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Qatar Welcomes US as Possible Iraq War Looms - 2002-11-26

Political analysts in Qatar say the small Gulf country has a lot to offer, especially if there is a war in Iraq. While many Arab states have said U.S. action against Iraq would hurt their relations with Washington, officials in Qatar are openly welcoming a U.S. presence.

Qatar is a small country, but the tiny Gulf state could play a big role if there is a war in Iraq.

Next month, the commander in chief of the U.S. Central Command, General Tommy Franks, will head to Qatar for a military exercise that is expected to last a week to 10 days. Traveling with General Franks, who was responsible for day-to-day operations in the U.S. campaign against the Taleban, will be more than 600 of his headquarters staff.

There are several reasons Qatar is getting this kind of attention.

Among them it has an airfield capable of handling aircraft of any size. But possibly more important is that Qatar is one of the few Gulf states that is openly embracing U.S. presence in the region.

The head of Qatar University's Gulf Studies Center, Hassan Saleh al-Ansari, said the reason for this is simple: Qatar wants U.S. protection. "We look at the region and we think it is unstable. We had two major wars in the last 20 years and we might have a third one very soon, who knows? And we think that we need strong and powerful friends and that is why we are having this kind of relationship. It is in our interests too. It is not just, as some people argue, this is an American interest and you are doing the Americans a favor. No, it is a two-way street and we look at it this way and its in our benefit to have this kind of relationship," he said.

According to Dr. al-Ansari, while larger states in the region may not like Qatar's openness, he said Qatar will act in its own self-interest. "We understand the limitation of power that we have, but we believe it is within our interests. And in the end we are not here to create a country that will dominate everybody. We are interested in securing our country. We are interested in developing our natural and human resources and to make a better place for every Qatari to live in," he said.

A top-level Qatar government official, who asked not to be identified, told VOA that Qatar sought to enhance its relationship with the United States by, among other things, offering its ground and air space should the U.S. attack Iraq.

And while Qatar's open support of the United States has irritated some of its Gulf and Arab neighbors, the official pointed out that some of these neighbors are also hosting U.S. troops.

There are 10,000 U.S. troops in Kuwait, 5,000 in Saudi Arabia and the U.S. Navy has a large presence in Bahrain. What makes Qatar different, the official said, is that "unlike other Gulf and Arab states, it is not afraid to publicly acknowledge who it supports.