Two key U.S. allies in the Arab world and Gulf region have in recent days taken opposing positions on whether to allow U.S. forces to use their facilities to launch a possible attack against Iraq. Kuwait says yes, Saudi Arabia says no.
There has been good news and bad news over the past two days for the United States regarding possible military action against Iraq.
Kuwait announced U.S. military forces could use its facilities to attack Iraq if the U.N. Security Council sanctions it. On Sunday, Saudi Arabia announced none of its facilities would be available regardless of what the Security Council decides.
Dan Tschirgi is the head of the political science department at American University in Cairo. He says by announcing its refusal to allow the United States to use its facilities, Saudi Arabia is bolstering Arab opposition to an attack against Iraq.
"I think the Saudi position is inevitably going to reinforce the inclination of Arab states to refuse to become involved in any American military venture against Iraq at this time. I think the Saudi position is sending a clear signal to countries in the Arab world to stiffen their resolve," he said.
Dr. Tschirgi said, from a military standpoint, the facilities in Saudi Arabia would be an important asset in any attack against Iraq. During the 1991 Gulf war, he adds, Saudi Arabia became the main staging area for U.S. troops to oust Iraqi troops from Kuwait.
But U.S. administration officials have downplayed the significance of the Saudi announcement, saying the U.S. has many allies in the region from which to launch military strikes against Iraq.
The director of the Jenin Center for Strategic Studies in Jordan, Tawfiq Abu Bakr, said U.S. allies in the region exist, but they must remain quiet about their support for the United States in order to avoid public opposition.
"I think they have allies in the region who can not speak loudly about their facilities. I think they have Turkey and Qatar and perhaps Kuwait. I think there will be no problem for the Americans if they decide to attack Iraq," Mr. Bakr said.
Former Egyptian army General Mohammad Sa'id Kadry agrees that the United States would have little difficulty carrying out a military attack against Iraq without Saudi Arabia. But the former general, who is now the military expert at the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, says doing so without the full support of the Arab world could be very dangerous for the United States. For instance, he says, the Arab civilian population might retaliate against Americans living in the region.
"This, I think, is the danger. If the United States makes a military operation in this theater without having even some silent support from these countries, in my view, the future will be uncertain," General Kadry said.
While officials in Washington and Saudi Arabia say relations between the two countries are good, all three analysts said the latest announcement from Saudi Arabia would seem to suggest otherwise.