Iraq Bombings: America Speaks - `Saddam breaks a law every day'

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RICHARD LANG, who has left his dry-cleaning business in Connecticut for a day of Christmas shopping in Manhattan with his wife and daughter, does not even want to talk about any domestic motives that President Bill Clinton did or did not have in attacking Iraq. Such talk, he says, is just not right.

"When the troops leave our shores partisanship has to stop," he says, sheltering from rain in the Rockefeller complex. "You have to remember there are families with loved ones out there in the Gulf".

Besides, he says, what difference will it make to the Republican effort to impeach Mr Clinton? "Have the vote on Friday or have it on Monday, it doesn't matter."

It helps that Mr Lang has no doubt that Saddam Hussein deserves the wrath of American and British forces. "If anything, Clinton should have done it before," he said.

Indeed, in serial interviews with Americans in midtown yesterday, there was near unanimity of opinion that punishing Saddam was, in itself, the right thing to do. It was the swell of opinion that informed several overnight snap polls in the United States showing support for the bombing operation running at roughly four to one.

The same polls also showed a majority unwilling to believe that Mr Clinton ordered the strikes simply to stave off the impeachment vote pending in the House of Representatives.

In New York, news of the strikes on Wednesday came for many via the jumbotron television screen in Times Square. A large crowd had gathered in the early evening when the screen showed Mr Clinton addressing the nation for 15 minutes to explain his reasons for the assault.

"I think Clinton did the right thing," offered Salvatore Natali, a veteran of the Second World War who yesterday was selling chenille scarves to tourists from a trestle table on Fifth Avenue. The table, though, was covered in clear plastic to ward off the rain, and he had no customers. "Saddam Hussein has chemicals and he could hit whole populations, including his own, and he has germs too."

Where people divide, however, is over what motivated President Clinton to order the attack. For Mr Natali, the suggestion that it was meant as a diversion from the President's impeachment woes is ridiculous. "President Clinton should go down in history as the greatest president we ever had."

Chris Steidinger, an aspiring chiropodist who for now is working in a museum shop at the Rockefeller Center, was altogether more cynical. "Saddam should be hit, he breaks an international law every day of the week, doesn't he? He is a tyrant. But I think the timing was all wrong. President Clinton wants to stay in power and that's what it's about."

Not everyone was celebrating the attack. Ruth, who would not give her full name, paused at her counter at the Rockefeller Center ice rink where she hands out skates.

"I think it's horrible, what's happening. I'm against war, I'm a pacifist. If you don't stop war then war will always happen. When are we going to stop it?"

But she is positively indignant that people might think the President was attempting a diversion from impeachment. "I don't think that's right, because that would be so awful, I mean to send people to war for that kind of reason. No, I can't believe that."