CAIRO, Egypt – President Hosni Mubarak warned Monday that a drawn-out war in Iraq will lead to an increase in Islamic militancy throughout the world.
"If there is one [Usama] bin Laden now, there will be 100 bin Ladens afterward," Mubarak said, referring to the Al Qaeda terror network leader during a speech to army commanders in the city of Suez, 80 miles east of the capital, Cairo.
The Egyptian president, however, insisted that international commitments obliged Egypt to keep the Suez Canal open to all vessels, including U.S. and British warships.
Mubarak said international law gave Egypt the right to close the Suez Canal when it is in a state of war but only ships from belligerent nations can be denied access to the 101-mile waterway, which opened in 1869.
"Crossing of ships of the Suez Canal is a right for all countries and is an international commitment that cannot be trampled with," Mubarak said in his speech, which was broadcast live on Egyptian TV.
Mubarak also said the war would have "catastrophic" effects on economic, political and humanitarian conditions throughout the world and said all Mideast states, including Israel, should be free of weapons of mass destruction.
Anti-war protests staged throughout Egypt have urged Mubarak to close the canal to warships sailing toward the Gulf. On Sunday, another three U.S. warships crossed the canal from the Mediterranean into the Red Sea bound for the war zone.
Mubarak has condemned the war, but blames it on what he calls Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's failure to cooperate with the international community.
Also Monday, Egypt also ordered the release of 64 anti-war protesters, including two lawmakers, who police detained after anti-war protests, prosecutors said.
Nasserite Party MP Hamdeen Sabahi, 50, and independent politician Mohammed Farid Hassanein, 55, were freed Sunday after being among scores of people detained over allegedly inciting protesters to destroy property and attack police officers.