A week before sitting down with the U.N. chief to talk about sanctions
and weapons inspections, Iraq was basking in worldwide support sparked
by U.S. and British missile strikes on the outskirts of its capital.
Iraq appeared determine to keep attention focused on the air strikes
it said killed two civilians. In a country where public protests
are rarely spontaneous, there have been demonstrations every day
since Friday's attack. Thousands of marchers many of them
students wearing their gray and blue high school uniforms
on Monday burned American , British and Israeli flags and carried
banners declaring "aggression will not scare us and sanctions will
not harm us."
U.S. and British missiles hit Iraq several times a month, and
even when casualties are higher than they were Friday, such protests
are rare. But Friday's attack was the first signal from the new
U.S. administration of how it would deal with Iraq and was the first
strike in several years to come so close to Baghdad and involve
so many fighter planes.
The United States says the targets were longrange surveillance
radar and associated facilities that Iraq has increasingly used
to coordinate its defences against U.S. and British patrols in the
nofly zones over southern and northern Iraq. The United States
and Britain say Iraq cannot fly its planes over those areas of its
territory; Iraqi says the nofly zones are illegitimate and
had planned to raise the issue in talks with U.N. SecretaryGeneral
Kofi Annan set for next Monday and Tuesday in New York.
Deputy Foreign Minister Nabil Najim told reporters last week that
Iraq would demand from Annan "the total and immediate lifting of
sanctions and the ending of the almost daily aggression on the southern
and the northern parts of the country" the last a reference
to the nofly zones.
Iraq wants the U.N. to lift crippling economic sanctions imposed
after it invaded Kuwait in 1990. The United Nations says Iraq must
first let inspectors back in to make sure President Saddam Hussein
is not developing weapons of mass destruction.
No major breakthrough had been expected from the meeting, but
hopes were raised because Baghdad requested it and was sending a
highlevel delegation. In the wake of the missile strikes and
bolstered by international support, Iraq may now be less inclined
to compromise on the question of inspections and more insistent
sanctions be lifted.
Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed alSahhaf, who will lead
the Iraqi delegation, said in a weekend letter to Annan and the
U.N. Security Council that the U.N. chief should "condemn the dangerous
aggression and the increase of tension."
Iraq already has heard the attacks condemned around the world.
Countries that were key supporters of the coalition that drove Iraq
out of Kuwait 10 years ago, like Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Spain
and France have criticized the attacks.
Russia, which along with France has been pushing for a new international
policy on Iraq and questioned the effectiveness of the sanctions,
over the weekend said the bombardment was unjustified.
Russian ultranationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky left
Moscow Monday for Iraq on a trip intended to be a show of support.
"The United States and Britain have bombed Iraq for 10 years,
humiliating it," Zhirinovsky told reporters Monday before flying
out of Moscow. "Can you imagine this logic, according to which they
bomb the country to make sure that not one bullet touches an American
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters
in Tehran Monday that the U.S.British air strikes were "inexplicable,"
the Iranian news agency IRNA reported.
"We regret the carnage of innocent Iraqis and we condemn it,"
Asefi was quoted as saying.
In Malaysia Monday, the main ethnic Chinese opposition party joined
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in condemning the air strikes. Nearly
60 percent of Malaysia's 22 million people are Muslim. The Malaysian
government supports an end to the sanctions.
Indonesia's foreign ministry said in a statement Monday that the
attacks only increased the suffering of Iraqis reduced to poverty
by the prolonged sanctions. Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid,
who leads the world's most populous Muslim nation, has often expressed
his support for the easing of the sanctions.
British member of parliament George Galloway, who has criticized
his government's Iraq policy, on Monday visited a Baghdad hospital
were Iraqis wounded in the missile attacks were being treated.
Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz, comfortable that world opinion
is on his side, ridiculed the United States and Britain for portraying
Friday's attacks as an attempt to protect U.S. and British pilots
patrolling the nofly zones.
"America defends itself in Baghdad? It enters the country ....,
bombs it, then says it was defending itself?" Aziz said on Iraqi
television Sunday night. "This is an unacceptable and disreputable
talk by the Americans. It is also condemned by the whole world."
One stateowned Iraqi daily called for military retaliation.
"Iraq is determined to confront this aggression, improve its means
of retaliation to make Iraqi skies like hell for the enemy ravens,"
said alThawra daily in a frontpage editorial on Monday.
Another staterun paper, alQadissiya, said in its frontpage
editorial that "Iraq has all means to retaliate if such aggression,
which shall not pass unpunished, was repeated."
Iraq's military was severely weakened by the Gulf War and a decade
of sanctions. But defence experts suspect that in the two years
U.N. inspectors have been barred, Iraq may have reconstituted some
of its chemical and biological weapons programs.
© 2001 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd.