BAGHDAD, IRAQ, NOV. 17 -- Iraq's information minister today called the American presence in the region, including President Bush's planned visit to U.S. troops on Thanksgiving, a provocation and said there would be no release of detained Americans for the occasion.
"Any American presence is considered a provocation for all Arabs and Moslems, for 1 billion Moslems and 200 million Arabs," Latif Nassif Jassim told foreign journalists at a press conference this evening, when asked his reaction to Bush's visit.
"This is a provocation against our dignity and existence and against our sanctities," he said, referring to Islam's holy sites in Mecca and Medina, Saudi Arabia.
Bush is expected to arrive in Saudi Arabia Wednesday. The official Iraqi press also has harshly criticized a U.S. landing exercise underway along the Saudi coast south of Kuwait.
Jassim said Iraq has no intention of releasing on Thanksgiving the American hostages being used as human shields at strategic installations or barred from leaving Iraq. "At present we have no such initiative and we do not link initiatives to special occasions, though this occasion is important," he said stiffly.
About 180 Americans, mostly women and children, are still expected to leave Kuwait for London on Sunday in a release announced earlier.
Jassim reiterated the importance Iraq attaches to a comprehensive approach to problems in the Middle East, first proposed by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on Aug. 12.
"If the world does not want an all-embracing settlement and linkage between all the issues of the Middle East, American and other troops should leave the region so the Arabs can sit together and settle their problems between them," he said. But he said there are no expectations for an Arab summit at this stage. Moroccan King Hassan II has called for an urgent summit on the gulf crisis, but Iraq has insisted that it also address the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
When asked about a statement by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak counseling the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq to wait for U.N. sanctions to take effect, Jassim said Mubarak was the first to urge the United States to rush into war. "We have no confidence in him and his statements. He is an ally of the United States and we rely on ourselves and on the justice of our cause in explaining it to the whole world," he said.
Health Minister Abdul Salam Mohammed Said said today that the U.N. embargo against Iraq has resulted in a "deadly serious" shortage of antibiotics and other medicines, vaccines and baby formulas.
Reuter reported from Amman, Jordan:
King Hussein opened parliament with an implicit attack on the United States for leading a military buildup in the gulf while failing to protect Palestinians under Israeli occupation.
Hussein said foreign powers had overlooked the Israeli police killing of 17 Palestinians at Jerusalem's Haram Sharif, or Temple Mount, last month while claiming to defend human rights with their military moves against Iraq in the gulf.
"This is tolerated with only a timid rebuke of victim and aggressor alike, by the same powers who are adopting a course of military escalation, unyielding positions and economic strangulation in the gulf," he said.
"Their blatant and shameless conduct must confirm to us that their real motives are far from being the hollow claim to uphold legitimacy and defend principles. Their actual goals stem from their desire to control our destiny and the Arab nation's resources," he said.