China's leading official newspaper urged the United States to "think twice" before taking military action against Iraq, warning that a war to free Kuwait would have global consequences.

The People's Daily, the Communist Party's flagship newspaper, said any war in the gulf "may cause heavy casualties and material devastation and touch off worldwide political and economic turbulence."The newspaper commentary, which reflects views of the Chinese leadership, called strongly on Iraq to "immediately and unconditionally withdraw" from Kuwait and restore the nation's legitimate government.

"On the other hand, the United States, which boasts tens of thousands of armed troops in the gulf region, should think twice before taking any action," the commentary said.

The commentary argued against the notion that the war could be ended swiftly, saying "once the war breaks out, it will be independent of human will and the consequences will be unimaginable."

The Chinese government previously maintained friendly ties with Iraq and was among Baghdad's major arms suppliers.