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Iran, Arabs angry but Iraqis in exile hopeful over war

Iran said the war was "illegitimate" while Arabs predicted that America would be ultimately defeated.

india Updated: Mar 20, 2003 12:25 IST

Iran's top diplomat called America's military attack on Iraq "unjustifiable and illegitimate," and elsewhere the Arabs, angry at what they saw as an assault on fellow Arabs, predicted the United States would ultimately be defeated.

But Iraqi exile Faisal Fikri called the attack "the moment I have been waiting for all my life: to see the despot gone." Fikri had switched from channel to channel through the night to watch for news of the attack on television in his small apartment in the Egyptian capital. Other Iraqis in exile also expressed similar feelings.

Fikri left Iraq in 1970 shortly after President Saddam Hussein's Baath Party came to power. At the time, Fikri had been accused of plotting with other opposition figures against the new regime. US President George W Bush said he launched the attack to strip Iraq of banned weapons of mass destruction, "to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger."

US officials said Saddam himself was among the targets of the initial salvoes.

After fighting an eight-year war against Iraq, Iran is no friend of Saddam. But Iran fears that if the United States topples Saddam and replaces him with an administration of its choosing, Washington's influence in the region will grow.

Iran and the United States have been estranged since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. "American military operations on Iraq are unjustifiable and illegitimate," Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi as saying.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran will not enter into action to the benefit of either side," Kharrazi added.

Word of the US attack came as the Egyptian faithful were responding to the first of five daily Muslim prayers. Some worshippers gathering at mosques in the capital an hour or so before the sun rose said they had been up watching the news on television. "God, you are almighty, you are capable of turning this (war) against" the Americans, said Bashir el-Afesh as he finished his prayers in Cairo.

Kamal Abou Ayta, an Egyptian political activist who has organized anti-war protests in Cairo, called the attack "illegitimate." "I believe that American soldiers whenever they step on Iraqi soil, they will be defeated," Abou Ayta said in an interview. "I am sure of that."

In the Palestinian areas, about 700 Palestinians, most of them schoolchildren, waved Iraqi flags and posters of Saddam and burned two US flags after the attack.

The Palestinians in the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun shouted "Death to America, death to Bush," and "We will sacrifice our soul and our blood for Saddam.

First Published: Mar 20, 2003 12:25 IST