Iraqis Call Shuttle Disaster God's Vengeance Sat February 1, 2003 03:24 PM ET BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Immediate popular reaction in Baghdad on Saturday to the loss of the U.S. space shuttle Columbia and its seven-member crew -- including the first Israeli in space -- was that it was God's retribution. "We are happy that it broke up," government employee Abdul Jabbar al-Quraishi said. "God wants to show that his might is greater than the Americans. They have encroached on our country. God is avenging us," he said. Iraqis are braced for a possible U.S.-led war to rid their country of any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons it may possess. Iraq denies it has such weapons. Car mechanic Mohammed Jaber al-Tamini noted Israeli air force Colonel Ilan Ramon was among the dead when the shuttle broke up over the southwestern United States 16 minutes before its scheduled landing. The 48-year-old Israeli astronaut was a fighter pilot in the Israeli air force. He was the youngest pilot in a team that bombed Iraq's nuclear reactor in 1981. Israel said the reactor was intended to develop nuclear weapons. "Israel launched an aggression on us when it raided our nuclear reactor without any reason, now time has come and God has retaliated to their aggression," Tamini said. There were no such signs of jubilation over the shuttle disaster in any of the Palestinian territories. The official response from the Palestinians was one of condolence. "President (Yasser) Arafat and the Palestinian Authority offer their condolences to the six American families and the Israeli family who lost their loved ones in the catastrophe," Saeb Erekat, a senior Palestinian official and spokesman, told Reuters. Erekat said Arafat had sent President Bush a message of condolences over the loss of the NASA space agency's shuttle. The United States, Israel's closest ally, is the chief Middle East peace broker.