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Monday, 18 March, 2002, 15:53 GMT
Analysis: Region opposes attack on Iraq
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
Deposing Saddam: Official US policy since 1997
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BBC News Online's Tarik Kafala
line

There is currently very little international support for United States-led military action against Iraq.

Only the United Kingdom officially supports Washington' stated objective of toppling Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.


We have to be very careful there - very, very careful. Unless the people know definitely there is something real there, I am afraid of public opinion

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
In the Middle East, all governments have warned against this sort of plan.

They fear that the security of the region could deteriorate dramatically and that an Iraq without strong central control could disintegrate into Shia, Sunni and Kurdish states.

Equally, Middle Eastern leaders are aware of popular Arab and Islamic anger at the suffering of ordinary Iraqis under more than 10 years of sanctions.

Muslim and Arab leaders fear further Iraqi civilian deaths would be a rallying call for radical Islamists and provoke more anti-American feeling.

'Regime must go'

Commentators are predicting that the US will launch some kind of attack on Iraq this year.

US President George W Bush
Bush has made it clear that Saddam must go
Richard Murphy, a former US Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs told BBC News Online that at the moment Afghanistan was still preoccupying the US administration and that a final decision to strike Iraq had not been taken.

"Certainly there is a lot of commentary out there that says the regime should not continue in power.

"I couldn't predict the time but I think there is a conviction that the Iraqi regime constitutes a danger to the region and to its own people and that the possession of weapons of mass destruction constitutes a danger beyond the region in the hands of that leadership," Mr Murphy said.

No international consensus

But the current diplomatic situation is vastly different from that during the 1990-91 Gulf War.

Then, the US had the backing of all Iraq's immediate neighbours - even Iran stayed neutral.


In the region leaders will try their best to persuade against military attacks... but at the end of the day, they will consider whatever develops from the point of view of their national interest and cope with the fallout

Former US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy
Syria, Egypt and a wide range of European states sent troops and there was an international consensus in favour of liberating Kuwait.

Mustapha Alani is a Middle East specialist with the Royal United Services Institute in London. He argues that no Arab or Islamic government will want to be seen politically or militarily backing action against Iraq at this time.

"This is a very sensitive issue for them. Liberating Kuwait is a legitimate objective, but toppling regimes is completely different," Mr Alani told BBC News Online.

War aims

The objective of toppling the Iraqi regime was officially declared by the US in 1997, but it has not been translated into action.

Now, Washington argues that military action against Iraq is necessary because it could use weapons of mass destruction.


There is a difficulty for the Americans of starting this action at a time when the Palestinians are being seen as being brutally victimised by the Israelis, which Washington seems to be condoning

Mohammad al-Sayyed Said, an Egyptian political analyst
In the wake of 11 September, some US officials have linked Iraq to the suicide attacks and the anthrax attacks soon after, but offered nothing concrete in evidence.

Richard Murphy concedes that Middle East leaders are questioning US motives and intentions.

"There certainly is a lot of scepticism in the region to American talk of getting rid of Saddam, because they say: 'You have been at that for 11 years and have not been very serious, so why should we take you seriously today?'" Mr Murphy said.

Unfinished business?

The perception in the Middle East and Islamic world is that President George W Bush sees the continued rule of Saddam Hussein as unfinished business left over by his father at the end of the last Gulf War.

Anti-US and anti-Israel protest in Baghdad
Attacks on Iraq may cause protests across the Arab and Islamic world
And, as ever, Washington's evergreen support for Israel rankles in the Arab world.

Egyptian political analyst Mohammad al-Sayyed Said told BBC News Online: "There is a difficulty for the Americans of starting this action at a time when the Palestinians are being seen as being brutally victimised by the Israelis, which Washington seems to be condoning. So they can't really open two big wounds in the Arab body politic simultaneously."

The US argument about weapons of mass destruction, Mr Said argues, is very much undermined in Arab eyes by Washington's silence on Israel's nuclear arsenal.


Since 11 September, this sort of objective has enjoyed the support of Congress and of American public opinion. The administration believes that this is what they need

Mustapha Alani of the Royal United Services Institute
In such an environment, the US is expected to launch its ground and air attacks form Turkey, and bases and ships that are not in the Middle East.

It is very unlikely that Saudi Arabia, struggling with a strong trend of anti-Americanism, will allow the US to use its territory for attacks.

"Kuwait is a special case because of the invasion and liberation, and because Kuwait is protected by the United States. Even there though there will be strong resistance to Kuwaiti involvement even in terms of bases," Mustapha Alani argues.

BBC Iran specialist Baqer Moin says Iran is pressing for the United Nations to be involved to a greater degree and for Iraqis to decide the nature of their government.

"Iranians are worried by the rhetoric surrounding Washington's concept of the 'axis of evil'. They fear that, under pressure form Israel, the US would use the attacks on Iraq to go after Iran's nuclear reactor at Bushehr, on Iran's Persian Gulf coast," Mr Moin said.

US 'unconcerned'

But does it matter that the US will have to go it almost alone if it launches military action against Iraq?

Richard Murphy argues there is no expectation in Washington that it can build an international coalition behind its plans.

"I think that in the region, leaders will try their best to persuade against military attacks in Iraq or to unseat the regime by whatever means, but at the end of the day, they will consider whatever develops from the point of view of their national interest and cope with the fallout."

Mustapha Alani agrees that Washington is largely unconcerned about the lack of backing.

"The reason is that, since 11 September, this sort of objective has enjoyed the support of Congress and of American public opinion. The administration believes that this is what they need."

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