exception are at risk," it said in a commentary.
Amid signs of strain in Washington's relations with Saudi Arabia, a longtime close ally, Bush telephoned Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Tuesday to praise the "eternal friendship" between their two countries.
The state-owned Saudi Press Agency published details of the telephone call to Prince Abdullah, the de facto Saudi ruler, in which Bush played down a recent slew of anti-Saudi comments in the United States.
"Such talk does not reflect the strength and solidity of the relationship," it quoted Bush as saying. "It only reflects the opinion of the person who said it and it cannot affect the eternal friendship between the two countries."
The negative comments, including one at a Pentagon briefing that the Saudis should be considered adversaries, have angered Riyadh and sparked rare calls within the world's biggest oil exporter to review relations with its main Western ally.
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