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Egypt Leads Arab Revolt Against US
28 August 2002
The Bush Administration faced a rebellion last night among its closest Arab and European allies, who warned Washington not to carry out its threat of war against Iraq.
In some of the most uncompromising language used by America s former coalition partners in the Gulf War, Washington was told that it could have to fight alone if it chooses to depose Saddam Hussein by force.
President Mubarak of Egypt, one of America s closest allies in the region, gave warning of Arab anger unless some form of peace was first reached between Israel and the Palestinians. If you strike Iraq, and kill the people of Iraq while Palestinians are being killed by Israel . . . not one Arab leader will be able to control the angry outburst of the masses, he told students in Alexandria.
I don t think there is one Arab state that wants a strike on Iraq, not Kuwait, not Saudi Arabia, not any other state, he said, adding that a military intervention in Iraq could lead to chaos across the region .
Last night President Bush attempted to patch up relations with America s most important Arab ally when he telephoned Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to assure him that the two countries remained close friends. The US leader also received Prince Bandar, the Saudi Ambassador to Washington, and his family as guests on his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Mr Mubarak s concern was reflected by the Gulf states, which would be expected to provide the launch pad for any American attack. Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, Qatar s Foreign Minister, visited Baghdad in order, he said, to avert a catastrophe .
His country is home to a huge new US airbase likely to be used in any offensive but he said Qatar was against any military action .
Similar concerns were expressed by officials from Bahrain, headquarters of US naval forces in the Gulf, and Saudi Arabia, which has already ruled out allowing American forces based on its soil to attack Iraq.
The latest crisis was triggered on Monday by Dick Cheney, the US Vice-President, who said that a pre-emptive strike against Iraq was necessary to stop Saddam acquiring nuclear weapons. He suggested that even if Baghdad allowed the return of United Nations weapons inspectors, Washington would still not be convinced that the threat of Iraq amassing weapons of mass destruction could be eliminated.
Britain, the only country likely to join US forces in a military assault, responded by insisting that a diplomatic solution was still possible. The cautious approach coincided with a poll among Labour voters showing growing opposition to a war against Iraq.
Last night tensions were raised further in the region by reports that American and British warplanes had launched two airstrikes against suspected Iraqi anti-aircraft batteries in northern and southern Iraq. Baghdad said that the civilian airport in the northern city of Mosul had been hit in one of the heaviest bombings in months.
The talk of war and the latest actions on the ground appeared to help Iraq s diplomatic offensive that is under way in the Arab world and as far away as Beijing, where the country s Foreign Minister held talks with the Chinese leaders.
Taha Yassin Ramadan, the Iraqi Vice-President, who was in Damascus, issued a defiant message: We could not care less about the threats that are out there. Iraq has a longer history with these threats and such despotism.
Other Arab leaders appeared far more sensitive to the threat of war, which many experts say could be launched as soon as this winter.
The response from America s European allies ranges from caution in Britain to suspicion in France and outright rejection in Germany. Growing differences between London and the hawks in the Bush Administration were exposed by Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, who insisted that Saddam could still avoid conflict by readmitting UN arms inspectors.
The day after Mr Cheney doubted the value of a return by the inspectors, the Foreign Secretary said that the Government was clear that it preferred a diplomatic solution to war.
On a visit to Edinburgh, Mr Straw again indicated that the Iraqi leader could escape a devastating military assault if he readmitted the UN inspectors. The ball is now in Saddam Hussein s court, he said.
Let me repeat what the Prime Minister and I have made all too clear so often and that is that no decisions about military action have been taken here and no decisions about military action have been taken in the US.
He said that only if inspectors were not allowed the chance to resume their work of searching for and destroying Iraqi chemical, nuclear and biological weapons could the West decide about the use of military force.
His remarks came as a new poll last night indicated that opposition to war against Iraq had grown sharply among Labour voters. The Guardian ICM survey showed that opposition to American policy on Iraq has risen to 52 per cent among Labour supporters, with support dropping eight points to 35 per cent.
In Germany the Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, said in an interview last night that the Bush Administration s policy was a mistake.
We are still far away from achieving peace in the Middle East to talk about an attack against Iraq now is wrong, Herr Schröder said. Under my leadership Germany will not take part in that.
France too was deeply critical. Dominique de Villepin, the Foreign Minister, said that Washington should not take action against Iraq without UN approval.
Richard Beeston, Tim Reid and Philip Webster