Monday, Feb 17, 2003
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By Atul Aneja
The largest street protests against war took place in Baghdad, the target of a possible U.S.-led invasion or in countries that have been staunchly opposed to war. Thus, Syria and Lebanon two countries that support moves by Paris, Berlin and Moscow to avert war by giving U.N. weapons inspectors more time to do their work, have witnessed the largest demonstrations. Known for its large Palestinian population that is opposed to a war, large number of demonstrators also took to the streets in Amman, Jordan. But in contrast, serious anti-war protests have not taken place in the six Persian Gulf states. In Egypt, the 2,000-strong police force that was deployed outnumbered the 600 demonstrators that took to the streets in Cairo on Saturday.
Most of U.S. launch pads for a military strike on Iraq are located in the Persian Gulf states, while Egypt is known to be a close ally of Washington. Syria opposes war as it fears that the emergence of a pro-U.S. dispensation in Baghdad after a war can be detrimental to its interests.
Sandwiched between Israel and a hostile Iraq, Damascus would find itself extremely vulnerable in a post-Saddam scenario. Not surprisingly, France has been in regular touch with the leaderships of Syria the only Arab member in the present United Nations Security Council, and Lebanon, the current chair of the Arab League in order to gather more support in the region for its cause.
Analysts point out that the divisions within the Arab ranks are likely to affect the on-going meeting of the Arab League Foreign Ministers in Cairo. It is unlikely that the Arab League will formally endorse a recent joint statement of France, Germany and Russia that seeks more time for the U.N. weapons inspections.
As the fallout of the European efforts to avert a war spreads in the region, it has found a reflection in the pro-U.S. Kurdish parties that have begun to sharpen their attack of France and Germany.
An Iraqi Kurd leader, Jalal Talabani, said on Saturday that the French opposition to a war to oust Mr. Saddam Hussein ignored the wishes of the Iraqi people.
``Germany is afraid that after Saddam's collapse, documents will be discovered showing how they supported chemical weapons programmes and the Kurdish people will ask for compensation,'' he said.
The Kurds have been victims of an Iraqi chemical weapons attack in Halabja in northern Iraq. They would thus stand to gain if Mr. Hussein is unseated.
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