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Author: 
By Anne Penketh
Publication Date: 
Fri, 2002-09-06

CAIRO/LONDON, 6 September — Baghdad and fellow Arab states warned US President George W. Bush yesterday that attacking Iraq will “open the gates of hell” in the Middle East, although White House officials pressed ahead with a drive to win support for their war plans.

European and other nations, however, continued to give the thumbs down to Bush’s aim of toppling the Baghdad regime, despite his pledge to state his case against Saddam Hussein to the United Nations and seek congressional approval for any military moves to oust the Iraqi president.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa rounded off a foreign ministers meeting in Cairo with a warning that a US strike against Iraq would “open the gates of hell” in a region already “angry and frustrated” at Israel’s actions against the Palestinians during their nearly two-year conflict.

“We will continue to work to avoid a military confrontation ... because we believe that it will open the gates of hell in the Middle East,” Moussa told a news conference after the two-day meeting ended with a statement rejecting “any threat of attack” against Iraq.

Moussa said Arab countries instead backed the return of UN arms inspectors to Iraq as part of a deal between Baghdad and the United Nations. The Arab foreign ministers urged Iraq to pursue its dialogue with the United Nations, and asked Moussa to contact the Security Council and UN chief Kofi Annan to “urge them to fulfill their legal responsibilities ... and to prevent any attack.”

Washington’s European allies continued to make their anti-war stance known, with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder saying it would be a “big mistake” for the United States to launch its own war on Iraq and European foreign policy chief Javier Solana insisting that the conflict over arms inspections should be resolved by the UN.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, so far the sole European leader in Bush’s camp, faced renewed pressure from MPs for an early recall of Parliament to look into British participation in a possible strike as he prepared to discuss the crisis with the US leader at the weekend. China also reiterated its opposition to military action, while Australian Prime Minister John Howard, long one of Bush’s staunchest allies, said he favored a diplomatic solution to the crisis and would not blindly follow the United States into war.

Bush, who met with Congress leaders, said he would, at an “appropriate time,” ask the lawmakers for permission to launch a military campaign against Iraq if he decides it is needed. Cheney and CIA director George Tenet changed their schedules yesterday to join other top administration officials at a meeting with two dozen senators on Iraq, according to a US defense official.

The top UN weapons inspector who oversaw the destruction of much of Saddam’s arsenal of chemical and biological weapons yesterday called for an armed force of 50,000 men to back up the UN experts. Rolf Ekeus, who was chief UN inspector from 1991 to 1997, said that such “coercive inspections” could offer Saddam Hussein a credible alternative to being overthrown by a US military intervention.

“Iraq may well accept if this is an alternative to an invasion,” said Ekeus, who now chairs the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. “The prospect of a military invasion may concentrate Saddam’s mind.”

The proposals are in a report to be released today by an influential US think tank, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Ekeus said he was initially skeptical, but is now one of the authors of the report. His doubts evaporated following “hard-nosed feasibility discussions” with retired air force general Charles Boyd, the former deputy commander of US forces in Europe. (The Independent)

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