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March 20, 2003
 
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Opening US Salvos Win Applause, Regret and Vitriol

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U.S. Military Launches Attack on Iraq
Who's Calling the Shots Against Iraq?
Reporters On the Move with U.S. Forces
March 20

By Andrew Roche

LONDON (Reuters) - The opening salvos of the Iraq war Thursday earned the United States polite applause from some traditional allies, expressions of regret from others and furious condemnation from its usual enemies.

In the Islamic world opposition was the norm but not quite total. Iran, Iraq's neighbor and listed by President Bush on the same "axis of evil," called the attack "unjustifiable and illegitimate."

It said its airspace was closed to "belligerent forces."

Turkey's close military alliance with the United States has been badly strained by its refusal to allow its soil to be used as a launch pad for an invasion of northern Iraq.

"The United Nations Security Council process on Iraq should have been allowed to finish. I do not find it right that the U.S. behaved unilaterally before that process ended," President Ahmet Necdet Sezer said.

The Turkish parliament was due to vote later on a resolution to allow U.S. warplanes to use Turkish airspace.

Malaysia surpassed most in anti-American invective, deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi calling the attack "a black mark in history" with "the world now seeing might is right."

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri called for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council. Pakistan said it opposed war and would continue pushing for peace.

BUSH A 'REAL MAN

But many in Muslim Kuwait, invaded by Iraq in 1990 and freed by U.S.-led forces, were relieved to see what they hoped was the beginning of the end of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"Bush is a real man," Ahmad Hussein Ahmad said, fiddling with prayer beads. "His dad liberated Kuwait and now the son will liberate Iraq." Some Kuwaitis held a party on the border to celebrate what they hoped was the end of Saddam.

Few elsewhere in the Arab world were as enthusiastic.

"This war is a sin," said Cairo taxi driver Youssef, adding that Saddam had "a head of stone."

"The people will pay the price," said Atef, a Beirut concierge. "Saddam is like Osama (bin Laden). Even if they spend their whole lives searching for him, they won't find him."

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat expressed concern that Israel might intensify a crackdown against a Palestinian uprising while the world's attention was diverted. The militant group Hamas called for an anti-U.S. jihad, or holy struggle.

Saudi Arabia said it regretted the outbreak of war. The United States closed embassies in Jordan and Pakistan and urged Americans to leave Lebanon.

China surprised analysts who expected it to issue only moderate criticism for the sake of good relations with Washington. Instead it called for a halt to "a violation of the U.N. Charter and the basic norms of international law."

India said the attack lacked justification and Vietnam vehemently condemned it.

Praise for the attack was much more restrained than the criticism. "At this time ... I understand, and I support the start of the use of force by the United States," Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said, putting a security alliance with the United States ahead of Japanese public opinion.

President Roh Moo-hyun of South Korea, like Japan a beneficiary of U.S. military protection for half a century, expressed support and added, "We will make diplomatic efforts to ensure that this war does not worsen our relations with North Korea."

BRITAIN NOT SIDELINED

Tens of thousands of Australians protested against the war, in which Australian troops are taking part.

Britain said its forces, by far the most numerous in the Gulf after the Americans, played no part in the first attack.

Defense Minister Geoff Hoon denied British troops had been sidelined by the surprise U.S. raid and the queen sent a message to them expressing her pride in them. Britain called on Europe to unite to prepare for Iraq's post-war reconstruction.

Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar of Spain, which has sent a hospital ship and 900 personnel, told the nation: "We have assumed our responsibilities. There were more comfortable options, but we don't want to pass on to the future risks that we should confront in the present."

Spanish anti-war groups and trade unions planned a wave of demonstrations and symbolic strikes.

Bulgaria, also providing military help, expressed backing as did Denmark and Romania.

But in most of Europe there was little support for war.

France's National Assembly briefly suspended its Thursday session in a symbolic protest. President Jacques Chirac said the war would have "serious consequences for the future."

Germany said the outbreak of war "sparked grave concern and dismay in the federal government." Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said his country was "profoundly disappointed" and said Iraqis were "caught between the anvil and the hammer."

EU President Greece said it regretted the crisis had not been solved peacefully and with international unity. The Vatican was "deeply pained" by the outbreak of war. A wave of anti-war protests began across Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

"Military action ... is a big political error," Russian President Vladimir Putin said.

In world markets, stocks and the dollar seesawed and demand was high for safe haven bonds. Oil prices hit three-month lows.

Mainly Muslim Albania, grateful for U.S. interventions on behalf of ethnic Albanians and other Muslims in the Balkans in the 1990s, expressed "unreserved support" for the U.S. action.

Defense Minister Pandeli Majko won a eulogy in verse for sending 75 commandos to the Gulf. "Oh Saddam, you bum, Where will you go, Now that Pandi will come," members of parliament chanted.


photo credit and caption:
Indonesian Muslim students shout against U.S. military action against Iraq, in front of the U.S. embassy in Jakarta on March 20, 2003. Indonesian Muslim leaders condemned the opening of U.S.-led strikes on Iraq, labeling it an attack on humanity and warning big protests would break out in the world's largest Islamic community. Photo by Beawiharta/Reuters

Copyright 2003 Reuters News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 
 
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