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Imam Urges Iraqis to Harm U.S. Interests

March 14, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ A prominent Muslim cleric urged Iraqis around the world Friday to threaten U.S. interests and ``set them ablaze″ as Baghdad pressed its verbal assault against American efforts to win U.N. authorization for war.

``The entire world, Muslims and non-Muslims, is cursing the aggressive intentions of the American administration against Iraq which, God willing, will be frustrated,″ Abdel-Razzaq al-Saadi, the imam of Umm al-Maarek, or Mother of All Battles mosque, said in his sermon during Friday prayers.

With hundreds of thousands of troops poised for action in the Persian Gulf, the White House hastily arranged a weekend summit between President Bush and his allies, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.

The summit will be held in the Azores Islands in new effort to work out strategies for salvaging the trio’s troubled U.N. resolution that would authorize war.

The Bush administration, frustrated by a threatened French veto, has abandoned its demand for a quick U.N. vote on the resolution.

The administration, which had wanted to introduce a new resolution authorizing force in the Security Council on Friday, will continue ``working hard to see if we can take this to a vote,″ Secretary of State Colin Powell said. But he set a time frame that suggested the diplomatic effort would not extend beyond the weekend.

Meanwhile, Germany on Friday urged its citizens to leave Iraq, stepping up earlier warnings. Spain also reissued a Feb. 28 statement calling on Spaniards to leave because of the ``rapidly deteriorating international situation.″

An editorial published Friday in Al-Thawra, the newspaper of Saddam Hussein’s ruling Baath Party, said Washington was adopting tactics akin to those of ``road bandits and pirates″ in pressing for U.N. approval for war and predicted they would fail.

The editorial also called on nations opposed to military action against Iraq to strengthen their ``rejection of aggression ... and to convince the Bush administration that the cost of any war on Iraq would be much more than what it is dreaming to gain from such aggression.″

U.N. weapons inspectors, meanwhile, were back on the road Friday, supervising the destruction by Iraqi bulldozers of more banned Iraqi missiles at a site north of the capital Baghdad, according to the Information Ministry.

The ministry did not say how many Al Samoud 2 missiles were being destroyed and the U.N. spokesman for the inspectors in Baghdad was not immediately available to comment.

Also Friday, the inspectors visited Al-Karama missile factory in Baghdad.

Al-Saadi said in his Friday sermon that it was ``the obligation for Iraqis and others now to threaten U.S. interests everywhere and set them ablaze.″

He also urged Americans and the British to rise up against Bush and Blair. ``They don’t represent them and the two peoples cannot accept oppression and aggression,″ he said in the sermon broadcast live on state television.

Iraq has in recent days been reveling in the diplomatic turmoil that has entangled U.S. war plans. It has rejected a British compromise out of hand and snubbed an Arab peace mission.

But war _ the likelihood of it, and preparations for it _ continues to take center stage.

On Friday, the United Nations pulled eight armored personnel carriers and their Bangladeshi crews out of the U.N.-monitored demilitarized zone on the Iraq-Kuwaiti border, part of an announced partial withdrawal of observers as tensions build.

The withdrawal leaves crews in 22 vehicles still manning U.N.-authorized gates through the electrified fence and patrolling the fence line, erected after the 1991 Gulf War.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri rebuffed a high-level Arab League peace mission that had been scheduled to travel to Baghdad this week. He said top Iraqi officials wouldn’t have time to meet with the dignitaries, who included the foreign ministers of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia and Bahrain and the secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa.

The announcement suggested the Iraqi leadership feared the delegates would urge Saddam to make concessions to the United Nations or even step down, although the delegation has not publicly endorsed calls for Saddam to resign.

The Iraqi opposition militia’s commander on Friday predicted a quick rout of Saddam’s forces in northern and southern Iraq, where opposition to the regime is strong, but warned that the battle for the capital, Baghdad, could be long.

Zaid Husseini, commander of the Iranian-backed Badr Brigade, also said Iraqi opposition forces will not fight alongside U.S. troops in Iraq and may oppose American military rule if Saddam is ousted.

In an interview with Arabic satellite TV station Al-Arabiya monitored in Lebanon, Husseini said his guerrillas are holding fire for now ``so not to be considered on the side of the Americans.″

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