Arab States Condemn US Strike on Baghdad

Even close American allies see double standard behind raid

ARAB states, including close allies of the United States, are showing rare unanimity in their condemnation of the June 26 missile strike against Baghdad.

With the notable exception of the Arab Gulf countries, which regard Iraq as the greatest threat to regional stability, Arab states have disavowed the US attack, complaining that it was undertaken without consultation, and that it underscores the West's preoccupation with Baghdad and lack of concern for the plight of Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

"When President Clinton aimed the 23 missiles at Baghdad," the conservative Cairo daily Al-Wafd editorialized yesterday, "he should have pointed a few of them at the Serbs." Similar sentiments were heard across the Arab world over the weekend as news of the US strike filtered down to street level, and as governments, including some that fought with the allies in the Gulf war, formulated their responses.

Senior officials in Egypt, a staunch ally of the US during the effort to dislodge Iraq from Kuwait in 1991, expressed disappointment with what they describe as the lack of balance in US foreign policy.

"We would have hoped to see the same decisive action taken against the aggressors in Bosnia to punish those who perpetuate the ethnic cleansing," Foreign Minister Amr Moussa told reporters Sunday.

The Arab League, headquartered in the Egyptian capital, released a statement Sunday expressing "deep sorrow" over the bombing raid and accusing Washington of employing a "double standard" in the Middle East and the former Yugoslavia. The statement was drafted by the organization's secretariat, however, rather than by the member states. Had the draft been debated by the entire body, observers say, it almost certainly would have been vetoed by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Diplomats and other observers say that they believe the breach in the ranks of the broad Gulf-war alliance is neither serious nor permanent.

"The [raid] will cause temporary discomfort for our allies in the region," one Western diplomat says. "But I'm confident it will only be temporary."

"The partnership of these Arab states and the West has survived earlier attacks [by the US] and it will survive this one as well," he says.

The US has justified the raid by making reference to Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which permits states to respond militarily if they are threatened by a hostile power.

Many Arabs have long been critical of Washington's insistence on implementing the letter of international law against Iraq, while adopting more generous interpretations of UN Security Council resolutions condemning Israel and Serbia. In addition, critics of the US action saw significance in the fact that the Clinton administration decided not to wait until a verdict was rendered in the trial of a group of Iraqis charged with plotting to kill former President Bush during his visit to Kuwait in April.

The existence of the plot is the reason that the administration gives for the raid, which reportedly destroyed the Baghdad headquarters of Iraqi Military Intelligence. Mr. Bush had been invited to Kuwait as a gesture of thanks for his stewardship of the allied coalition in the Gulf war.

In Morocco, a close ally of the US, the official press blasted Washington yesterday for undertaking the raid without first consulting sympathetic Arab states. The daily Al-Alam accused the Clinton administration of exploiting "the new world order in order to enslave the countries and people of the world." It said that Washington was using the UN Security Council as "an organ of American foreign policy."

Reports that Clinton informed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin before launching the strike also played into the hands of Washington's Arab critics.

"The American administration is only concerned to get the approval of Israel," the Jordanian daily Sawt al-Shaab editorialized Monday. "This is cause for grave concern to us in Jordan."

In the only official comment from Jordan's leadership, Crown Prince Hassan bin Talal told the official Petra news agency yesterday that he felt the US raid would bring "hatred and human material damage" to the region. Jordan and the US were at odds during the Gulf war over Amman's failure to join the coalition opposing Baghdad and for logistical support that the Bush administration accused Jordan of giving to Iraq. But relations have been improving in the wake of King Hussein's visit to Washington earlie r this month.

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