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Thursday, 25 October, 2001, 21:20 GMT 22:20 UK
Iraqis ponder Afghan conflict
Iraqi women mourn their children killed in US air strikes
Many Iraqis feel the US will target their country again
By the BBC's Caroline Hawley in Baghdad

Sabiha al-Dulaimi wipes her eyes, sighs heavily, and turns away.

For her, the scenes of wounded Afghan children being broadcast extensively on Iraqi television are almost too painful to bear.

Iraq is winning, even if it has paid a heavy price

Abdul Razzaq al-Hashimi, former Iraqi diplomat
They bring back too many memories of her own tragedy a decade ago.

Mrs al-Dulaimi, who still dresses in black, lost four of her five children when American bombs hit the el-Amiriya shelter on the outskirts of Baghdad during US-led efforts to force Iraq out of Kuwait in 1991.

"May God destroy the Americans," she says.

"Not the people, of course, because they have good hearts, but the government. It destroyed my life and now it's doing to those poor, helpless Afghans what it did to us."

Mixed feelings

In the first few days after the American strikes began, there were angry protests in Baghdad.

Iraqis queue for food
Ordinary Iraqis have suffered under years of economic sanctions

At one, demonstrators held up a banner in English saying: "USA, you reap what you sow" - an echo of Saddam Hussein's first comments on the 11 September attacks.

But students at Baghdad's Mustansariyeh university take a different attitude.

"We were very sorry for what happened in the World Trade Center," said a 19-year-old girl.

"Those civilians didn't deserve to die. But now America is engaging in terrorism against Afghanistan, and the civilians there. We want peace."

But many Iraqis believe that before long they, too, may find themselves in the firing line again.

"When they finish with Afghanistan, it'll be our turn," said one man, aware of talk in Washington of a "broad" war.


The Iraqi Government has denied any involvement in the 11 September attacks and dismissed reports that one of its intelligence agents met one of the key suspects, Muhammad Atta, in Prague.

Damage from a US air strike on Iraq
Iraq says that despite bombing raids, the US has not achieved its objectives

"All these reports are false and biased and are being used as a pretext to hurt Iraq," Tariq Aziz, the deputy prime minister, told the BBC.

He also denied any Iraqi involvement in the recent anthrax attacks.

"We worked on anthrax in the 1980s and we destroyed all our anthrax assets in the 1990s," he said.

But Mr Aziz said Baghdad would not allow UN weapons inspectors back into Iraq to verify that it is not developing weapons of mass destruction, even if that means eventual confrontation with the United States.

He accused the US and, "to a lesser extent", Britain of seeking not the co-operation of the Iraqi Government, but its overthrow.

But few in Iraq believe that that is a realistic prospect.

And Iraqi officials are defiant.

"Even if they attack Iraq again they will never achieve their objectives," says Abdul Razzaq al-Hashimi, a former Iraqi diplomat and member of the ruling Baath party, who insists Iraq is winning its battle with the West.

"The victor is whoever can prevent the other side from achieving its objectives. For 11 years Iraq prevented the Americans and the English from doing that," he says.

"So Iraq is winning, even if it has paid a heavy price."


But it is ordinary Iraqis who have paid the heaviest price, and who are likely to do so again, if there is new confrontation.

The mood of apprehension is already affecting local businesses, which had just begun to recover after 11 years of sanctions.

UN weapons inspectors in Iraq
Iraq expects tensions to resurface over the issue of arms inspections

"People are worried that there's going to be a stronger attack than we've had in the past so they're holding onto their cash," says Faris al-Hadi, who deals in electronic appliances.

"There had been a clear improvement but now it's been wiped out. We're only selling 20% of what we were selling before 11 September."

Among America's allies, there is little appetite for military action against Iraq and diplomats in Baghdad do not anticipate imminent confrontation.

But they expect tensions between Iraq and the United States to rise at the end of November when the current phase of the UN sanctions regime comes up for renewal.

Many suspect Washington will then step up pressure on Baghdad to allow UN weapons inspectors back or risk being the target of American weaponry.

See also:

20 Oct 01 | Middle East
Saddam's surprise message
11 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Straw denies split with US over Iraq
06 Oct 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Testing the mood in Iraq
27 Sep 01 | Middle East
Iraq urges US restraint
12 Sep 01 | Middle East
Iraq hails attack on US
18 Sep 01 | Media reports
Saddam tells West 'be wise'
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