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Iraq: Air Strikes Meet With Mixed Reactions

Prague, 17 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Arab governments gave mixed reactions today to the air strikes against Baghdad. Those politically close to Washington and London voiced muted criticism, but others condemned the action.

Egypt said it regretted the strikes and called for action to prevent any further deterioration in the situation. President Hosni Mubarak said in a statement that Cairo, in his words, "regrets the developments that have occurred since the withdrawal of the (UN) inspections team from Iraq."

The air action came just one month after the last UN-Iraq crisis, when Egypt, Syria and the six Arab Gulf states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) warned President Saddam Hussein to resume cooperating with arms inspectors or bear responsibility for any punitive force used against him.

Syria condemned last night's attacks, calling them "unjustified and committed outside UN resolutions." It called on the international community to stop the strikes immediately.

Qatar expressed what it called its "deep concern" and appealed for "a peaceful resolution" of the crisis, "particularly because the Islamic world is preparing to celebrate Ramadan," the Moslem fasting month which begins this weekend. Oman expressed its "deep regret" and continued to call for resumed cooperation between Baghdad and the UN weapons inspectors.

The four other GCC members --Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates-- have yet to give an official response to the strikes. But Kuwait, whose invasion by Iraq in 1990 sparked the Gulf War, raised the level of alert for its military units.

Arab League Secretary General Esmat Abdel Meguid condemned the U.S. and British air strikes, and several Arab media today were also critical of the action. "Al-Khaleej," one of the Gulf's leading Arabic dailies, reported that "Monica-gate strikes again." It said the strikes served U.S. President Bill Clinton's domestic agenda by delaying efforts in the Congress to impeach him for alleged perjury over his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

The independent satellite channel Al-Jazeerah, which broadcasts from Qatar, said that "for Monica Lewinsky they hit Afghanistan and Sudan and now ... they hit Baghdad." The channel was referring to U.S. strikes earlier this year against suspected terrorist sites in Sudan and Afghanistan following the August bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.

Lebanese Prime Minister Selim Hoss denounced the U.S.-British strikes, saying Beirut considers the attacks, in his words, an "aggression against the Iraqi people."

The Palestinian Authority urged Arab states to convene an emergency summit that would call for an immediate end to the strikes. In the Palestinian territories, hundreds of residents shouted their support for the Iraqi leader, calling on him to launch missile attacks against Israel as he did during the Gulf War. In 1991, Iraq fired 39 Scud missiles at the Jewish state, killing one person.

Israel, meanwhile, said it might retaliate if Iraq again attacks it. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters that "we reserve the right of self-defense and we have the capacity to carry it out."

Jordan, a close U.S. ally but also a trading partner of Iraq, had no official comment. But Interior Minister Nayef al-Kadi said Amman was closing its border with Iraq to all but diplomats to prevent an influx of refugees.

Iraq's non-Arab Muslim neighbors took mixed positions on the strikes. Iran called for an immediate halt to what it called the "unacceptable" U.S. and British air strikes, which it said would only add to the suffering of the Iraqi people. Tehran state radio also reported that a missile fired at Iraq fell on the outskirts of its southern city of Khorramshahr, but caused no casualties. A foreign ministry official said Iran has demanded an explanation from Washington. Relations between Iran and Iraq are still tense after their 1980-1988 war. Iran has repeatedly urged Baghdad to cooperate with UN inspections to confirm it has no more weapons of mass destruction.

The French news agency (AFP) quoted an official in the southern Turkish city of Diyarbakir as saying that Turkey had unilaterally closed its sole border post with Iraq until further notice because of the air attacks. Ankara closed the border post during previous Western strikes against Iraq.