Iraq Under Fire: Arab states wary of backing US: Middle East reaction

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THE United States' Arab allies seem less willing to back its military actions against Iraq than they were two years ago.

Many official and independent organs have condemned the raids, and the 21-member Arab League, which was divided on the use of force to remove the Iraqis from Kuwait but eventually sanctioned Operation Desert Storm, seemed to be united in distancing itself from yesterday's US-led military strike.

The League issued a statement stressing the 'need to exercise self-restraint and resort to dialogue', and to 'respect the sovereignty and independence of Kuwait'.

The statement was interpreted by Arab diplomats as a desire by the League to be seen to be 'neutral rather than a party to a conflict between the West and Iraq', one Gulf Arab diplomat said last night.

The Arab League statement seemed to echo declarations made earlier by Amr Moussa, the Foreign Minister of Egypt, a key Middle Eastern nation in the 1990 anti-Iraq coalition. It cast a shadow on the legality of the strikes as well as that of the allied-imposed air-exclusion zones by expressing its 'concern for Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity'.

The question of the legality of the strikes was raised by a number of international law academics over the past few days in both the pro-government and opposition press in Cairo, which was the scene of anti-Israeli and anti-Western demonstrations by students less than a week ago.

In Jordan, King Hussein said he was deeply angered by the repeated attacks on Iraq by US-led forces. 'It is certainly a moment of sorrow and anger for all of us . . . We are very, very sorry that conditions have deteriorated to this point,' the King said.

Jordan has always opposed military intervention to solve the dispute between Iraq and the rest of the world. In recent months the King has more openly distanced himself from the Iraqi regime, and in his comments did not mention President Saddam Hussein.