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*       US Improves Combat Ability in the Gulf (Associated Press): U.S.
military is taking series of low-profile steps to improve capability for
ground combat in the Persian Gulf region. US Defence Secretary Cohen
says: "By being forward deployed, we help to stabilize regions''.
*       French, US disputes over Iraq (Arabic News): Gulf States support
French proposal for lifting sanctions and oppose strikes against Iraq.
Cohen says that continued raids on Iraq are justified "because our
forces are threatened."
*       Iraq accuses U.S. of blocking power, water deals worth 200
billion (Reuters). "Baghdad and areas outside the capital suffer
blackouts  which can sometimes last six to 10 hours per day."   

********************
US Improves Combat Ability in Gulf 
By John Diamond, Associated Press Writer, Wednesday, March 10, 1999

KUWAIT (AP) -- The U.S. military is taking a series of low-profile steps
to improve its capability for ground combat in the Persian Gulf region
-- even as the high-profile air battle over northern and southern Iraq
thunders on.  The effort gained urgency when, after the U.S. airstrikes
on Iraq in December, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein said he no longer
recognizes Kuwait's sovereignty. Defense Secretary William Cohen, who
winds up a six-nation tour of Gulf states today, says America's
commitment to the region is long term and goes beyond air cover. 

``The one thing that you can be sure of is that we're going to defend
Kuwait, and any attack upon Kuwait we're going to consider as an attack
upon us,'' Cohen told U.S. air crews Tuesday at Al Jaber Air Base in the
Kuwaiti desert. ``We're here to defend their interests and our
interests.''  Before leaving Kuwait for Jordan, Cohen met with Defense
Minister Sheik Salem al-Sabah and said the United States will provide
Kuwait early warning of missile launches from Iraq or Iran.  Cohen said
his talks with the Kuwaiti leadership resulted in ``several specific
steps to make our strong cooperation even stronger.'' 

No formal agreements were signed and Cohen did not give details of the
missile warning help. But he said Kuwait and Washington will cooperate
on improving ``our abilities to detect and defend against chemical and
biological weapons.''  Also, he said a new telephone line will link his
office with that of Kuwait's defense minister. 

 So far on his trip, Cohen has reached agreement with Saudi Arabia to
conduct joint military exercises involving ground troops. In Qatar, the
United States expects by next year to complete the pre-positioning of
200 tanks and other armored vehicles, and U.S. officials are discussing
a proposal by Qatar to expand accommodations for U.S. ground troops. In
Kuwait, regular field exercises involving Marines or Army troops
continue with equipment from another huge armored vehicle storage center
on the outskirts of Kuwait City. 

Defense officials see no immediate sign that Saddam is preparing to turn
his rhetoric about Kuwait into action. Thus Cohen portrays the massive
U.S. force presence in the region in terms beyond any immediate crisis.
``By being forward deployed, we help to stabilize regions,'' Cohen said.
``When a region is stable, what happens? Investment starts to flow in.
Any time you see any instability where there's real conflict and
turbulence, the money comes out automatically. When the money comes out,
economies collapse and states are in danger of collapsing and you've got
chaos.'' 

Cohen also took steps to strengthen the militaries of friendly Gulf
states, another hedge against a worsening of tension in the region. He
agreed to sell air-to-air missiles to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, proposed
an intelligence-sharing system that would warn allies of hostile missile
launches, and discussed a major sale of fighter aircraft to the United
Arab Emirates. 

Throughout the trip, Cohen has been dealing with the political
sensitivities of the Persian Gulf where even nations that have worked
with the U.S. military for decades are anxious not to appear too closely
tied to Washington, lest they anger fundamentalist Muslims.  Largely
because of this concern, the United States has no plans to reach
agreements that would allow for permanent bases. Servicemen who met with
Cohen on Tuesday asked about this; bases would mean whole families could
move to the region. As it is, a soldier or airman who deploys to the
Gulf stays for a few months away from family and then cycles back home.
It is considered hardship duty. 

``I think much depends upon what the Kuwaiti people want, what the other
Gulf states would like to have,'' Cohen said. But whether the bases
themselves are permanent or temporary, the U.S. military has no plans of
packing for home soon. Even if tensions with Iraq ease, ``we will still
want a presence in the region to the extent that the host countries want
us here. That has always been part of our policy. We don't go where
we're not wanted.'' 

********************
French, US disputes over Iraq
Arabic News, Iraq, Politics, 3/9/99

US Defense Secretary William Cohen on Monday continued his tour of the
Arab Gulf at a time when disputes have surfaced between the US and
France over the policy to be pursued toward Iraq. Cohen, who met with
UAE officials in Abu Dhabi, admitted on Monday the existence of
differences between Washington and the French initiative which calls for
lifting oil embargo imposed on Iraq. Cohen also refused the criticism
addressed by France to the US and British raids against Iraq. Cohen told
journalists in Riyadh about the different views the US hold towards the
French initiative announced in January to settle the Iraqi crisis,
asserting that continued raids on Iraq are justified "because our forces
are threatened."

Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah noted no
differences with France on the substance concerning the issue of Iraq.
For its part, the UAE welcomed the French proposals, which were also
encouraged by Qatar. An official UAE source renewed his country's
opposition to the US strikes against Iraq and to any change in Iraq's
government imposed from outside the country. The UAE source added that
the UAE does not change in that it stands against striking Iraq and for
a diplomatic solution through the UN Security Council. The UAE official
asserted that making a change in Iraq can be decided by the Iraqi people
themselves, asserting support for Iraq's unity and territorial
integrity. The same stand was also proclaimed and highly asserted by
Saudi officials during their talks with Cohen, according to US officials
who accompanied Cohen on his tour.

Meanwhile, an Iraqi military spokesman announced on Monday that one
person was wounded in northern Iraq during raids launched by US and
British planes intercepted by the Iraqi anti-aircraft missiles. The
Iraqi News Agency quoted the Iraqi military spokesman as saying that
planes coming from Turkey flew on Monday morning over Ninawa, Irbeel and
Dahouk in northern Iraq. The Iraqi spokesman added that "the enemy
planes fired their missiles on several service firms and weapons sites,
and the bombardment resulted in wounding one citizen."

********************
March 9, 11:40 a.m. ET
Iraq accuses U.S. of blocking power, water deals

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq Tuesday accused the United States  and Britain
of blocking contracts for spare parts to upgrade its  outdated
electricity and water purification systems.  ``A total of $133.6 million
worth of contracts for the electricity sector and $67.6 million worth of
contracts for  water sanitation projects have not yet been approved by
the  (U.N.) sanctions committee,'' the trade ministry said in a
statement carried by the Iraqi News Agency. It said the U.S. and British
representatives at the U.N.  sanctions committee were deliberately
blocking these contracts  ``in order to cause more casualties among the
Iraqi people  because of shortages of drinking water and power.''

Monday, Baghdad accused the two countries of blocking  contracts to
upgrade its transport and telecommunications  systems under an ``oil for
food'' deal with the United Nations.   Under the rules of the U.N. pact,
all food, oil, and other  contracts must be approved by a special
committee at the world  body's headquarters before shipments can be
made. The ministry said the sanctions committee had not approved
contracts worth a total of $340 million under phase five of the  deal
which began in November and is expected to end in May.  

Iraq's power stations were heavily bombed by U.S.-led  multinational
forces which evicted Iraqi troops from Kuwait in  1991. Baghdad and
areas outside the capital suffer blackouts  which can sometimes last six
to 10 hours per day.   A U.N. report handed to reporters Tuesday said
that Iraq  between November 26 and March 5 had exported a total of 189.7
million barrels of oil with an estimated value of $1.6 billion.

********************
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