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Iraq media threatens punishment

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February 20, 2001 


BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) Iraqi media on Monday threatened to punish Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, saying they helped U.S. and British airstrikes against sites around Baghdad last week.

Some 11,000 Iraqis marched Monday in the capital, some burning American, British and Israeli flags and carrying banners declaring ``aggression will not scare us and sanctions will not harm us'' the latest in daily rallies since Friday's attack.

In Kuwait, the foreign minister brushed off the suggestions of retaliation in Iraq's state-run newspapers. ``They have the right to ... say what they want,'' Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah told reporters in the Persian Gulf emirate. ``But Kuwait is protected by its people, its friends, its Arab brothers and its allies.''

The indirect threat came in Monday's edition of Al-Thawra, the newspaper of Iraq's ruling Baath Party.

``Must Iraq forgive Saudi Arabia and Kuwait for participating in the aggression?'' the paper asked. ``Does Iraq have the right to take military measures to retaliate for the aggression and those who facilitate it ... if they continued the aggression and repeated it?''

The answer, it said, was left to ``Arabs, especially those in the Gulf states.''

The Iraqi government is basking in widespread international support against the U.S.-British raids which were the largest and closest to Baghdad in several years. Arab allies of the United States have criticized the attacks, as have France, Russia and China. Now the uproar threatens to overshadow U.N-Iraqi talks next week.

The United States and Britain say their planes hit long-range radar and associated facilities that Iraq has increasingly used to coordinate its defenses against allied planes patrolling no-fly zones over southern and northern Iraq. The United States and Britain say Iraq cannot fly its planes over those areas of its own territory; Iraqi says the no-fly zones are illegitimate.

Kuwait and Saudi Arabia allow allied planes to fly from their air bases to enforce the no-fly zones. U.S. officials said the planes in Friday's attacks flew from land bases and carriers in the Gulf, without specifying.

France stepped up its condemnations Monday, with Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine calling the missile attack ``a demonstration of force'' with ``no basis in international law.''

Vedrine told France's LCI television said that France was waiting for President Bush to provide a ``redefinition of the policy on Iraq.''

In Gaza City, about 1,000 Palestinians staged a rally in support of Iraq on Monday, chanting, ``Saddam, we wait for your rockets to hit Tel Aviv.'' Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has mixed anti-U.S. rhetoric with strong denunciations of Israel, gaining support from Arabs frustrated by the stalled peace process.

Russian legislator Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an ultranationalist and longtime supporter of Saddam, arrived in Baghdad on Monday to show support for Iraq.

``We condemn the latest bombing,'' Zhirinovsky told reporters, ``not only myself, but all members of the Duma (Russian parliament).''

Iraq's foreign minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, is due to hold talks Feb. 26-27 with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The meeting aims to restart the dialogue over sanctions and the long-halted U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq but now Baghdad may now be less inclined to compromise on inspections and more insistent sanctions be lifted.

Crippling U.N. economic sanctions were imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. The United Nations says Iraq must first let back in inspectors who have been barred since 1998.

Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz ridiculed the United States and Britain for portraying Friday's attacks as an attempt to protect their pilots.

``America defends itself in Baghdad? It enters the country ... bombs it, then says it was defending itself?'' Aziz said on Iraqi television Sunday night.

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