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Arab states vent rising wrath

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Egypt and Bahrain moved last week to improve commercial ties with Iraq, while a Yemeni envoy delivered a "letter of support" to Mr. Hussein..

Boosting his pro-Palestinian credentials and irritating Washington, Hussein has donated up to $25,000 to relatives of Palestinian suicide bombers. On Friday, Baghdad pledged an additional $8.7 million to support the Palestinians in addition to some 6,000 tons of aid, which has already been delivered. Earlier this month, Hussein introduced a 30-day embargo on Iraqi oil exports, a move that has helped raise oil prices worldwide.

Although Iran (not an Arab state, but a big player in the region) has also called on all Muslim oil producing states to use the "oil weapon" in support of the Palestinian cause, it has not followed Iraq's lead. In fact, Iran, which along with Iraq and North Korea make up President Bush's "Axis of Evil," played a significant role in easing recent tensions along the Lebanon-Israel border. With Iranian-backed Hizbullah fighters attacking Israeli troops on an almost daily basis, Iran's foreign minister, Kamel Kharrazi, flew to Beirut and delivered a surprise call for restraint. The fighting ended two days later. Mr. Kharrazi's intervention in Lebanon provoked uproar in Tehran. Hardliners condemned the move, while moderates applauded Kharrazi's diplomacy.

"It was the Iranian moderates saying to the US 'we are the people in charge,' " says Farid Khazen, a professor of political science at the American University of Beirut.

Egypt and Jordan

An announcement early this month that Egypt would sever all ties with Israel except those dealing with "helping the Palestinians," has had little real impact on relations. And when Syrian officials cried foul that Egypt, unlike its Arab brothers, still keeps a functioning Israeli embassy in its midst, Mr. Mubarak's rabidly loyal state press snapped that Syria's "boy president" – the tall, lanky 36-year-old Bashar Assad, who replaced his father as head of state in 2000 – shouldn't pretend to know anything about serious diplomacy.

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