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Thursday, 29 November, 2001, 02:24 GMT
Mid-East warns US on Iraq
UN arms inspectors leave Baghdad in 1998
Iraq refuses to let UN inspectors back into the country
Middle Eastern countries have voiced concern over US hints that Iraq may be the next military target of its war on terrorism.

Egypt and Jordan, important US allies and supporters of the campaign against terrorism, both warned the US against targeting Iraq.

It would be a mistake to resort to using force against Iraq

Ahmed Maher, Egyptian foreign minister

The warnings came soon after European leaders expressed similar reservations, calling on the US to focus its campaign inside Afghanistan.

US officials have refused to rule out striking against Iraq, or any other country it considers to sponsor terrorism.

Force 'mistaken'

Egypt's foreign minister Ahmed Maher said that the use of force against Iraq would be a "mistake".

"It would not solve the problem and would detract from solidarity," he said.

Saddam Hussein
Bush said Saddam will "find out" the consequences

Jordanian government spokesperson Saleh Qallab said that military action would have "negative consequences", a phrase echoed by Syrian foreign minister Farouk al-Shara, who warned that the US would be making "a fatal mistake".

Iraq's vice president Taha Yassin Ramadan said in an interview with Qatar's al-Jazeera that Baghdad expected "a wide scale and destructive" attack.

However, he said it would "damage the US and further reinforce its isolation".

Arms inspectors

The latest concerns follow comments by US President George W Bush and other US officials that Iraq should allow international arms inspectors back inside the country.

Mr Bush said on Monday that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would "find out" the consequences if he refused.

The comments also caused concern in Europe, where German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said his country would be reluctant to commit troops to any further military attacks in countries such as Iraq or Somalia.

France's defence minister also expressed doubts over extending the war.

Despite these concerns, US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said his country continued to monitor Iraq "very closely".

"We're going after al-Qaeda and that network and we continue to keep our eye on Iraq," he said.

Sanctions debate

Iraqi Vice President Ramadan said his country was ready to defend itself against any US military strikes.

He insisted that Baghdad had no weapons of mass destruction, nor any links with Osama bin Laden.

He also repeated his country's refusal to allow United Nations arms inspectors back inside the country.

Iraqi woman
Many feel sanctions harm ordinary Iraqis
The refusal comes as the UN Security Council debates a resolution to renew the oil-for-food programme, including US and British modifications which would ease sanctions on civilian goods reaching Iraq while tightening controls on weapons - so-called 'smart sanctions'.

The economic embargo against Iraq has been in place since the end of the Gulf War in 1991 but has come under mounting criticism for harming ordinary Iraqis.

The current oil-for-food programme expires on Friday.

Iraq has rejected US and British plans to alter the UN economic embargo against it to allow more civilian goods into Iraq, saying the embargo must be ended altogether.

Former weapons inspector in Iraq Richard Butler
"What the President said is a touch confusing"
The BBC's Greg Barrow
"Iraq has been one of the most divisive subjects of the UN Security Council"
UK Conservative party leader, Iain Duncan Smith
"We must stay together and not let Iraq off the hook"
See also:

27 Nov 01 | Middle East
Iraq defies US over arms inspections
26 Nov 01 | Americas
Bush warns Iraq over UN inspectors
27 Nov 01 | Americas
Could Iraq be next?
12 Nov 01 | Middle East
Iraq fires mortar into Kuwait
07 Nov 01 | Middle East
Iraq 'smart sanctions' postponed
30 Oct 01 | Middle East
Iraq condemns US 'aggression'
28 Oct 01 | Middle East
Rumsfeld: Iraq may be target
28 Nov 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Iraq's 'smart' future
29 Nov 01 | Middle East
Analysis: Is Iraq next?
28 Nov 01 | Europe
Discord over widening war
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