Muslims closing ranks

Muslims closing ranks

By Joe Baker, Senior Editor

The Muslim world is closing ranks as the level of rhetoric for attacking Iraq grows louder. Muslim leaders have told Washington such a move could widen the existing gulf between Islam and the West.

Our European allies have repeatedly stated their opposition to war against Iraq, but there are signs some of them may be seeking to shield themselves behind United Nations support.

Britain and Belgium revealed a subtle shift by reminding Iraq it must comply with U.N. resolutions or face America’s ire.

Iraq itself has said there’s no point in readmitting U.N. weapons inspectors because what it termed the “insane, criminal” U.S. administration is bent on attacking and ousting President Saddam Hussein.

While Saddam made some diplomatic moves in an effort to head off any attack, ordinary Iraqis went about their daily business with an air of resigned calm. “We are not scared any more by American bombs,” said a Baghdad shopkeeper. “If they start bombing, let them do so.”

Washington asserts that Iraq is a threat to world stability because it is trying to get weapons of mass destruction, but has presented no evidence to prove its claims. Iraq says it has halted and dismantled all such programs. It wants U.N. sanctions lifted.

Pakistan’s leader, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, considered a key ally in the global pursuit of terrorists, said the U.S. will not enjoy the wide support predicted by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld if it launches a strike against Hussein’s country. “This would have very negative repercussions around the Islamic world,” Musharaf told the BBC. “Muslims are feeling that they are on the receiving end everywhere. So there is a feeling of alienation in the Muslim world and I think this will lead to further alienation,” he said.

Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization, some 40-million strong, said it is staunchly against any U.S. attack and would, protest if the U.S. carries one out.

Rumsfeld’s claim of international support for an American assault already has drawn sharply negative response from Saudi Arabia and Turkey, two very important nations in any operation against Baghdad.

Foreign ministers of the 15-nation NATO allies bloc were to meet in Denmark to discuss the question of Iraq. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the Financial Times that readmittance of weapons inspectors is but the first step toward resolving the problem, but that Britain has not ruled out military action.

“What we are doing, what I want to do, is put the ball back in Saddam Hussein’s court,” he said.

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