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Analysts Debate Impact of Iraq War on Gulf Region - 2003-02-19

Debate continues throughout the Arab world about the consequences of war in Iraq.

Many political analysts in the Arab world say there is little disagreement that the Iraqi people are suffering under Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. But they express concern about whether they would be better off if there is regime change in Iraq as the result of a war.

As the United States builds up massive firepower in the Gulf region, there is rising worry about potential civilian casualties.

Mohammed Kadry Sa'id is a former Egyptian army general who heads the military unit of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. He quotes widespread news reports that say the opening salvo in a war, would include thousands of bombs missiles.

General Sa'id said there would surely be a heavy civilian toll, because it is believed Saddam Hussein would place his troops near civilian populations. "I think it will be very large scale civilian casualties because now the Iraqi tactics is to put the sensitive elements of his [Saddam's] forces near to the civilian areas. So the concept of using 3,000 missiles in a very short time, this is in a situation like no one will care about civilians. This should be clear for everyone. This happened before in Berlin or in London in the Second World War," he said.

United States military commanders have emphasized that one of their key goals in a fight with Iraq, would be to minimize civilian casualties.

While they say it is impossible to keep civilians from getting hurt, they note the United States now has an arsenal of precision-guided weapons that it did not have 12 years ago, during the war to push Iraq out of Kuwait. They are hopeful that will help protect civilians if Saddam Hussein tries to hide his military assets among them.

Walid Kazziha said heavy civilian casualties would play into the hands of extremist groups. The political science professor at American University in Cairo says resentment is already running high in the region toward the United States. He said war against Iraq would push extremist groups "over the edge."

"I have no doubt about one thing and that is, in the long run, this will feed to the process of recruitment and mobilization towards the Islamic groups. They will be having a field day in the long run that could materialize in increasing terrorist acts in the region," Mr. Kazziha said.

He said another concern is that moderate Arab leaders would face intense internal public resentment and possible acts of terrorism if the presence of U.S. and British forces in Iraq became prolonged.

While U.S. officials have said they would expect war against Iraq to be accomplished in a short period of time, none has ever publicly said how long the U.S. would maintain its presence in Iraq.

The head of the political science department at Lebanese American University in Beirut, Sami Baroudi, said a lengthy U.S. stay in Iraq might be required. He worries that otherwise a regime change in Baghdad could trigger widespread battles for control of Iraq, possibly involving the Kurds, Syrians, Iranians, Turks, Iraqis living in exile, and various tribes and clans throughout Iraq.

Professor Baroudi said ousting Saddam Hussein could result in armed skirmishes throughout the country. "There is always this fear in my mind, and I think in the minds of lots of countries that are opposing the war is, that a dictator can keep things under control better than 20 dictators fighting among each other. The fear is that if that dictator [Saddam] disappears you have 15 to 20 dictators each calling a fiefdom for himself in Iraq and then end up settling things among each other by violence," Mr. Baroudi said.

He said it is common knowledge that most Arab and world leaders agree that Saddam Hussein should go. But, he said, U.S. and British officials need to fully explain, before any possible war, what plans they have for a post-Saddam Iraq and how they intend to realistically implement them in what he said would likely be "an extremely anti-US environment."