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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. ******************** -- ----------------------------------------------------------------------------- This is a discussion list run by Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To be removed/added, email email@example.com, NOT the whole list. Archived at http://linux.clare.cam.ac.uk/~saw27/casi/discuss.html