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Saudi Opposition to Possible US Attack on Iraq Is Growing - 2002-08-26

Voices in Saudi Arabia opposed to a possible U.S. led attack on Iraq are growing louder. The kingdom, which has been a key U.S. ally in the region, does not see justification for a war that some Saudi officials fear could spread throughout the Middle East.

The head of Saudi Arabia's Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Studies says Saudi Arabia adamantly opposes a possible U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Anwar Eshki says this could have far reaching dangerous consequences in the future, and would only breed more conflicts in the region. He says, for this and other reasons, Riyadh does not, and will not support military action.

Mr. Eshki says the kingdom is in agreement with Washington that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein must comply with U.N. resolutions, calling for the resumption of weapons inspections in Iraq, but wants this achieved through diplomacy.

Saudi Arabia, Washington's chief ally in the Gulf, was the main staging area for U.S. forces during the 1991 Gulf war to oust Iraqi troops from Kuwait. There are currently about 5,000 American troops stationed in Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom has rejected all requests from Washington to take part in any military action to topple Saddam Hussein.

Most of the hijackers who carried out the September 11 attacks on the United States were Saudis.

According to Egyptian-based political analyst Mohammad Kamal, that connection is causing Saudi Arabia to fear what President Bush calls a regime change in Iraq could lead Washington to seek the same in Saudi Arabia.

"Some Saudi officials and some Saudi intellectuals are taking this idea of a regime change seriously," he said. "They think that there are some elements in the U.S. administration who believe that the September 11 attacks originated in the politics of some Arab countries, and on top of these countries is Saudi Arabia. So they feel that the U.S., by invading Iraq and changing the regime in Iraq, this will put pressure on Saudi Arabia to adopt a more pro-U.S. policy, or probably put more pressure on the regime to democratize, and they're not willing to do that at the moment."

Saudi Arabia's stance against a possible U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, which has the backing of the Saudi public, has drawn praise from Baghdad. Last week, Iraq's vice president announced Iraq was ready to restore full diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia when the kingdom decides the time is right. Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic ties with Iraq following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

Monday, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad arrived in Saudi Arabia for talks with Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz over the Iraqi situation. Syria has expressed support for Saudi Arabia's stance. No Arab country has expressed public support for an attack against Baghdad.