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Arabs Not Convinced of US Objectives in Region - 2003-03-31


While some Arabs say they believe the U.S. goal in Iraq is to disarm Saddam Hussein's regime of its weapons of mass destruction, there are many more who are convinced the United States has other objectives.

U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, are warning Syria to abandon support for terrorist groups and the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, or face possible consequences. The allegations follow accusations from the Pentagon that military supplies were entering Iraq from Syria.

Syrian officials have denied the accusations and have suggested that Washington was trying to divert attention from the war in Iraq, which is causing anger in the Arab world.

Accusations regarding Syria prompted an angry response from Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, who said there was no proof of such charges. Mr. Moussa said public statements of this kind only serve to escalate tension in the region.

Officials with the Egyptian government told VOA that Washington has a full plate dealing with the war in Iraq and said public allegations regarding neighboring Arab states might only further fuel speculation about U.S. motives in the region.

Arab League spokesman Hisham Yousef says while the Arab world is generally unified in its opposition to the war in Iraq, he says there are many different theories in the region about why U.S. and British officials decided to launch war in the first place.

"Issues related to weapons of mass destruction to issues related to regime change to international terrorism and so on," said Hisham Yousef. "You get all kinds of objectives, to democracy, to the domino effect, you name it. But I do not think you would find a consensus. For example, some people would say that all this is about is control of oil, and others would say no, it is not about oil. And then you come to the theory of domination and then you will find people that say it is all about domination and somebody else saying no. And then these people will talk about international order and that this is also a message to France, Russia, China and so on. So there are all kinds of reasons and people are giving different weights to these reasons."

Officials at U.S. and British embassies in the Middle East say they are spending much of their time trying to articulate the reasons behind the decision to wage war in Iraq.

Phil Frayne, the spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Cairo, says American officials have been very clear about U.S. objectives in Iraq.

"We are there to remove a grave threat to the region and the United States and that is a regime headed by Saddam Hussein that is equipped with weapons of mass destruction," he said. "The Iraqi regime has had 12 years and 18 Security Council resolutions imposed on it to disarm itself of weapons of mass destruction. They were not done, so we were finally left with no choice but to form a coalition to go into Iraq and get rid of those weapons ourselves. We have no intention of staying in Iraq any longer than need be. We intend to hand Iraq back over to the Iraqi people and let the Iraqi's run their own country and let the Iraqis benefit from their own resources."

But despite the assurances, Mr. Frayne acknowledges there remains a deep mistrust among many Arab nations, especially, he says, throughout the general population. And most regional analysts agree that mistrust is one reason so much of the region is paying such close attention to the developments in Iraq.

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