Mubarak: US in Iraq threatens Middle East stability

"It attracts terrorists"; statement comes at a time of chill in US-Egypt relations over aid issues and Hamas.

Mubarak 248 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Mubarak 248 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Monday that a continued US presence in Iraq would attract terrorists and threaten the security and stability of the Middle East, according to the state MENA news agency. The remarks, a sharp deflection from Mubarak's earlier backing for the American role in Iraq, come amid a recent chill in US-Egyptian relations and the Egyptian leader's increasingly defiant tone. That defiance stepped up after US moved last year to put conditions on the US$2 billion in aid, including US$1.3 billion in military assistance, that Washington gives annually to Egypt, the second largest recipient of US aid after Israel. The US Congress and Bush agreed to withhold US$100 million from Egypt until it stops smuggling, implements judicial reforms and curbs police torture, which human rights groups say is systematic. This has angered Egypt, historically the top US ally among Arab states. In turn, frustration has also grown in the US over Egypt's inability to rein in the Palestinian militant Hamas and prevent weapons from being smuggled through border tunnels to the Gaza Strip. "The (continued) presence of American and foreign forces in Iraq would only attract terrorists from everywhere and will be a threat to the security and stability in the region," the news agency quoted Mubarak as saying en route to the United Arab Emirates. He spoke to editors of state media while on the plane. Yet, Mubarak did not explicitly say the US should pull out. The Egyptian leader has in the past said that if the US-led coalition troops withdrew right away from Iraq, the situation would deteriorate even more. Egypt opposed the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, but once Saddam Hussein was toppled, Mubarak said Washington should stay until "Iraqis complete rebuild the armed and police forces capable of imposing law and order." Mubarak also supported US troop "surge" since a year ago to battle al-Qaida in and around Baghdad.