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Egyptians on trade mission to Iraq as sanctions weaken


BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Egyptian trade officials landed Sunday in Baghdad as U.S. officials tried to shore up Gulf War-era sanctions against Iraq after Friday's air raids.

Sunday's visit to Baghdad by Egypt's economy minister and public enterprise minister underscored the fading power of economic sanctions against Iraq. Egypt is a key American ally in the Mideast and a broker in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

American and British pilots struck targets outside Baghdad on Friday -- raids thousands of Iraqis protested Sunday and that Egyptian officials called a "major setback."

Egyptian Economy Minister Youssef Boutros-Ghali was more cautious Sunday in describing the strikes, but the 160-strong trade delegation he led to Baghdad spoke volumes.

"We are here for supporting the people of Iraq and relations between the two peoples, economic and financial, so as to help Iraq provide for its basic needs," he said.

CNN's Jane Arraf reports on the mood in Baghdad after U.S. strikes (February 17)

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CNN's Jamie McIntyre reports Iraqi air defense was getting too close for comfort (February 16)

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CNN's David Ensor reports on U.S. plans to toughen policy against Iraq (February 16)

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  • Graphic: Strike on Iraq

    Critics say the sanctions have taken a toll on Iraqi civilians without harming the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Friday's raids occurred just a week before new U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell tours the Persian Gulf region, and Arab diplomats say he'll have a lot of explaining to do about the timing of this attack.

    Powell is expected to outline what President George W. Bush's policy toward Iraq will be. Friday's raids were seen not as a great departure from the longtime U.S. policy of containing Iraq, but a signal that the new administration will keep up the pressure -- in part to re-energize the United Nations sanctions.

    The sanctions were imposed after a U.S., European and Arab coalition pushed Iraqi troops out of Kuwait in 1991. They include an embargo on Iraqi oil and limits on its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.

    Support for the sanctions has diminished among many of Iraq's neighbors and former trading partners, some of whom are beginning to defy the restrictions.

    "It's very complicated to maintain the coalition against Saddam at this point," said Brookings Institution analyst Michael Hanlon. "Only Britain is firmly with us on these sorts of operations and the robust enforcement of sanctions. It's going to be a big challenge to figure out what to do with the Iraq policy."

    U.S. and British fliers also enforce a ban on Iraqi aircraft in the "no-fly" zones over northern and southern Iraq, established to protect Kurdish and Shiite Muslim minority populations after the Gulf War.

    It was in response to Iraqi attempts to shoot down those allied patrols that U.S. and British planes struck targets outside Baghdad on Friday.

    Gulf War allies Saudi Arabia and Kuwait supported the raids and have backed the sanctions. But Egypt and Syria have recently concluded free trade agreements with Baghdad. In addition, U.S. allies, including France and Turkey, were critical of the raids.

    Iraq expelled U.N. weapons inspectors in 1998, prompting four days of U.S. and British air raids. Iraq has refused to recognize the no-fly zones since then and has fought a low-level air war against the allies.

    Iraq appealed to the United Nations to condemn the raids Saturday. It has also tried to turn attention toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Hussein threatening to raise up to 100,000 volunteers to fight alongside the Palestinians against Israel.

    In an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. on Sunday, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook warned that Hussein is still a threat to his neighbors in the region.

    "Do remember he has never given up his claim to Kuwait, and only a few weeks ago reasserted that claim," Cook said. "This is a man who could plunge the region into war again."

    CNN Correspondents Jane Arraf, Christiane Amanpour and Kelly Wallace contributed to this report.

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    United Nations
    Office of the Iraq Programme
    The Iraqi Presidency
    Iraqi National Congress
    Iraq energy profile, U.S. Dept. of Energy

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