Wednesday, April 07, 2004

deep shi'ite?

Arab Rulers' Worst Fears on Iraq Come True

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (Reuters) - As U.S. forces battle on a new front in Iraq, Baghdad's Arab neighbors watch the escalating violence with alarm and a message that affords them only the grimmest satisfaction: "We told you so."

Arab leaders had said loudly and repeatedly that a U.S. war against Saddam Hussein would unleash chaos in multi-ethnic Iraq and the region and open a Pandora's box of radicalism.

With U.S.-led forces now battling Shi'ite Muslims in several cities, they now feel their ominous prophecy has come true.

The leaders fear that clashes between Shi'ites loyal to firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and occupation forces could lead to civil war -- and spill over their borders.

"This is what we've been warning about. We told the Americans Saddam Hussein was only five percent of the problem. The other 95 percent just wasn't visible to them," a Gulf Arab diplomat said. "It's a very dangerous situation. It's painful."

Qatar, a staunch U.S. ally, said it feared civil war could break out in Iraq and that the country was becoming a "fertile ground for (various) terrorists."

"The developments in Iraq are alarming and we fear that we are facing a civil war in Iraq like Afghanistan and Lebanon," Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said.

"We cannot leave Iraq in this state because this disease will spread and I believe the situation is out of control."

U.S. troops in Iraq, under attack for a year by Sunni Muslims and Saddam loyalists, now risk a major conflict with the Shi'ite majority. They had been seen as allies in their opposition to Saddam, who brutally suppressed them.

Fighting between U.S.-led forces and Sadr's supporters flared after the administration arrested one of his aides and closed a militant newspaper. It has spread since the authorities then vowed to arrest 30-year-old Sadr in connection with the killing of a Shi'ite cleric last year. His group denies any involvement in the killing.

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