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Thousands of Iraqis demonstrate against air strikes

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February 19, 2001 


BAGHDAD--(AP) - Thousands of Iraqis braved the rain Sunday morning to take part in demonstrations condemning the latest American-British airstrikes.

More than 2,000 people - including Deputy Foreign Minister Nabil Najim - protested in the center of the capital and at least 1,000 others gathered across the city near the offices of the ruling al-Baath party.

"This dangerous aggression shows how much the Americans and Britons hate Iraqis and do not respect any international law," Najim said in a speech to the demonstrators. "This aggression must be condemned."

Popular Syrian film star Raghda, who flew to Baghdad on Saturday night to show her solidarity with the Iraqis, also addressed the crowd.

"Nothing could stop me from coming here," she said. "The people of Iraq and children of Iraq are in my heart."

Meanwhile, Iraq's state-run satellite station repeatedly broadcast footage of two of the sites bombed during the Friday night airstrikes, which killed two people and injured at least 20.

In the farming village of al-Hafriya, 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Baghdad, two badly damaged homes were shown, with gaping holes left where the glass windows had broken and doors had been torn off in the explosion. Two shops, one for agricultural supplies and one for automotive spare parts, suffered similar damages.

"This is an agricultural area and there are no military installations here," Fawzia Ibrahim, a resident of one of the damaged houses, told the TV station, questioning why the town was targeted.

The damage was slighter in al-Rashdiya, 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) north of the capital. A witness there told the television that the missile had landed in a field of mud, which softened the explosion.

Foreign media have not been allowed access to the bombed sites.

Iraqi media continued attacking the United States and Britain for the airstrikes.

"The little Bush administration tried to show that it is strong and able to do what the former administration of (Bill) Clinton could not do," said al-Thawra daily in its front page editorial on Sunday. "If little Bush considers his aggression a message to Iraq, then we have the answer, which is the formation of al-Quds (Jerusalem) Army ... ready for jihad (holy war) and liberating Palestine."

Another newspaper, al-Qadissiya, called the U.S. and Britain "fools" in a front-page editorial and said: "The Americans and the Zionists and their agents will not harvest but failure, disappointment and eternal defeat."

The Arab world continued to criticize the attack, with Syria's state-run al-Thawra newspaper calling it a "provocative step that implies a lot of disregard of the Iraqi people's dignity and life. It is a dangerous precedent in international relations."

A joint Libyan-Tunisian statement issued in Libya on Sunday called for lifting the sanctions imposed on Iraq and for the "immediate cessation to all acts of aggression against (the Iraqi people)."

A statement issued by the opposition Iraqi Communist Party also condemned the strikes.

"It's time to stop these savage practices and to look for legitimate means in line with international law to solve the problems facing our people," the statement said.

Also Sunday, a senior Oil Ministry official told The Associated Press that the airstrikes have had no effect on Iraqi oil exports.

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