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Monday, 18 March, 2002, 11:47 GMT
Iraq counters Cheney mission
Iraqi official Ezzat Ibrahim and UAE president
Ibrahim is seeking Arab support against US strikes
Iraq has launched a diplomatic counter-offensive, in direct response to American efforts to drum up Arab support for a strike against Baghdad.

Ezzat Ibrahim - who is seen as the country's second most powerful figure - arrived in Qatar on Monday morning in the footsteps of US Vice-President Dick Cheney.

We believe that now all the Arab countries without exception ... are unanimous that if an attack is committed against Iraq, it will be an aggression against a number of major Arab countries

Iraqi vice-president
Mr Ibrahim, deputy chairman of the ruling Revolutionary Command Council, has been touring the Middle East, while Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz visits North African states.

Little has emerged about their discussions.

Another senior Iraqi official, Vice-President Taha Yasin Ramadan has hinted that UN weapons inspectors could return to Iraq for the first time in more than three years - under certain conditions.

"Iraq refuses the return of inspectors for as long as the sites for inspection and a precise timetable are not drawn up," he was quoted as telling the London-based Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat.

He said he hoped that dialogue with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan - begun earlier this month - would open the way for a solution.

Washington has insisted that Iraq let in inspectors unconditionally to avoid strikes, but correspondents say Mr Cheney appears to have found little Arab support for military action.

'Climate of solidarity'

Mr Ramadan said that Arab opinion was now united against an attack on Iraq.

Dick Cheney at al-Udeid base in Qatar
Ibrahim followed Dick Cheney to Qatar
"We believe that if a climate of solidarity is created in the Arab homeland, the US will not be able to continue with its excesses because it will take into account the harm that will be done to it," he said.

"We believe that now all the Arab countries without exception ... are unanimous that if an attack is committed against Iraq, it will be an aggression against a number of major Arab countries."

Iraq is firmly in US sights after Mr Bush included it in his "axis of evil" speech in January. His administration has committed itself to a "regime change" in Iraq.

Last week, US President George W Bush announced the "second phase" of his war against terrorism - the six-month anniversary of the 11 September attacks.

Mr Cheney has been in the region for the past week on a 10-country tour in search of Arab backing for military action against Iraq and to address Israeli-Palestinian issues.

UK shadow defence spokesman Bernard Jenkin
"North Korea, Iran and Iraq are all developing missiles"
See also:

18 Mar 02 | Middle East
Cheney puts Qatar base on map
16 Mar 02 | Middle East
Cheney visits US aircraft carrier
14 Mar 02 | Middle East
Chasing rumours with Cheney
13 Mar 02 | Middle East
On the road with Dick Cheney
11 Mar 02 | Americas
Cheney's 'thinking through' tour
13 Mar 02 | Middle East
Cheney prepares US troops for action
12 Mar 02 | Middle East
Cheney warned over Iraq attack
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