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Iraq's Neighbors Reluctant to Join in Attack on Saddam Hussein - 2002-10-10

In 1991, Iraq's neighbors joined the U.S.-led coalition to liberate Kuwait. Today, they are reluctant to join a new attack on Iraq if it does not have U.N. backing.

Arab leaders hope to avert another costly war by trying to persuade Saddam Hussein to allow unlimited U.N. weapons inspections.

Jordan's Foreign Minister Marwan al-Muasher remembers the 1991 Gulf War, which provoked a flood of Iraqi refugees across the border. "Obviously our ability to deal with more refugees is extremely limited, and we hope we will not be able to come to that point because I do not think we will be able to take in more refugees in the country," he said.

But should war erupt, Jordan is expected to lend support to Washington's military. Bowing to public opposition, Jordan's king did not back the 1991 Gulf War. That cost the country much-needed economic support in the aftermath.

Middle East Policy Council chief Charles Freeman says cooperating with the U.S. administration can be a double-edged sword for many Arab states. Mr. Freeman, who served as U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia during 1991 Gulf War, said, "The dilemma for governments in the region is that they, on the one hand, have the imperative of retaining good relations with the United States for foreign policy and national security, and regime survival reasons. And, on the other hand, they face publics who are fundamentally opposed to U.S. policy."

Oil analyst Nawaf Obaid says Saudi Arabia's royal leaders still face hostility from tribal and religious leaders over the lingering U.S. military presence there. "It will be very hard for the Saudi government to be publicly perceived as being too close to the United States. But if Saddam Hussein is dealt with properly then the U.S. troops do not have any more business being in Saudi Arabia," said Nawaf Obaid.

Mr. Obaid says it would be easier for Saudi and other Arab rulers to support a war against Iraq if it had U.N. backing.

For Kuwaitis who remember Iraq's 1990 invasion, security is a top priority.

The head of Kuwait University's Strategic Studies Center, Shafiq Ghabra, says Gulf leaders are also worried about what would follow Saddam Hussein. "If America goes in, changes the regime, does not stay in the long run, does not commit to nation building, leaves Iraq without the national building needed to recover and to rebuild, and to democratize as well, that would bring a lot of other negative aspects," he said.

Professor Ghabra says a lot also depends on how Iraq's neighbors handle the changes too. "It is clear to us if there is war and there is a major change in Iraq, this would be one of the biggest earthquakes the region has gotten through since 1967 [Arab-Israeli War]," said Sgafiq Ghabra. "So the question would be how the region will react to this and it is not exactly yet known."

Turkey has made it clear it would oppose Iraqi-Kurdish attempts for independence that would spread beyond Iraq's borders. Predominantly Sunni-Muslim Saudi Arabia is monitoring moves by Iran's Shiite leadership to exert more influence over Iraq's mostly Shiite south.

But veteran Middle East observers, like the Nixon Center's Geoffrey Kemp, can see some potential benefits from ending Saddam Hussein's tyranny. "In the best case analysis, I think this could accelerate the growing pressures in the Arab world for reform which are very beneficially now coming from the Arabs themselves," he said.

Mr. Kemp cites political reforms underway in some Gulf states and within the Palestinian Authority as examples.