BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraq denounced President Bush's remarks that it is part of an "axis of evil" as "stupid" and said the U.S. government is the source of evil in the world.
Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan's words Wednesday echoed the reaction of others who felt threatened by Bush's State of the Union address a day earlier. President Mohammad Khatami of Iran — like Iraq accused of supporting terrorism — told his Cabinet that Bush had committed "an insult to the Iranian nation."
The Bush address, in which he said "Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror" added to speculation that Iraq might become a target in the U.S.-led war on terror.
Bush said Iraq, Iran and North Korea — which did not immediately respond — "constitute an axis of evil" because of their support for terrorism and their efforts to build or acquire weapons of mass destruction.
In Japan and South Korea, two countries within missile range of North Korea, people reacted nervously Wednesday.
"It's very scary," said Choi Jin-wook, senior researcher at the government's Korea Institute of National Unification. "Some people think the chances of war have increased as a result."
The United States has warned Iraq to let in U.N. weapons inspectors or face unspecified consequences. Iraq has so far refused to let in the inspectors, who left in 1998.
Under U.N. resolutions, sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 can be lifted only after the United Nations is satisfied Baghdad has dismantled its weapons of mass destruction. Iraq says it has done so.
Ramadan told reporters that Bush's portrayal of Iraq in his speech Tuesday "is a stupid statement and inappropriate of the president of the biggest country."
"The source of evil and aggression toward the whole world, not only on Iraq or the Arab world, is the U.S. administration and the Zionist entity that follows it," Ramadan added, referring to Israel.
Across the Mideast and the Muslim world, Washington's perceived bias toward Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been cited as fueling Arab and Muslim anger that leads to violence against the United States
Bush in his speech singled out as terrorist Hamas and Hezbollah, militant groups that many Arabs see as champions of nationalist Palestinian and Lebanese causes.
In a statement released Wednesday in Lebanon, Hezbollah said Bush's "threats will not terrorize us nor weaken our resolve to fight the occupying Israeli enemy and offer all forms of necessary support for the triumph of the Palestinians and the Palestinian people's intefadeh."
Iran is a longtime backer of the Hezbollah guerrilla group that fought Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon for years and still strikes Israeli targets in a disputed area. Hezbollah is widely believed to be linked to 1980s suicide bombings in Lebanon that killed more than 260 Americans.
Iran also has condemned the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States and long had opposed Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers, who had harbored the accused masterminds of Sept. 11.
Early in the U.S. war on terrorism, American officials spoke of better cooperation with Iran. But in the past month, Bush has accused Iran of interfering to undermine Afghanistan's new government, and Washington has been angered by an alleged Iranian attempt to smuggle weapons to the Palestinians.
Bush said in his speech that Iran was pursuing weapons of mass destruction and "exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom."
Khatami, the Iranian president, responded that Americans should ask their politicians to stop looking for war and help cultivate a peace based on justice.
Iranian television reported that Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi had canceled a trip to New York, where he was to have attended an international economic forum, "in protest to the American threats against the Islamic Republic of Iran."
Politicians in the Philippines and Malaysia were concerned Bush's words signaled increased U.S. intervention in their nations, where the governments have been pressured to crack down on militants linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network.
In Somalia, another Islamic nation cited as a possible theater for the U.S. anti-terror campaign, the fledgling government praised Bush's speech and said it hoped for American help.