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Powell: Little Arab outrage at beheading

David L. Greene Baltimore Sun

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Colin L. Powell admonished Arab leaders on Sunday, saying they should have shown “a higher level of outrage” over the beheading of an American civilian in Iraq after they had expressed furor over the mistreatment of Iraqi detainees at a prison outside Baghdad.

“When you are outraged at what happened at the prison,” Powell said on “Fox News Sunday,” “you should be equally, doubly outraged” over the execution of Nicholas Berg.

The 26-year-old Berg was kidnapped while seeking work in Iraq for his communications business, and a videotape of his execution was posted on an Islamic Web site last week. U.S. officials have said they believe the masked man who killed him was terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has links to al Qaeda.

Powell’s comments came in several television interviews from Jordan on Sunday as he was traveling in the Middle East, seeking to mend fences with Arab leaders over the war in Iraq and the prison abuses and to confer with leaders over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His remarks reflect a sense of anger and frustration within the Bush administration that Arab leaders for weeks voiced fury over the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison, but then failed to immediately condemn Berg’s death.

In the video of the beheading, Berg’s killers said they were seeking retribution for the abuses at Abu Ghraib. And initially, after the video was posted, there was little reaction from the Arab world. Nations such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the Islamic militant organizations Hezbollah and Hamas, have now condemned the killing.

“I think (there) should be a higher level of outrage,” Powell said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “There is anger in the Arab world about some of our actions, but that is no excuse for any silence on the part of any Arab leader for this kind of murder. This kind of murder is unacceptable in anyone’s religion, in anybody’s political system that is a political system based on any kind of understanding and respect for human rights.”

The prison scandal has scarred American credibility in the Arab world, and the incidents at Abu Ghraib seem to be eroding President Bush’s political standing. Bush’s job-approval ratings fell to an all-time low of 42 percent in a Newsweek poll released Sunday, and only 35 percent of respondents said they approved of his handling of Iraq, down 9 percentage points since last month. Still, Bush remains in a statistical dead heat with presumptive Democratic candidate Sen. John F. Kerry, according to the poll.

Powell also acknowledged Sunday that when he went before the United Nations last February to help Bush make the case for war in Iraq, the intelligence he used was “inaccurate and wrong.” Powell had been asked about a CIA source who, according to some reports, misled the agency when compiling intelligence suggesting Iraq was trying to use trucks and trains to deliver chemical and biological weapons.

Powell said on the NBC telecast Sunday that he was “comfortable that, at the time I made the presentation, it reflected the collective judgment, the sound judgment of the intelligence community.”

He added: “It turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and in some cases deliberately misleading. And for that, I am disappointed and I regret it.”

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