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War 'may bring more terror'

MacVicar says Syrians told her war could destabilise the region.
MacVicar says Syrians told her war could destabilise the region.

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Some Arabs in the Middle East who oppose war are at odds with their governments. CNN's Sheila MacVicar reports. (March 5)
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AMMAN, Jordan -- What do the people of the Iraq's Middle Eastern neighbors make of a possible a U.S.-led war on Baghdad? CNN Senior Correspondent Sheila MacVicar has been in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria finding out.

Jordan spent the last Gulf War sitting on the fence -- and the next 10 years trying to build a better relationship with the United States. Support for Saddam Hussein has, in most places, faded. But as the government acknowledges, Jordan's people do not want this war.

Says Marwan Muasher, Jordan's Foreign Minister: "We will not jeopardize our relations with the United States. On the other hand, it's going to be an extremely difficult position to defend in front of our public opinion."

This is especially true in a country that believes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the central issue. Jordan's Planning Minister, Bassem Awadallah, says: "People in the Arab world blame the unequivocal U.S. support for Israel. Any policies right or wrong which really help Israel continue the occupation of Palestinian lands."

That support, they say in Jordan, leaves people questioning U.S. credibility and motives.

"Greater security for the American people by attacking Iraq?" asks Dr. Hisham Bustani, a Jordanian dentist. "Tell me how. Tell me how."

As for U.S. claims that this war could help foster democracy, Fawzi, a Jordanian merchant told me: "Democracy never never never comes from outside..."

To Lebanon, where we stopped in Beirut, a city that remembers and knows the consequences and costs of war all too well. This city was divided for years during a bloody civil war that pitted Christians against Muslims from 1975 and left the center of the city in ruins.

In the mountains north of Beirut, we went to visit renowned winemaker Serge Hochar, a Christian and an Arab.

Said the president of Chateau Musar vineyards: "We are entering a world of risk at the global stage. This is why I say, what happened to Lebanon might happen to the world.

"If there is war.. It may unleash forces across the region, people here say... that bring changes and unintended consequences. And it is very, very hard to see, they say what good this war could do."

In Syria, for years there has been a cold peace with Baghdad. The billboards here bear the faces of the Assads. Father and son... strong men opposed to their Iraqi neighbor.

The people here have heard the tales of Saddam Hussein -- they are under no illusions about his cruelty. As they sit and smoke and drink their tea, there is only one conversation.

"Saddam Hussein is not going to be standing there waiting for them to shoot him.. . He'll disappear. It's the people who will be hurt," I was told.

That very strong feeling that, caught again between their leadership and the United States, Iraq's people may have to pay once more, is one reason why Syria will not vote in the U.N. to support war.

Says Syrian government official and key adviser to the president Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban: "Any attack at the moment will not serve the region, would not serve peace, will not serve security."

And in the end, warn the Syrians, it may not serve U.S. interests either.

Officials say Syria's government has privately warned the U.S. of the impact of floods of refugees fleeing Iraq ... and the cost of human catastrophe on U.S.credibility.

International aid agencies acknowledge they are quietly stockpiling food and supplies, preparing to care for perhaps as many as four hundred thousand Iraqis on Syria's borders and many more trapped inside Iraq.

Says Shaaban: "I fear that American people might suffer you know if a war in Iraq takes place because terrorism would gain more and more fertile soil."

People are not very free to speak their minds here. But on the streets people echoed Shaaban.

Said Sawsan Abu Haraf, a medical student: "I think America may face more terrorism from the people of Iraq. The people of Iraq, they don't want to die."

Syria is a place of contradictions. The U.S. State Department has Syria on it's list of state sponsors of terror -- but Secretary of State Colin Powell has publicly praised the co-operation of the Syrian government since September 11.

Syria is known to be holding at least one key al Qaeda recruiter and interrogating him with U.S. officials.

I asked Dr Shaaban whether the United States risks losing or jeopardizing Syria's support in combating terrorism.

"I think it is jeopardizing everybody's support of combating terrorism."

The message from Damascus, from government offices, to the bazaars is that this war threatens to bring instability... anger.

And ultimately, they say, may bring more hate, more extremism... and even more terror.

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