KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Iraq's plunge into violence since Saddam Hussein's fall has stirred enmities that will kill more Iraqis than ever perished under his reign, Malaysian former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Wednesday.
"They have disturbed a hornet's nest. I know Saddam is not the nicest person in the world but by the time this thing ends, more Iraqis are going to be killed than Saddam ever did," Mahathir told Reuters in an interview.
"The Iraqis are being made to suffer in order to save them and I don't believe in that," he said.
Mahathir handed power to Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in October, since when Malaysia has been far quieter on foreign affairs issues including Iraq, despite being chair of the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference.
He spoke as U.S. forces tightened their grip around one of Iraq's holiest cities, Najaf, vowing to kill or capture a rebel Shi'ite cleric.
A revolt by the religious leader's militia and battles involving the smaller Sunni Muslim community have killed hundreds of Iraqis and scores of foreign troops this month, the deadliest for the U.S. military since Saddam fell a year ago.
Mahathir said the risks of terror attacks in Iraq and around the globe have rocketed since the Washington-led invasion, rejecting U.S. President George W. Bush's suggestion the world was better off with Saddam out of power.
"Is it better off now? I think it is worse off. Today, the fear of terrorism is far greater," he said in reference to Bush's remarks during a Tuesday prime time news conference.
"Fear of terrorism in Iraq certainly was not there before and is now," added Mahathir, who said the March 11 bombings in Madrid showed the dangers posed to the rest of the world.
"Now you look after the railway stations but can you be sure that they will not attack other things? So the world is going to spend huge sums of money trying to secure itself only to find that it is not secure."
The Malaysian former leader said any solution would have to include Palestine, allowing Palestinians to claim back territories they lost to Israel.
"Israel cannot just say: 'Well, we have America behind us, we can do what we like. We can assassinate anybody.'
"They may be able to do that but the people who will suffer will be the Americans," he said.
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