- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2002

DAMASCUS, Syria Iraq's state-run media has quoted Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan as saying during a visit to Baghdad that American Muslims are praying for an Iraqi victory in a war with the United States.
A State Department official in Washington said he was aware of the report on the official Iraqi News Agency, INA, but was not prepared to comment.
Mr. Farrakhan held meetings during the weekend with Iraqi officials on a "solidarity" trip billed as an effort to avoid a U.S. military campaign against Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Farrakhan held talks with Islamic Affairs Minister Abdul Munem Saleh on "ways to confront the American threats against Iraq," INA reported.
The agency quoted the black Muslim leader as saying "the Muslim American people are praying to the almighty God to grant victory to Iraq."
Mr. Saleh was quoted by INA as urging a common effort among the Muslims of the world to "expose the American and Zionist crimes toward the people of Iraq and Palestine."
The Bush administration has repeatedly said it is committed to "regime change" in Iraq and has made clear that it is considering military action to oust Saddam.
The New York Times reported on Friday that 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, perhaps from Kuwait.
Mr. 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," INA said.
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 badly needed food and medicine under U.N. supervision.
Mr. Mubarak described the resolution as "arbitrary" and said it "further complicates the import of medicine and medical equipment to Iraq." He said the total lifting of sanctions was "the only way to end the suffering of the Iraqi people."
This is the second visit to Baghdad for Mr. Farrakhan, who arrived from Damascus on Friday as part of a regional tour. He first visited Iraq in 1997.
On Saturday, he visited 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, reportedly killing about 500 people.
He said in Baghdad that he wanted to "see what we can do to stop the possibility of war."
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, visiting Syria during the weekend, dismissed the media reports of an imminent attack on Iraq as "rumors." Mr. 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, Mr. Villepin said talks between French officials and President Bush and Secretary of State Colin L. 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 Mr. Sharaa, for his part, told reporters that Arab countries unanimously support lifting the U.N. sanctions.
He said Iraq was ready to allow the U.N. arms inspectors back if sanctions are lifted, but not before.


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