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Iraq Special Report

  Pro-Iraqi, Anti-U.S. Demonstrations Grow in Mideast

By Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, February 22, 1998; Page A29

AMMAN, Jordan, Feb. 21—Protests against threatened U.S. airstrikes on Iraq continued in Jordan and several other Middle Eastern countries today, raising the prospect of an anti-U.S. backlash in the event of bombing.

Police fired bullets and tear gas in the southern Jordanian city of Maan to disperse about 1,000 protesters, some of whom shot at police or threw stones. At least 20 people were injured in the day-long violence, including three policemen. A state-owned bank was burned.

The violence followed a march Friday during which police officers shot and killed a pro-Iraqi demonstrator and injured three others. Jordan's King Hussein, a moderate, pro-Western leader whose people strongly sympathize with Iraq, visited the city in an effort to restore calm.

In recent days, public protests and marches in support of Iraq have also taken place in Palestinian-ruled areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Egypt, Iran and Turkey, a NATO member. Around the region, observers say there are more demonstrations now than there were on the eve of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and they are more intense.

In an apparent sign of concern in Washington, a specially videotaped speech by President Clinton was broadcast Friday across the Middle East. Clinton assured the regional audience that civilians are not the target of the planned air raids. Sympathy for Iraqi civilians has become a rallying cry in the Arab world.

"If force proves necessary . . . we will do everything we can to prevent innocent people from getting hurt," Clinton said.

In Jordan, the government arrested Leith Shubeilat, a prominent Jordanian dissident, on charges of instigating a riot. King Hussein had banned demonstrations on the grounds that outside agents might use them to destabilize the country.

In Egypt, major protests in 1991 over the bombing of Iraq did not take place until the waning days of the war. This week, however, university students demonstrated peacefully for three days. The youths handed out leaflets calling the Americans the "new Tatars," a reference to Mongol hordes who centuries ago conquered much of the Middle East.

Palestinians have demonstrated despite a ban by Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat. Youths in Nablus and Bethlehem paraded with portraits of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, much as they did when his troops invaded Kuwait in 1990.

Islamic groups in Turkey organized a small rally Friday, while in Iran, 2,000 students demonstrated at Tehran University.

The themes of the protests are similar. Protesters contend that economic sanctions placed on Iraq seven years ago have created hardship for Iraqi civilians, not the regime of Saddam Hussein, and are therefore cruel and useless.

Arabs commonly criticize what they regard as an imbalance in U.S. Middle East policy: They say that Washington aggressively uses United Nations sanctions to punish Iraq, but has impassively dealt with Israel's building of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

After the Gulf War, the Bush administration initiated talks between Israel and its Arab neighbors. In paving the way for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Washington pressed for a freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank and Gaza.

The governments of Jordan, Egypt and Turkey are facing resurgent Muslim political movements that have seized on the Iraq crisis to show that their leaders have sold out to the West. Economic hardship also afflicts much of the region. Jordan relies on Iraq for cut-rate fuel supplies. If war interrupts the supplies, Jordan will have to pay market prices for oil with scarce foreign currency.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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