- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

Arab and other Muslim governments yesterday brushed aside a new tape by Osama bin Laden calling for a regionwide Islamic war against the West, and Saddam Hussein's regime said the United States was unfairly using the tape to link Iraq to bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network.
Few Middle East governments offered any official response to the new 16-minute bin Laden tape, broadcast Tuesday on the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network and considered authentic by U.S. intelligence officials.
In the call to arms, bin Laden said Muslims should rise against any U.S.-led military strike on Iraq and "liberate renegade ruling regimes" in Jordan, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Saudi Interior Minister Nayef Ibn Abdul-Aziz said his agency had picked up no hints of the terrorist strikes promised in the bin Laden message. And a leading member of the Iraqi Shi'ite opposition to Saddam was one of many in the Arab world who accused bin Laden of trying to capitalize on Iraq's situation to boost his own organization.
"There is a contradiction in bin Laden's speech," Mohammed Hariri, head of the Lebanese branch of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, told the Reuters news agency.
"He is calling for war while the Iraqi people are in a crisis and need peace."
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told reporters in Kuala Lumpur that there was no justification for linking the standoff in Iraq to any larger Muslim struggle.
"It's a stupid idea. We want to fight a holy war if we can win. If we go in just to be killed, that's not [holy war]," Mr. Mahathir said.
In Baghdad, Iraqi officials sharply challenged Bush administration contentions that the new tape proved Saddam and bin Laden were cooperating in a global campaign of terror.
"America is working on dragging the world toward a great catastrophe by insisting on launching an unjust aggression on Iraq," Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan told the official Iraqi News Agency.
Saddam has consistently denied any collaboration with al Qaeda, but Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in his presentation at the United Nations earlier this month, detailed some of the links established by U.S. and foreign intelligence sources.
A Saudi lawyer working in the United States said yesterday that the bin Laden message was proving less inflammatory in the Middle East than what he called the U.S. "spin" suggesting that the recording proved an Iraq-al Qaeda link.
"If you listen to the tape in Arabic, you can hear bin Laden calling Saddam an infidel," said the lawyer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Many of the people I talk to back home say it is outrageous that the U.S. is using the tape to justify a war."
The attorney said the deep unpopularity of a potential U.S.-led war against Baghdad has left many in Saudi Arabia more sympathetic to bin Laden's call to fight the "crusaders."
"The way Washington is spinning the tape has left many people convinced that the United States wants a war," he said.
The bin Laden message lends itself to diverse interpretations, and Bush administration officials yesterday stood by their contention that the Saudi-born terrorist leader has offered to work with Saddam against the West.
Bin Laden on the tape brands Saddam a "socialist" and "infidel" whose government must be overthrown, but in the next breath says "honest Muslims" should ally with Iraq for now in the greater struggle against the United States and Israel.
"Under these circumstances, there will be no harm if the interests of Muslims converge with the interests of socialists in the fight against the crusaders, despite our belief in the infidelity of the socialists," he concludes.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters, "If that is not an unholy partnership, I have not heard of one. This is the nightmare that people have warned about the linking up of Iraq with al Qaeda."
Beyond its murky message, several aspects of the tape's release remained hazy yesterday.
Mr. Powell first disclosed the tape's contents at a Senate hearing Tuesday morning, discussing it in detail hours before Al Jazeera even confirmed it was going to broadcast the message.
U.S. officials refused to say how Mr. Powell had received a copy of the message.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, in an interview Wednesday evening on Al Jazeera, said, "We're a government. We do collect information. We talk to a lot of people. We want to know things."
Administration officials also were trumpeting excerpts from the message even though they had warned U.S. media outlets against running raw, unedited messages from bin Laden.
In a meeting with television executives a month after the September 11 attacks, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice had cautioned that the tapes were not only propaganda for a proven terrorist, but also could include coded messages from bin Laden to al Qaeda operatives worldwide.
CNN and MSNBC decided to air excerpts of the latest audiotape after it was reviewed by senior executives, but Fox News Channel broadcast a full English translation as the tape was being released.
Fox News anchor Shepard Smith said on the air that since Mr. Powell already had discussed the contents of the message being heard on Al Jazeera, "it would not be irresponsible, so to speak, to take it live to air, as was already happening throughout the Arab world."

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