Iraq attacks 'provocation' by West

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The Independent Online
BAGHDAD - Iraq claimed yesterday that the West was working to spark a new confrontation and tear the country apart as the allies pushed ahead with plans to set up an aerial exclusion zone to protect the Shias in the south.

President Saddam Hussein's spokesman delivered scathing attacks on President George Bush and John Major, amid the US, French and British plans to create a 'no fly' zone for Iraqi military aircraft.

The Press Secretary, Abdel Jaber Mohsen, said Mr Bush was 'a madman'. Mr Mohsen, writing in the government daily, al-Jumhuriya, said Mr Major was 'the most stupid prime minister Britain has ever seen'. He insisted that Iraq would handle the threats with 'calmness', without specifying whether it would challenge the ban.

Mr Major announced on Tuesday that Britain would send six Tornado fighters and supply planes to join US and French warplanes in a round-the-clock operation to prevent attacks on the Shia population of southern Iraq. The fighters would be ordered to shoot down any Iraqi military aircraft that entered the air exclusion zone south of the 32nd parallel - around a third of the country's territory.

An official of the ruling Baath party claimed that the West was seeking to 'rock the unity of Iraq' under the pretext of humanitarian concerns. Iraq did not discriminate between ethnic or religious groups, Ghani Abdel Ghafur insisted. He accused Washington of planning an 'escalation of the confrontation' with Iraq for electoral reasons.

In Brussels, the Iraqi ambassador to the UN said his country would not 'fall into this trap' and allow itself to be provoked into new hostilities with the West. Zaid Haidar said the new ban on Iraqi flights was 'a provocation . . . a pretext for military action'. It was designed to 'boost the re-election prospects' of Mr Bush in the November polls.

LONDON - The Arab world has responded to the plans to impose an air exclusion zone with almost complete silence, writes Charles Richards. Since the Gulf war, much of the international Arabic language press and media has been bought by Saudi interests, and is reluctant to take a critical stance. Many of the Arab states which supported Iraq or were neutral (Yemen, Sudan, Jordan and the PLO) learnt their previous stands were costly economically and politically, and do not want trouble with the US or Saudi Arabia.

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