Arabs Warn U.S. Not to Use Iraq to Pick New Fights
By Sami Aboudi
CAIRO (Reuters - 2 April) - Arab commentators and officials warned the United States on Wednesday that its war on Iraq was widening its circle of enemies in the Middle East and urged Washington to refrain from picking new fights.
The comments came in the wake of recent threats by senior members of President Bush's administration against Syria and Iran, and later Israeli warnings to Damascus, that they would be held to account if they gave support to Iraq.
Samir Ragab, editor of mainstream Egyptian daily al-Gomhuria, said threats issued by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell were hurting Washington's standing in the area at a time when it was making few gains on the ground in Iraq.
"It will not be in U.S. interests to hurl threats at certain countries and create the impression that they are next on the list of U.S. targets," Ragab wrote in a comment column.
"It is expected that the U.S. would keep silent, otherwise it will widen the circle of its enemies," Ragab said.
Powell and Rumsfeld have signaled in separate comments that Syria must abandon what they say is its support for Iraq and "terrorism" or face the consequences.
Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz appeared to add fuel to the fire when he said both Israel and the United States viewed as "very grave" the aid Syria has allegedly given to Iraq.
Ghassan Charbel, deputy editor-in-chief of the pan-Arab al-Hayat, said Israel was trying to push the U.S.-Syrian dispute over Iraq "to the point of conflict."
WHO WILL BE NEXT?
In Algiers, Algerian Foreign Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem told parliament in an extraordinary session on Iraq that U.S. threats to Syria would worsen the crisis in the Middle East.
"Algeria expresses its solidarity with brotherly Syria in the face of threats and menaces. The question now is who will be the next to be threatened?" he asked.
Ghassan al-Khatib, Palestinian minister of labor, said the U.S. approach would destabilize the region and harm Western interests. "Democracy cannot be introduced by tanks and warplanes," he said.
Anti-U.S. sentiments in the Arab world have been stoked by images on television screens and in local media of Iraqi children and women killed by American attacks.
Demonstrations have been taking place across the Arab world. On Wednesday, some 20,000 people protested in Lebanon's southern city of Sidon, carrying pictures of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and graphic photos of Iraqi children killed in the war.
"They're just threatening Syria and Iran to cover up for their failure on the battlefield," Beirut taxi driver Mahmoud said. "I wish to God that Syria and Iran would open fronts against the Americans. Then they'd learn what it really means to invade an Arab country."
In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Bassam Zakarneh, a 35-year-old engineer, said if the United States carried out threats to extend the war to Syria and Iran, "everything that has to do with America in the Arab world will be threatened in return."
A THOUSAND BIN LADENS
"They will be creating a thousand (Osama) Bin Ladens because of their double standards," he said, referring to the leader of al Qaeda, Washington's prime suspect in the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.
Bahraini banker Nabeel Saeed said Bush's policies would rebound on him. "Bush is (like) a child with a toy which he does not know how to play with. It could harm himself or others.
"Bush is so stupid, and at every news conference he makes America lose a friend and win an enemy," said Moussa Ali, a 40-year-old Palestinian in Gaza.
"I really hope that America will engage in war with Syria and Iran; it will be the end of the so-called United States."
Syria's official Tishreen newspaper warned that the dangers of the Iraq war would affect the entire Arab world.
"Will Arabs realize the magnitude of the hazard sweeping through their homeland and take action? Or are they going to stay divided, some supporting the aggressors and some watching and rejoicing at the misfortune (of Iraq)? What a disgrace," it said in a commentary.