Iraq strike would 'open the gates of hell' - Arab League head

EGYPT: The Arab League secretary general, Mr Amr Moussa, said yesterday that a military campaign against Iraq would "open the…

EGYPT: The Arab League secretary general, Mr Amr Moussa, said yesterday that a military campaign against Iraq would "open the gates of hell" in the region, writes Michael Jansen

Speaking to the press at the end of a two-day meeting of 20 Arab foreign ministers in Cairo, Mr Moussa said that "an action against Iraq", in the face of worldwide opposition, "would lead to serious repercussions in this region and, perhaps, beyond".

He added: "No Arab country will accept any strike on any other Arab country."

In their final communique, the ministers "totally rejected the threats of a military strike against Iraq" and said "Arab national security was itself under threat".


Mr Moussa said US threats against Iraq risk inflaming Arab "frustration and anger" over the ongoing conflict between the Palestinians and Israel. "We wonder why we should insist that only Iraq should implement Security Council resolutions. But, what about Israel?"

He asked why there is a double standard that exempts Israel "from not only implementation but the call to implement Security Council resolutions".

The ministers declared their full support for Iraq's effort to pursue a dialogue with the UN to end the crisis over the resumption of weapons inspections.

Mr Moussa said he expected Iraqi Foreign Minister Mr Naji Sabri and UN secretary general Mr Kofi Annan would hold talks on the resumption of inspections.

In Mr Moussa's view, the return of inspection teams would allow the international community to determine whether or not Iraq was in breach of UN resolutions, which call for the elimination of its arms of mass destruction.

"We again reiterate the importance of the full implementation of Security Council resolutions. We are for the return of inspectors under an agreement . . . between the government of Iraq and the secretary general," he stated, indicating Arab rejection of a British proposal for backing up the demand for the return of inspectors with the threat of force.

The ministers' formal statement called for an "interlinked and scheduled implementation of all the requirements of the Security Council resolutions", effectively endorsing Baghdad's demand for a comprehensive settlement of all the issues between the UN and Iraq, including the lifting of sanctions once inspection teams conclude their work.

Asked about reports that the US could use Qatar as a launch pad for a military attack, Mr Moussa said that "the Qatari foreign minister completely denied these reports".

Mr Sabri was very pleased with the outcome of the meeting because it demanded a "peaceful resolution" of the dispute between the Bush administration and Baghdad.

Mr Sabri has repeatedly denied that Iraq possesses or is developing weapons of mass destruction, as Washington contends. He said Baghdad had received "assurances" from Russia and China, two permanent members of the Security Council he consulted recently, "that they rejected an aggression against Iraq and seek a political solution through a continuation of dialogue between Iraq and the United Nations".

Following a meeting between Egyptian President Mr Hosni Mubarak and Danish Foreign Minister Mr Per Stig Moeller, who holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Mr Ahmad Maher, stated: "We think an invasion of Iraq is wrong and would have serious consequences." And, the Syrian Vice President, Mr Abdel Halim Khaddam, warned of "the disastrous consequences" of a war against Iraq after talks with the French President, Mr Jacques Chirac, in Paris.

Meanwhile, President Bush, ahead of his meeting with the British Prime Minister Mr Tony Blair tomorrow, will today telephone the members of the UN security council seeking support for a toughly worded resolution demanding the return of the weapons inspectors. Speaking in Kentucky yesterday, President Bush said he would phone the Russian, Chinese and French leaders (with the US and the UK, permanent members of the UN security council) today to build support for a new resolution demanding the return of the inspectors.

Mr Bush said: "I will remind them that history has called us into action. We can't let the world's worst leaders blackmail, threaten, hold freedom-loving nations hostage with the world's worst weapons."