Gadhafi warns Arab leaders they may be overthrown like Saddam

Sunday, March 30, 2008

DAMASCUS, Syria -- Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi poured contempt on fellow Arab leaders at a summit Saturday and warned that they might be overthrown like former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

Gadhafi's rambling, off-the-cuff speech to the opening of the Arab summit both bewildered and brought reluctant smiles to the faces of the other leaders.

The Libyan's litany of insults at Arabs and his undiplomatic railing at the disarray of Arab regimes have become almost a tradition at the annual gathering.

Dressed in lush purple and pink robes with a traditional Libyan cloak and cap, Gadhafi blasted Arab countries for doing nothing while the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 and overthrew Saddam.

"How can we accept that a foreign power comes to topple an Arab leader while we stand watching?" he said. He said Saddam had once been an ally of Washington, "but they sold him out."

"Your turn is next," Gadhafi told the leaders, some of whom looked stunned while others broke into laughter at his frankness. "Destruction will be yours."

In recent years, Gadhafi has dramatically repaired ties with the United States -- once his top enemy -- by giving up his country's weapons of mass destruction programs and paying compensation for the 1988 Pan Am bombing. Libya is hoping for a landmark visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, though one is still not set, and has stepped up economic ties to the West.

Still, that hasn't stopped Gadhafi from denouncing U.S. domination of the world and criticizing other Arab countries for their closeness to Washington.

In his speech, Gadhafi slammed Arab disunity and inaction on the region's multiple crises.

"Where is the Arabs' dignity, their future, their very existence? Everything has disappeared," he said. "Our blood and our language may be one, but there is nothing that can unite us."

"If they [Arabs] will not reorganize themselves, they will turn into protectorates. They will be marginalized and turn into garbage dumps," he said.

Gadhafi also mocked a plan by the Arab League to start Arab cooperation on a joint nuclear program. "How can we do that? We hate each other, we wish ill of each other and our intelligence services conspire against each other. We are our own enemy."

Gadhafi threw a compliment-cum-backhanded insult at Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, praising him as the "hero of Oslo," referring to the 1993 Oslo peace accords that created the Palestinian Authority, but are derided by many Arabs for failing to bring a final peace.

Abbas scowled at the comment.

Gadhafi has angered other Arab leaders with his sharp remarks at past summits.

Last year, he boycotted the summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, but gave a televised speech saying "Liza" -- referring to Rice -- had dictated the gathering's agenda.

In 2005, he told the summit in Algeria that Palestinians and Israelis are "stupid." A year earlier, he sat smoking cigars on the conference floor of the Tunisia summit to show his contempt for the other leaders.

During a 2003 gathering, he traded insults with Saudi King Abdullah in the conference hall.

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