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Farrakhan in Iraq for 'solidarity' visit

July 6, 2002 at 4:14 PM   |   Comments

BAGDAD, Iraq, July 6 (UPI) -- Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan held a series of meetings Saturday with Iraqi officials on the second day of his visit to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, to discuss ways to avoid a possible U.S. military campaign.

The official Iraqi News Agency, INA, said Farrakhan, on a "solidarity" visit to Iraq, held talks with Islamic Affairs Minister Abdul Munem Saleh on "ways to confront the American threats against Iraq."

INA quoted the African-American Muslim leader as saying "the Muslim American people are praying to the almighty God to grant victory to Iraq."

Saleh was quoted by INA as urging common effort among the Muslims of the world to "expose the American and Zionist crimes toward the people of Iraq and Palestine."

Farrakhan, heading a Nation of Islam delegation, also met with Health Minister Omeed Mubarak, who briefed him on the "effects of the sanctions on Iraq and the health reality represented by the death of 1.6 million people a year because of food and medical shortages."

Iraq has been living under economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations since its invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.

The health minister sharply criticized Security Council Resolution 1409, which amended the Iraq-U.N. oil-for-food deal, in which Iraq exports oil in return for buying badly-needed food and medicine under U.N. supervision.

Mubarak described the resolution as "arbitrary that further complicates the import of medicine and medical equipment to Iraq." He added the total lifting of the sanctions was "the only way to end the suffering of the Iraqi people."

Farrakhan, who arrived from Damascus on Friday as part of a regional tour, said in Baghdad he wanted to "see what we can do to stop the possibility of war."

Earlier Saturday, he visited a number of hospitals in the Iraqi capital, as well as the Ameriya Shelter, which was bombed by U.S.-led allied forces during the 1991 Gulf war, killing around 500 people.

This is Farrakhan's second visit to Baghdad. He first visited Iraq in 1997.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Kuwait, officials denied any knowledge of U.S. plans for a widescale military attack on Iraq, according to press reports on Saturday.

The Kuwaiti al-Rai al-Aam quoted Defense Minister Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak as saying his country "has no knowledge of a secret American plan aimed at launching an intensive attack on Iraq."

Al-Mubarak said U.S. press reports of such an attack were "just media reports and we have no official information on this," adding Kuwait has not been notified on these plans from the United States or other countries.

The New York Times said Friday a military plan has been prepared to attack Iraq from the north, south and west with air, ground and naval forces. Quoting unnamed sources, the daily said the plan envisions the use of thousands of Marines and ground troops, perhap from Kuwait.

During a visit to Syria, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin Foreign Minister dismissed the media reports as "rumors." Villepin is visiting the region in an effort to restart Middle East peace talks.

Speaking at a joint press conference Saturday with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa, Villepin said talks between French officials and President George W. Bush and State Department Secretary Colin Powell made clear "there is no military plan today against Iraq."

The French foreign minister also encouraged U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to pursue his efforts with Iraq and said the return of the U.N. inspectors to Baghdad "is a necessity for the stability of the region and we hope that Iraq will facilitate such a return."

Syria's Sharaa, for his part, told reporters that Arab countries unanimously support lifting the U.N. sanctions.

He said Iraq does not oppose the return of the U.N. disarmament inspectors but "refuses using such a return for matters that do serve the goal of lifting the sanctions."

He added that Iraq was ready to allow the U.N. disarmament inspectors back if the sanctions are lifted.

(Thanaa Imam contributed to this report from Damascus, Syria.)

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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