BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Baghdad print shop owner Abdel Hakim Loqman believes his country could again be the target of U.S. bombs, but says his fears have nothing to do with whether Iraq sponsors terrorists or is building a nerve gas arsenal.
"The (Iraqi) leadership is working on liberating Palestine and uniting the Arab nation and this is something the enemy does not want," Loqman said after Friday prayers in the Sheik Abdel Qader al-Qeilani mosque, one of the biggest in Baghdad.
"As long as Iraq continues these things, I expect an attack if not this month then the next month; if not this year then the coming one," added Loqman, who'd just heard a sermon that spoke of U.S. "savageness" in Iraq and the Palestinian territories and called on Arabs to unite against the enemies of Islam.
Few people in Iraq would express criticism of a regime known for brutally punishing dissidents. But the sentiments expressed by Iraqis Friday reflect those heard across the region since Sept. 11: Many view President Saddam Hussein as a hero and see the United States as an oppressive presence.
In the West, it may be easy to make the case that Saddam is a threat that must be contained. But at home -- and elsewhere in the Mideast -- many see him as a champion of Arabs and Muslims. If Washington wants to move against him, it will have to take into account whether Arab states it counts on as allies can afford to support the campaign in the face of popular support for Saddam.
Washington hasn't said what military options, if any, it has in mind for Iraq.
David Mack, a former Iraqi officer at the State Department, said in a telephone interview from Washington that the next U.S. move in the war against terror will focus on diplomatic efforts and international cooperation to battle terrorists. "The United States does not want to go from country to country using military action," Mack, now the vice president of the private Middle East Institute, said in a telephone interview from Washington.
But some in the U.S. administration and in the Iraqi opposition have been pressing for U.S. military action to topple the Iraqi regime, saying it is as dangerous as the Taliban regime U.S. bombs helped push from power in Afghanistan last year. The Taliban harbored Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network, the accused masterminds in the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States.
There have been reports an Iraqi agent met with one of the suicide hijackers and that foreign Arab militants were trained at Iraqi military camps. Iraq has denied the charges and America has produced no concrete evidence linking Iraq to the terror attacks.
Hawks in the U.S. administration have been pressing for the U.S. military to take on Iraq and finish off Saddam, who was left in power after the Gulf War.
Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, who met with Bush in Washington this week, said the United States is determined to oust Saddam. However, Ecevit said Saturday that U.S. officials "did not even hint" at plans for short-term military action against Iraq, a neighbor of Turkey.
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