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Q&A: Concerns of the Arab world

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U.N. staff inside their Baghdad HQ prepare for the start of inspections

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LONDON, England -- As arms inspectors prepare to start their mission in Iraq, the official positions of Arab League members have generally been cautious. Baria Alamuddin, foreign editor of Al-Hayat, a pan-Arabic newspaper, discusses the concerns of Arabic league members.

Q. In the Arab world there is great scepticism as to the real intentions of some western countries, the U.S. and the UK namely. Is that what you feel reporting on these issues for an Arabic newspaper?

A. Well, definitely amongst the masses, amongst the population, yes. Unfortunately, this feeling is increased all the time. The American administration is seen not to be acting fairly as far as other Middle Eastern issues are concerned -- mainly the Palestinian problem. Hence, the population feels it is being victimised by the Americans mainly and the British secondly.

As far as Iraq is concerned, one has to make a very clear distinction between what the adult population feels for the Iraqi regime and what it feels for the Iraqi people.

Nobody has a love for the Iraqi regime. Everybody feels it is a repressive regime. Everyone knows it's not democratic. Everybody knows what the Iraqi regime has done.

Q. However, they are not willing to accept politics within their own country being dictated from the outside?

A. The Arab governments are not totally with a war against Iraq. The Arab governments have made it very clear they want to go with the U.N. resolution, which they have -- even Syria. And in a meeting on Wednesday in Damascus, Arab governments called again for Iraq to implement fully the U.N. resolution 1441. So Arab governments are not very far from the position of the people in this respect.

Q. If Iraq does fully implement the U.N. resolution, does cooperate fully with the inspectors, is there the feeling among Arab nations that war can be avoided?

A. There is a very strong feeling that the Americans will find a pretext. There is a feeling about the inevitability of a war in Iraq. But Arab governments are always trying to be optimistic. Arab government officials are always giving interviews to the effect that they are hopeful that Iraq has so far been very cooperative.

However, nobody likes the language that is coming out of the U.S., which is always very sceptical about Arab positions and the Iraqi position. I wish the Americans would be seen to be a little bit fairer. Let us give Iraq a chance and then if it does not cooperate, then let us indeed go on with resolution 1441.

Q. What about close U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait who initially were so enthusiastic during the first gulf war ... there is a feeling they are just not as enthusiastic this time. Why?

A. That is definitely true because they feel the circumstances have changed. The first time there was a very clear reason -- there was this aggression coming from Iraq towards Kuwait. There was a feeling of 'I want to protect myself.' Iraq is not seen as a threat now.

Q. It might also not be financially in their interest. Is that another reason?

A. Well, none of them is saying 'we are going to commit to any financial assistance to that war,' none of them, not even Kuwait. But of course if the situation comes that Iraq is not implementing resolution 1441, then war will be inevitable.

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