Initial international reaction to the U.S.-led attack on Iraq was largely limited to strong expressions of support from traditional American allies, while most other countries -- many apparently taken by surprise -- said nothing or reported the bombing raids without substantive comment.

Swift declarations of support for the multinational use of force to drive Iraq from Kuwait came from Spain and four U.S. allies in Asia: Japan, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.

As of early today, the only strong condemnation came from Cuban President Fidel Castro and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Castro learned of the raids as he gave a news conference to Western reporters in Havana. "My feeling is one of sorrow, of deep bitterness," he said. "The responsibility for the war falls on those who fired the first shot . . . essentially, the United States."

At about 3 a.m. Washington time, British Prime Minister John Major told reporters in London that the assault had been "very successful" and that no British casualties had been reported.

Turkish Prime Minister Yildirim Akbulut said in a radio interview that he would seek an authorization for Turkish forces to fight beyond his country's borders if it is attacked, but "this will not be a declaration of war." He went on to say, "Turkish troops and armies will not engage in any action unless aggression is committed against us . . . unless our country is attacked."

The Arab world, which has been split between participation in the anti-Iraq alliance and support of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, was slow to react. The Soviet Union put forces in its southern regions on high alert and army chief Mikhail Moiseyev called the fighting "a tragedy," but there was no official comment on the U.S. decision to attack.

President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani of neighboring Iran -- which only recently has developed on civil relations with Iraq after an eight-year war -- voiced "deep regret for the start of clashes and human losses." Official communiques stressed Iran's neutrality and said it was closely monitoring the fighting.

Jordan, which has both backed Saddam politically and expressed adherence to the U.N.-imposed sanctions, delayed reporting the beginning of the war until nearly three hours after most of the world learned of it, the Los Angeles Times reported from Amman. There was no immediate statement from King Hussein's government.

The Los Angeles Times quoted a ranking aide to President Hosni Mubarak as saying that the Egyptian president, who is a key Arab participant in the multinational force, first learned of the attack on U.S. cable television.

The PLO leadership, in a statement carried by the Palestinian news agency Wafa, accused "the U.S.-Israeli-European coalition" of "cowardly aggression" against Iraq and said it should be opposed "on all levels. . . . It is a black day in the history of humanity," the PLO said.

According to Jerusalem radio, Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij a Palestinian moderate, called the outbreak of war "regrettable," but said "the Iraqis brought the war upon themselves because of their intransigence." Freiji also voiced concern about the fate of 700,000 Palestinians living in the Persian Gulf area.

At the United Nations, Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, who made an unsuccessful last-minute appeal to Saddam to leave Kuwait, in conformance with a dozen U.N. Security Council resolutions, expressed "sorrow," Reuter reported. "I can only be saddened by the beginning of hostilities," he said.

Japan, the sole member of the Group of Seven major industrialized nations that has sent no troops to the gulf, expressed "resolute support for the use of military force . . . as a final measure to restore peace and drive out the invader." Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, after an emergency cabinet meeting early today, pledged that "we will provide as much support as we possibly can for the action of the concerned nations and as much assistance as we can for the refugees."

Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, who yesterday ordered warships of his country into action in the gulf, condemned Saddam's "aggression," which he said "has plunged the world into a terrible and needless crisis." New Zealand Prime Minister Jim Bolger said everyone hoped and prayed that Saddam would "at last see reason" with the onset of war.

South Korean President Roh Tae Woo, in a message to Bush, said: "I, along with the people of the Republic of Korea, fully support the resolute military actions" of the force.

In Madrid, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said Spain supported the attack.

One of the few negative reactions in Europe came from French Communist leader Georges Marchais. He said those who had allowed the war "a heavy responsibility to the human race." Marchais said these included "Saddam Hussein who provided the excuse, George Bush who wanted it and decided to carry it out and the leaders of the countries who engaged in it, among them, alas, France."

Staff writer Don Oberdorfer contributed to this report.