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U.S. To Iraq: Don't Get Any Ideas

Iraq says it has been warned by the United States to expect a "crushing" reply if it tries to exploit any instability following the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington.

Iraq responded it was not afraid of the United States, according to a statement on the exchange issued Thursday by the Information Ministry.

The ministry said the U.S. envoy to the United Nations, John Negroponte, contacted Iraq's U.N. envoy Sunday, the day the United States began its retaliatory bombing of Afghanistan. Negroponte delivered "the following message orally without demanding an answer," the ministry said.

The message, according to Iraq, concerned exploiting turbulence following U.S. strikes on Afghanistan. Afghanistan was targeted because it is the haven of Islamic extremist Osama bin Laden, the main suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks.

"If you use force against your neighbors or Israel or the Kurdish side or any other part of the Iraqi people, then we will reply very strongly to defeat you," Negroponte was quoted as telling Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed al-Douri.

Negroponte was quoted as saying the U.S. "reply will be crushing" should Iraq "use weapons of mass destruction against the U.S. or our forces or even our friends and allies."

In his reply , al-Douri was quoted as saying such actions were not on "Iraq's agenda."

But he added: "When Iraq has a lost right and finds the right time to retrieve it, it is not afraid of you or others."

Al-Douri described the U.S. message as "threatening" and "naive, silly and arrogant."

Negroponte has refused comment on the exchange first reported earlier this week by diplomats at the United Nations. The diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Negroponte came to Iraq's U.N. Mission after the U.S. air strikes began on Sunday to read a letter warning the Iraqi government not to use the current situation to take any action either against its own minorities or its neighbors.

After consulting his government, al-Douri delivered a letter of response, the diplomats said.

Al-Douri also has refused to discuss any exchange with Negroponte, but told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday that Iraq has done nothing to make it fear U.S. attack.

"But Americans are so arrogant, so they feel they can always use power — weapons and force — and not wisdom. For no reason, they attack so we have to prepare ourselves for such eventuality and certainly we will defend ourselves," al-Douri said.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's government has been on the U.S. list of countries sponsoring terrorism for years. The United States broke diplomatic relations with Iraq after Iraqi invaded Kuwait in 1990.

By SAMEER N.YACOUB
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