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Thursday, 22 August, 2002, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
US isolation on Iraq grows
Iraqi anti-US demonstration
Iraqis have been showing their anger at US policies

As the argument goes on inside the United States about a possible military attack on Iraq, criticism of President George W Bush's policy has been mounting overseas.

Exchanges between Berlin and Washington came out into the open, while the UK Government made clear its priority was not the removal of President Saddam Hussein.

George W Bush
Bush may not like what he is hearing
The public line in Washington is that President Bush is listening carefully to many people, including America's allies. But he surely does not like what he is hearing.

The exasperation of the hawks in the administration was relayed by a prominent adviser to the Pentagon, Richard Perle, who said the European allies were just not relevant. Apart from Britain, they preferred to look the other way or cut deals with Saddam Hussein.

No clear danger?

That contemptuous comment looked like a response to a blunt statement earlier by the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder. He said Germany would not take part in military action against Iraq or contribute financially to it. It would be an adventure, he said, that might destroy the international coalition against terrorism.

No other European leader has gone so far.


One British official said the Bush administration had not sorted out its arguments in favour of action to remove Saddam Hussein - it had not established an Iraqi link with al-Qaeda and the attacks of 11 September, nor had it demonstrated an imminent threat

Some explained Mr Schroeder's remarks by the fact that he is fighting an uphill campaign for re-election. But it is striking that he believes opposing George Bush is a vote winner in Germany.

One of the points made by America's allies is that they are not convinced there is a clear danger of Iraq attacking its neighbours or using weapons of mass destruction.

That was the argument used by Canadian ministers this week - based on the information they had now, they said, Canada was unlikely to take part in American military action.

Inspections 'crucial'

The issue of UN weapons inspection also points up the transatlantic divide. It is a key international demand that Iraq should re-admit the inspectors and allow them to continue their search for weapons of mass destruction.

The United States has backed that demand many times. But recently senior American officials have been suggesting that renewed inspections would be pointless.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
Straw: Inspections are the crucial issue
Britain, Washington's closest ally, does not agree. The British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, spelt out the difference when he told the BBC that inspections were the crucial issue - and the best way to contain the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

If the Iraqi leader were to allow UN inspectors to do their job without any restrictions - and Mr Straw said that did not look likely - then plainly the case for military action would recede.

That is a long way from the position of the Bush administration. And Britain declines to endorse the removal of Saddam Hussein as a specific policy aim.

Legality

Many observers continue to believe that if it comes to the crunch, the UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, will commit forces to an attack on Iraq. But he is under increasing pressure from his own Labour Party and from a procession of former diplomats, ministers and military chiefs voicing alarm at the prospect.

The question of international legality looms large in their arguments. British Government sources say officials are looking at Security Council resolutions from the time of the Gulf War more than 10 years ago to see whether they could be used to justify military action against Iraq now.


The near universal sympathy for the United States after 11 September has evaporated, with potentially serious implications for international co-operation in the American war on terrorism

Any such justification would be controversial and contested. It is possible that the United States or Britain might propose a new resolution, although anything that got through the Security Council would be unlikely to give clear-cut UN authorisation.

One British official said the Bush administration had not sorted out its arguments in favour of action to remove Saddam Hussein. It had not established an Iraqi link with al-Qaeda and the attacks of 11 September, nor had it demonstrated an imminent threat.

On the other hand, the official said, resurrecting the Gulf War ceasefire resolution and others meant insisting on UN inspections - but Washington did not actually want inspectors back in as they would only get in the way.

Opposition to Mr Bush's policy comes from Russia, too - running counter to a marked warming of relations since 11 September. The Russians oppose military action, and believe the UN should respond to the equivocal overtures from Iraq on weapons inspections.

Arab alienation

More serious for Washington, though it hardly seems to acknowledge the fact, is the universal resentment of American policy in the Arab world. To add to the problem, the Bush administration now has ongoing quarrels with its two closest traditional allies, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

The heavy involvement of Saudis in the 11 September attacks changed perceptions in the United States. Some of the victims are suing Saudi institutions and members of the royal family for huge damages.

The American right in particular regards Saudi Arabia as an undemocratic breeding ground of Islamic terrorism, which should be treated as an enemy rather than a friend.

The Saudis are furious at the criticism; they were already angry at more or less unqualified US support of Israel. They have said publicly they will not allow Saudi bases to be used for an attack on Iraq, and there are reports of Saudi investors pulling funds out of the United States.

In the case of Egypt, the Bush administration has publicly opposed any increase in aid to President Mubarak's government because of a jail sentence passed on an Egyptian democracy campaigner who also holds American citizenship.

The Arab dimension of the US-Iraq confrontation shows the difficulties thrown up by President Bush's relentless pursuit of a single, overriding policy.

And in global terms, the near universal sympathy for the United States after 11 September has evaporated, with potentially serious implications for international co-operation in the American war on terrorism.

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The BBC's Mike Woolridge
"The President was emphasising no quick action"

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22 Aug 02 | Politics
21 Aug 02 | Americas
20 Aug 02 | Americas
17 Aug 02 | Middle East
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