Iraq removed from US target list
Audrey Gillan and Julian Borger in Washington
Jordan's King Abdullah said President George Bush had promised not to launch military strikes on Iraq as part of the retaliation for the terrorist attacks, according to reports from Amman yesterday.
The Jordanian embassy played down the reports but confirmed the king had asked for an undertaking that Iraq would be exempted when he visited Washington on Friday, out of concern over Arab public opinion and regional stability.
Military sources and diplomats in Washington confirmed Iraq had been taken off a target list in the war on terrorism, despite calls from the Pentagon to use the conflict to eliminate a long-standing foe.
"Iraq hasn't been on the table for days," a military source with knowledge of Pentagon planning said yesterday.
The need to build a Middle Eastern coalition in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and the absence of any solid evidence of Iraqi involvement, are thought to be behind the decision.
Pentagon hawks such as the deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, had argued that the most serious long-term threat to US security was posed by Iraq.
However the urgent need for intelligence and concern at stoking instability within friendly Arab states have strengthened the hand of Colin Powell, the secretary of state, who had argued for a narrower campaign.
The Arab reaction to remarks made by the Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, about the superior status of western civilisation, has demonstrated the perils of allowing the conflict to be portrayed as a western crusade against Islam.
According to Jordan's state-run news agency Petra, King Abdullah told army officers that President Bush had "promised not to deliver a military strike against Iraq or any Arab country as part of a retaliatory response for the attacks". The White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, denied any such promise was made. "What the president told the king is those who harbour terrorists will meet the same fate as the terrorists," he said.
Military observers in Washington say the compromise reached within the administration has been to target Bin Laden's forces and their Taliban hosts in the first wave of the military campaign. US-led special forces would retain a heavy presence in the region over the next few years, carrying out raids whenever intelligence indicated any emerging terrorist threat. Such raids could target Iraqi installations.