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[casi] News, 15-22/01/03 (4)

News, 15-22/01/03 (4)


*  Kuwaitis support war to oust Saddam
*  Turkey, Arabs advising Saddam to go into exile: diplomats
*  Syrian diplomacy stalls as Assad calls off Tehran visit
*  Iran warns US to be ready for tough fight
*  Turkey to host Iraq summit
*  Saddam ready to go into exile: Diplomats' proposal in few days
*  An alliance with a price tag may prove too costly
*  Report: Saudi Arabia Plotting Iraqi Coup
*  Are strains surfacing between Iran and Syria?
*  Revived 'Fertile Crescent' to crown 'new' Middle East


by Drew Brown
The State, from Knight Ridder Newspapers, 15th January

AL DAHER, Kuwait:  A junked Chevy Suburban erupts in a powerful blast as a
shock wave and roar pulse through abandoned cement-block apartment buildings
on the outskirts of Kuwait City.

While the sirens of emergency vehicles begin to wail in the distance, the
sharp flash and crack of a second explosion rips from a couple of other
wrecks as another "Scud missile" rains down.

Although the spectacle last weekend was just a civil defense drill, the
threat is all too real for the people of Kuwait, the tiny, oil-rich emirate
on the front lines of America's showdown with Iraqi President Saddam

Though braced for the worst, people in Kuwait strongly support a war to oust
Saddam. The refrain "Saddam must go" is heard often in the streets of the
New Jersey-sized nation of 2.2 million people. In contrast, many other
Muslim countries firmly oppose war plans and have had violent anti-American

"The Kuwaitis don't want a war; no one wants to go to war," said a Kuwaiti
government official, who asked not to be identified. "We just want this
situation finished."

Kuwait is famous for its fabulous wealth, but it has a sharp gap between
rich and poor. Only 10 percent of the male population can vote, women are
disenfranchised and a Persian Gulf form of Jim Crow laws keeps most
foreigners, who make up 55 percent of the population, from becoming

Yet it is a land of opportunity for many, especially people from the Arab
and Muslim world. More than 120 nationalities live in Kuwait, reflecting an
ethnic diversity that spans North Africa and the Middle East to the Indian
subcontinent and the Pacific Rim.

As thousands of U.S. troops pour into Kuwait and a small force of British
marines heads toward the region, the question for Kuwait - from high-rise
government offices to cheap immigrant eateries and gleaming seaside shopping
malls - is not if America will strike, but when.

"Why would they bring all of these troops over here if they weren't going to
attack?" asked Walid Muhammed, 34, an American-educated engineer. "What do
you think they're doing out there in the desert, taking pictures? Sure,
there are a lot of mixed feelings about it. But most people feel that it's
not in their hands anymore, that it's going to happen whether we want it to
or not."

Saddam's armies invaded and occupied Kuwait for nearly eight months in 1990
and 1991. Although his troops were defeated and driven out by an
American-led coalition, Kuwaitis and foreign workers alike say Saddam's Iraq
has hung over them like a menacing cloud ever since then, threatening to
unleash a new torrent at any moment and dampening their hopes for lasting
peace and a return to the economic stability they once enjoyed.

Saddam faces possible military action for violating U.N. edicts to dismantle
his nuclear, biological, chemical and long-range missile programs after the
1991 Persian Gulf War, but many in Kuwait say that whatever the reason, they
just want him gone.

"All of the people I know want Saddam Hussein to go, because he's making the
economic situation here very bad," said Hamid Bakry, 30, an Egyptian
security guard. "We just hope that Saddam goes without another war, but he
must go."

Kuwaitis want to recoup the economic losses from Saddam's attempted
destruction of their oil fields and to resolve the fate of 600 Kuwaiti men
who were taken prisoner during the occupation and remain unaccounted for.

"A lot of us who remember the invasion want to get rid of the nuisance of
Saddam Hussein once and for all," said Muhammed.

Though U.S. and allied warplanes have kept Saddam shackled in part with
"no-fly" zones in the northern and southern parts of Iraq, their presence -
and a continuous, though token U.S. ground force in Kuwait - hasn't kept him
from occasionally flexing his military muscle at the southern neighbor he
once claimed as Iraq 19th province.

Periods in which troops massed in southern Iraq kept fears of another
incursion alive throughout the 1990s. U.S. and allied planes responded with
intense bombing sorties and American commanders beefed up the ground
presence on several occasions, and Saddam backed down. He grew belligerent
again in 1998, after the first U.N. weapons inspectors left the country in
frustration, then offered to allow the inspectors back in under certain

Even with the onset of tight new restrictions in November, Saddam has
oscillated in his behavior toward Kuwait, first apologizing for the 1990
invasion, then calling last month for the overthrow of the Kuwaiti monarchy.

Though they overwhelmingly support war, citizens and residents of Kuwait
said they hoped it would be quick and that damage to the country and its
people would be minimal.

"All Arabs are against destroying Iraq and its infrastructure," said Ahmed
al Jarallah, the editor in chief of the Arab Times, an English-language
daily newspaper. "But they are happy to see the regime removed from Iraq. We
are saying please remove Saddam Hussein, but we don't want to see the
country destroyed."

Kuwait was ill-prepared when Iraqi tanks and mechanized divisions rolled
across its northern border in August 1990. Iraqi troops swept in and seized
Kuwait City in a matter of hours, causing many Kuwaitis to flee into exile.
Most Iraqi troops were unpaid, ill-fed conscripts who looted the country.

"But even then, most of them had nothing to eat," said Mohammed Khazal, 51,
a Lebanese cabdriver who has lived in Kuwait for 20 years. "They would stop
people at roadblocks and say, `Give me just one cigarette, please.'''

There is very little visible damage left from the war. The abandoned
apartment block where the civil defense drill took place is a rare example.
American bombers smashed in the roofs of several buildings. Shrapnel
pockmarked others.

Kuwaiti officials say they hope their country escapes revenge attacks by
Scud missiles or other weapons. But they say they are also better prepared

The country has held civil defense drills regularly since 1998. Massive
floods that struck part of the capital that year also prompted the
construction of six large shelters that are stocked with food, water and
other supplies.

Because of the threat of Scuds and the constant presence of U.S. troops,
Kuwait has the most sophisticated air-defense system in the region. Patriot
missile batteries ring the city and other strategic areas. Gas masks have
been widely distributed. A team of about 500 German, Czech and U.S.
soldiers, under command of a Marine Corps lieutenant general, is stationed
in the country, ready to assist local authorities in the event of a nuclear,
biological or chemical attack. The team can determine what kind of weapons
were used, plot the spread of contamination and provide limited
decontamination facilities.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld recently ordered 35,000 more
troops to the region, bringing projected strength there to about 150,000.
Another 100,000 troops are expected to be in the region by late February,
ready to launch an attack if President Bush orders it.

The Kuwaiti response to the increased American presence has largely been
favorable. Kuwaiti officials described a shooting incident in October, in
which two alleged al-Qaida sympathizers killed a Marine, and an attempted
ambush in November as isolated incidents. In an apparent reflection of the
public mood, several prominent newspapers have published editorials
condemning the assailants and Islamic extremism.

Dawn, 16th January

CAIRO, Jan 15: Turkey is working with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other Arab
countries on convincing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to go into exile in
order to prevent a US-led invasion, Arab diplomats in the region said on

Despite Arab and Turkish denials of having considered asking Saddam to step
down and go abroad, diplomats said such efforts were based on an initiative
by Turkey, whose Prime Minister Abdullah Gul toured the region this month.

The idea being mooted is that Saddam would go into exile in return for
assurances that he would not be prosecuted, they said under the cover of

Turkey and certain Arab countries, Egypt and Saudi Arabia in particular,
"have accelerated their efforts in this direction" ahead of a report to be
presented on January 27 by the UN weapons experts tasked to oversee Iraq's
disarmament, they added.

According to Egyptian political analyst Waheed Abdul Mejeed, deputy director
of the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS), the
proposition that Saddam goes into exile was floated during Gul's tour which
included regional players Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran.

Another ACSS analyst, Nabeel Abdul Fattah, said "Egypt justifies undertaking
this role to preserve its regional standing, while Saudi Arabia wants to
prove to Washington that it is fighting extremism."

Riyadh and Cairo are also trying "to play a political and diplomatic role
that would reflect positively on their public opinions, in such a way that
if Iraq is attacked, they would say that they had tried by all means to
reach a solution but did not succeed," he added.

On Tuesday, US President George Bush warned that "time is running out" for
Saddam. The United States is pouring troops into the Gulf, with some 150,000
US ground, air and naval personnel expected to be ready to strike Iraq by

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said on his return from Saudi Arabia on
Tuesday that Arab states and Turkey were trying to find a formula acceptable
to both Washington and Baghdad to head off war in Iraq.-AFP

Daily Star, Lebanon, 16th January

Unaware that President Bashar Assad was intending to call off a planned
visit to Iran at the last minute, the Arab press highlights Syria's role in
the regional melee of Iraq-related diplomacy as Vice-President Abdulhalim
Khaddam holds talks in Russia, following Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa's
bridge-building trip to Turkey.

While newspapers concur that the question of Iraq tops the Syrian agenda,
the Saudi-run pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat leads with a report that Damascus may
be poised to conclude important nuclear power and arms deals with Moscow.

The paper reports that an "agreement in principle" to negotiate the supply
of a Russian-built nuclear power station and a reactor-powered desalination
plant to Syria was unveiled just hours before Khaddam's arrival in Moscow.

The Syrian vice-president is also due to discuss "military cooperation and
the possible sale of anti-aircraft and anti-armor weapons" with his Russian
hosts. These might include C-300 missile systems, which the Russians had
earlier refused to sell Syria because of US objections that their radars
would make Israeli air space "vulnerable." Al-Hayat quotes the head of the
Russian Duma's defense committee, General Nikolai Bezborodov, as saying
Syria has bought $800 million worth of Russian weaponry over the past five
years, and "negotiated" the purchase of anti-tank and other arms worth a
further $2 billion.

Khaddam will also be discussing Damascus's accumulated debts to Moscow,
which according to a Russian economist Syria is offering to repay in the
form of commodities, raw materials and investments, while Russia "insists"
that a proportion be settled in hard currency. The two sides have, however,
agreed to "separate the debt issue from the development of their relations,
especially in the military domain."

But Al-Hayat says the main focus of Khaddam's talks with President Vladimir
Putin and Russian officials will be Iraq. It quotes a Moscow-based Arab
diplomat as saying Russia "might support joint Arab efforts to resolve the
Iraq crisis."

President Assad's now-aborted visit to Tehran for consultations with the top
Iranian leadership had been billed by the Beirut daily As-Safir as part of
Syria's endeavors to prevent an American war on Iraq, complementing
Khaddam's efforts in Moscow and Sharaa's in Ankara.

The Iranian Arabic-language daily Al-Vefagh had used the planned visit,
which was stopped in extremis, to stress that Tehran has become the focal
point of "intensive diplomatic moves to exchange views between the countries
of the region and the world in order to resolve the Iraq crisis peacefully
and prevent the outbreak of war in the region."

It notes that among the Iranian capital's visitors in the past fortnight
have been the prime minister of Turkey and acting premier of Kuwait, various
European, Arab and Asian envoys, the leaders of Iraq's two rival Kurdish
parties and the head of the opposition Iraqi National Congress.

Al-Vefagh adds that a planned visit by Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri -
whose reported "cancellation" the paper had earlier portrayed as a sign of
growing hostility in Tehran to the current regime in Baghdad - has been
"decided" but "no date has yet been set" for it.

In Damascus, the Syrian government daily Tishrin stresses the importance of
mobilizing Arab, regional and international opposition to a war on Iraq.
"The American military buildup against Iraq forebodes only evils and
calamities for the region," the paper warns, and a war, "which could begin
at any moment," would have unpredictable consequences that could be
extremely grave "not only for Iraq and the region but for world peace."

The paper goes on to argue that the Arab states can "do much to reverse the
direction in which developments are moving," provided they close ranks and
support each other. The notion that the Arabs share a "common destiny" is
"not a theory but a firm fact confirmed by current developments," it

Tishrin also stresses the importance attached by Syria to consultations with
Iran, Turkey, Russia and the various European countries about regional
affairs, in its efforts both to counter Israel's "racist expansionism," and
to "work unrelentingly to prevent American military action against Iraq."

As-Safir columnist Mustafa Husseini takes a skeptical view of the current
flurry of regional diplomacy billed as being aimed at avoiding war.

He writes that much of what is going on around Iraq appears to defy rational
analysis, including the repeatedly changing position of the US, which is now
massing forces for an Iraq invasion while declaring that it will give the
arms inspectors time to complete their job.

Equally perplexing is the attitude of Hans Blix, who sometimes appears to be
"honestly" doing an impartial job, and at others to be "colluding" in
Washington's war plans, or feigning "naivety" about them.

London too blows hot and cold, at times appearing as though it were trying
to restrain the US and at others behaving even more belligerently, such as
vowing that Britain and America won't let the UN prevent them from going to
war if they choose, Husseini writes.

Baghdad, in turn, while appearing to be acquiescing to the harsh new arms
inspections regime, "looks as though it is considering other ideas,"
Husseini says. It has been complaining increasingly loudly that the
inspectors have overstepped their mandate, and accusing them of spying. And
it has been playing up talk of "preparations to resist the invasion."

"It's as though Baghdad has been encouraged by what is happening in the
comparable and concurrent crisis between the US and North Korea, and
concluded from it that the best way of turning the crisis to its advantage
is via 'confrontation' rather than 'submission,'" Husseini says.

As for the "regional powers" - Turkey, Iran and some Arab states - "they
look as though they were alerted by developments in the Korean crisis to the
possibility of injecting a regional element into the Iraq crisis, while some
countries in the region perform the function of springboards and operations
centers for the pending invasion," he writes.

The moves of all concerned are probably best explained in terms of "ulterior
motives and undeclared and unseen long-term objectives," Husseini suggests.

Saudi Arabia's opposition to war on Iraq is emphasized by Al-Hayat's Saudi
columnist Daoud al-Shiryan, after Riyadh unveiled ill-defined plans to
propose a major pan-Arab "initiative" aimed at preventing war and promoting
reform in the Arab world.

Shiryan writes that the Saudi proposal for "reforming the Arab order" was
given conflicting interpretations. "Some said it was a response to American
pressure, because it called for political participation to be expanded
within the Arab states as one of the most important conditions for overall
progress," he observes. And others saw it as a "means of building an Arab
front to oppose war on Iraq in order to ease the pressure on Saudi Arabia
over this issue."

He explains that what has been reported in the press about the Saudi
document relates to its attempt to forge a unified Arab position on four key
issues: the Arab-Israeli peace plan; war on Iraq; domestic reforms and the
development of political participation; and enhancing economic cooperation
between the Arab states.

Shiryan says this does not imply any change in the Saudi position on Iraq.
It simply reformulates and reaffirms Riyadh's opposition to war. This has
been its view "since day one" and remains so, but it has sometimes been
misrepresented in the media. "That is why the Saudi document was interpreted
as a Saudi attempt to rally collective opposition to war so as to spare
Riyadh embarrassment. The reality is that the document is a bid to unite the
Arabs around the Saudi position, which believes war is not the solution and
questions the legitimacy of any prospective war on Iraq," he writes.

Sarkis Naoum, of the Beirut daily An-Nahar, argues that there are many
reasons why Saudi Arabia might prefer to see the current Iraqi regime remain
in power in its weakened condition, rather than overthrown by US military

For one thing, the advent of a more "reasonable, acceptable and attractive"
regime in Baghdad might focus the public's attention in every other Arab and
Gulf country on its "internal problems" and fuel uncontrollable demands for
change, he writes.

Nor would the domestic situation in Saudi Arabia "remain as calm and stable
as usual," he says. The "many differences" between the twin pillars of the
regime, the royal family and the Salafi (Wahhabi) religious establishment,
were containable and reconcilable in the past. But since Sept. 11, 2001,
America's decision to wage "military and intelligence war" against Islamist
fundamentalism has set the Saudi Wahhabis on a collision course with America
for the first time. And they could "in the not distant future" be headed for
a clash with the royal family itself, which is under US pressure to crack
down on the Salafi current sympathetic to the likes of Osama bin Laden, as
well as to allow US warplanes to use Saudi territory to attack "Muslim

If Riyadh were to "introduce certain internal changes with repercussions on
the social and religious structure," that would also upset tribal balances,
which remain crucial in Saudi society, Naoum warns. And it could in addition
fuel differences within the royal family, which might exacerbate all the
country's other problems and lead to instability.

Naoum writes that US administration insiders who support maintaining good
relations with Saudi Arabia argue that the kingdom should not feel
"terrorized" by the prospect of regime change in Iraq, but acknowledge that
its concerns about the matter are not unwarranted. They state that with a
pro-American government in Baghdad, Saudi Arabia could gradually lose
importance to Washington as the latter turns increasingly to Iraq for both
oil and military bases.

Moreover, if the US were to succeed in establishing a democratic regime in
Iraq, it could become a "model" whose application dissidents in other Arab
countries, including Saudi Arabia, might demand at home.

Naoum's American sources add that if democracy were to take hold in their
country, the Iraqis - who while religious, are less extreme and more open to
the outside world than the Saudis - could nurture "Islamic reform movements"
that could spread to the rest of the Muslim world, or at least the Arab
countries. Given that both the Sunni and Shiite traditions have many
adherents in Iraq, a "reformist democratic Islamic Iraq" could thus pose a
"threat" both to Saudi Arabia and Iran, they reason.

Accordingly, "Saudi Arabia has to deal with the unfolding situation
intelligently and wisely to avoid its negative repercussions," Naoum says.

Abdelbari Atwan, publisher and editor of pan-Arab Al-Quds al-Arabi, suspects
that Iraq related considerations prompted the Arab invitees (Egypt, Saudi
Arabia and Egypt) to dutifully show up at the London conference on reform of
the Palestinian Authority, even though Israel prevented the PA's own
delegates from going.

Atwan suggests the gathering was an exercise in tokenism by the British
government, and objects to the way it "reduced" the Palestine question to
the single issue of "reforming" the PA while requiring the Palestinians to
abandon the bulk of their rights and settle for the promise of a "mini-state
tailored to Israeli specifications."

He says the conference was called in order to "fill the vacuum" in the
region after the Israeli government foiled successive peace plans, including
Mitchell, Tenet and the "road map" of the "Quartet."

"Tony Blair's government wanted to send a false message to the Arab street,
saying: we haven't forgotten the main issue and we're trying to find a
solution for it - but you Arabs must allow us to occupy Iraq, kill hundreds
of thousands of its people, and seize its oil, and after that we'll resolve
the Palestine question," he writes.

"One is at a loss to understand how Tony Blair intends to persuade the Arabs
and Palestinians of his good intentions towards them when he's sending
aircraft carriers to attack Iraq," he says. And how can he be expected to
convince Israel to sue for peace when he failed to even obtain its
permission for the PA delegates to attend the London gathering?

Sharon's snub was a "public insult" to Blair, all the more humiliating
because the Bush administration did not intervene in his favor, despite the
"many services" he has rendered it in the Middle East, whether in the "war
on terror" or the planned invasion of Iraq, Atwan says.

Dawn, 16th January

TEHRAN, Jan 15: Iran said on Wednesday it did not expect any US-led attack
on Iraq to start before the Haj and warned US troops to be prepared for
house-to-house fighting in case of an invasion.

Iran also said it would put its own interests first in the Iraq crisis,
taking no sides in the conflict between its two longtime foes, Baghdad and

Defence Minister Ali Shamkhani said he did not expect war to start before
the Haj, to be performed next month.

"The pilgrimage (Haj) time is not a proper time to attack an Islamic
country," Shamkhani told reporters. He also warned Washington to expect a
tough battle if it did decide to go after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "I
believe the Iraqi regime in Baghdad will fight the Americans
house-by-house," he said.

Torn between its hatred of Saddam and deep distrust of Washington, Iran has
several national interest concerns in case of a war at its doorstep.

"Iran's stand is crystal clear. We are neither supporting the United States
nor Iraq. We are concerned with our own national interests. We are impartial
but not indifferent," Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told parliament on

Iranian officials fear war in Iraq would destabilize the oil-rich region and
force Iran to cope with waves of Iraqi refugees.

A post-Saddam, pro-US Iraq would complete Iran's encirclement by states
friendly to Washington. Greater autonomy or even independence for Iraq's
Kurds could cause unrest among Iran's own Kurdish population.

There are also some in the Islamic Republic who fear Washington could turn
its spotlight on Iran after dealing with Saddam, although officials play
down that threat.

"We do not want to get into a war with the United States. It wants to put
pressure on Iran but we will do our best not to give the US any excuse," a
source close to Iran's pro-reform President Mohammad Khatami said.-Reuters

by Ayla Jean Yackley
Financial Times, 16th January

ANKARA (Reuters) - Muslim NATO member Turkey says it has invited five Middle
Eastern leaders to Ankara next week for a summit to discuss ways of avoiding
war in Iraq.

Turkey has opposed a war against Iraq, accused by Washington of developing
weapons of mass destruction, because it fears conflict could spill across
borders and stir economic and social upheaval. But it is a close ally of the
United States and would be ill-placed to resist U.S. requests for its

Officials said on Thursday Turkey had prepared a declaration for the leaders
of Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia to sign and jointly present
at a summit in Ankara next week. Ambassadors of the five states had met
Foreign Ministry officials Thursday.

"Inviting the ambassadors to the ministry shows that Turkey is ready to host
a meeting," a Foreign Ministry official said.

Prime Minister Abdullah Gul is preparing another tour of Middle Eastern
states next week, the Anatolian news agency said.

Aides to Gul could not confirm such a trip was planned, and it was not
immediately clear which states Gul may visit.

Earlier this month, Gul visited several capitals in the region in an effort
to build consensus for a peaceful end to the stand-off between Washington
and Baghdad.

"(The summit) shows this is a multilateral crisis...This is an attempt to
show the countries' commitment to a peaceful solution," said Ahmet
Davutoglu, a professor at Beykent University and foreign policy adviser to
the prime minister.

Davutoglu said Ankara was continuing close consultations with the United
States, as well as European leaders, on its undertaking to prevent war.

"None of these steps are conflicting, they are complementary to achieving
one specific goal to force the Iraqi leadership to comply with the U.N.
resolutions and avoid chaos in our region."

NATO partner Turkey's recession-hit economy is dependent on billions of
dollars in International Monetary Fund loans. Analysts say Washington could
well use its influence with the IMF to win Ankara extra cash if war breaks

Turkey is allowing U.S. military experts this week to inspect its air bases
and sea ports for possible use as staging points in the event the United
States attacks Iraq.

If Turkey allows U.S. troops on its soil, it could cut the duration of any
war against Iraq and lessen the number of potential U.S. casualties,
analysts say.

Though the focus of any military action might be from the south of Iraq, a
"second front" opened from Turkish frontiers in the north could greatly ease
U.S. operations.

Dawn, 17th January

DUBAI/CAIRO, Jan 16: Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has agreed to leave Iraq
and go into exile in an African country if certain conditions are met, three
diplomats in the United Arab Emirates were quoted as saying on Thursday.

The diplomats in Dubai, one Western and two Arabic, who did not want to be
named or reveal their sources, said the Iraqi leadership was prepared to
accept a deal under which Saddam Hussein would leave the country if he was
guaranteed not to be prosecuted or persecuted by the United States or any of
its European allies.

Hussein would be accompanied by other members of his government and their
families, and an African country was considered as the location for their
exile, they said.

According to observers in the region, news of a possible exile for Saddam
could be related to recent announcements that Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran,
Egypt, Jordan, and Syria were due to present a proposal to avoid an invasion
in the next few days.

The speculations gained pace after Syrian President Bashar al Assad
cancelled a scheduled trip to Tehran on Wednesday and a visit of Iraq's Gen
Ali Hassan al Majid to Cairo was postponed.

Egyptian media had first announced that al Majid, a member of Iraq's
Revolution Council and a cousin of President Saddam, wanted to bring
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak a message from Saddam. No new date had been
set for the visit, it was said.

"The timing was not appropriate," Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher said
in Cairo on Thursday.

According to the three diplomats, further conditions for Saddam's departure
would be the withdrawal of United States troops from the Gulf region, the
end of United Nations arms inspections and sanctions against Iraq as well as
measures against the production of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

However, the US had so far rejected these conditions and Egypt was now
trying to convince Baghdad to accept a compromise, the diplomats said.

Cairo has in recent days been the centre of a flurry of regional diplomatic
activity involving Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan and Iran, aimed at
resolving the standoff through diplomatic and political means, which was
"our objective", according to Maher.

Politicians and observers had repeatedly dismissed speculations that Saddam
might resign, adding that such rumours could have been spread deliberately
in order to cause uncertainty amongst government officials in Baghdad.

Baghdad said Saddam Hussein would not leave his country under any

According to Turkish media reports on Thursday, the heads of state and
government from Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Iran were invited to meet in Turkey
next week in order to issue a joint declaration on the Iraq conflict.
Abdullah Gul, the Turkish Prime Minister, was also reported as planning a
visit to the Middle East next week.,4386,166646,00.html?

by William Safire
New York Times, 17th January

WASHINGTON - An alliance with a price tag is no alliance at all.

I like the Turks. They shared our human sacrifice in the Korean War, were a
Nato bastion against the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and provided all we
asked for in Gulf War I.

In recent years, the 'secret alliance' - quiet military cooperation among
the Turks, Israelis and Americans - has been one of the few forces for
stability in the Middle East.

That history of reliable alliance is the basis for longtime American support
of Turkey's interests. This has ranged from influencing the International
Monetary Fund to bolster its economy to urging the anti-Muslim European
Union to admit this model of a secular Muslim democratic state.

Paradoxically, the growth of democracy in Turkey - which America cheers -
has introduced an element of uncertainty in that alliance.

The new, freely elected government in Ankara, with roots more Islamic than
secular, is waffling about joining US President George W. Bush's 'coalition
of the willing' against Iraq.

The old Turkish power structure - the nation's military leadership and
governmental establishment, which previously called the shots - is laying
back to show Europeans how sensitive to public opinion Turkey has become.

That public opinion is neither as pro-Saddam nor as anti-United States as
recent polls report it to be. When asked, 'Are you for war?', of course the
answer nine times out of 10 will be 'No', but if asked, 'Are you for the
overthrow of Saddam?', Turkish friends tell me the answer would be much more
sharply divided.

New officials in Turkey's leading party, which controls two-thirds of
Parliament, are doing nothing to prepare the public for the necessity of
deposing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Instead, temporary Prime Minister Abdullah Gul has been racing around to
Arab capitals to show how eager he is for a way out of siding with the US;
he rejects cooperation with any allied attack without another United Nations
resolution. A large delegation of Turkish businessmen has also just visited

Such failure to rally the Turkish voters' support for Turkey's long-range
best interest in ending the tyranny oppressing its neighbour was mistake No

Worse than that is the mistake its Justice and Development Party is now
making, which threatens to damage the valuable Turkish-American alliance: to
seem to attach a price tag to taking part in our liberation of the Iraqi

When the US asked for permission, as required by Turkey's Constitution, to
use bases in Turkey from which to stage an invasion, dickering began over
how many hundreds of millions of dollars would be provided to upgrade the
bases and lengthen landing fields.

While this dragged on with no concrete being poured, an economic aid package
was sought that Ankara estimates at US$5 billion (S$8.6 billion) and US
sources say is more than double that.

If the Turkish economy, already in deep trouble, takes a hit in the coming
war, our ally could legitimately turn to the US as well as to New Iraq's oil
resources for recompense.

And surely Ankara should make the Turkish public aware of America's interest
in cushioning any shock to its major local ally.

But the unseemly hard bargaining going on now over money for military
assistance is demeaning and could change the nature of the two nations'

What should Turkey's new leaders do?

First, make prompt parliamentary and construction arrangements to welcome US
troops. And then go the extra mile: volunteer to mass 100,000 Turkish troops
on its border with northern Iraq.

The real threat of a Turkish army descending on Baghdad from the north would
hasten the surrender of Iraqi generals facing an American army rolling up
from Kuwait in the south.

It may be that we would decline a Turkish offer to join the allied invasion,
lest the Turks be reluctant to leave oil-rich Kirkuk.

But if Turkey acted like a strategic ally rather than a nervous renter of
bases, it would have an unwavering superpower on its side for decades to
catOID=45C9C78D 88AD-11D4-A57200A0CC5EE46C

Voice of America, 17th January

The American newsmagazine Time reports Saudi Arabia is trying to orchestrate
a coup in Iraq in the hope of averting a U.S. led war to oust President
Saddam Hussein.

Time says the plan is aimed at encouraging Iraqi generals to overthrow
President Saddam and his inner circle. Western and Arab diplomats say the
Saudi plan requires a U.N. Security Council resolution providing amnesty for
Iraqi officials who bring a change in power.

The Saudi plan calls for offering the amnesty immediately before the
outbreak of war. The deal would require those who take power from President
Saddam to actively cooperate with U.N. disarmament resolutions. The amnesty
would not cover the most senior officials of Iraq's ruling Baath Party,
including President Saddam's sons.

This reported development comes amid a flurry of Mideast diplomatic activity
aimed at averting war. Turkey has invited leaders from Saudi Arabia, Egypt,
Iran, Syria and Jordan to a summit aimed at finding a peaceful resolution to
the Iraq crisis.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department says General Richard Myers, chairman of
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is going to Turkey in coming days to confer with
his Turkish counterpart about security matters.

Washington wants Turkey to grant permission for U.S. warplanes to used
Turkish air bases in the event of a war with Iraq.

Daily Star, Lebanon, 17th January

Why did Syrian President Bashar Assad's anticipated trip to Tehran this week
fail to materialize?

Arab papers report the official explanation given by both sides: that a date
for the visit hadn't been finalized and that media reports that it had been
scheduled for Wednesday were mistaken.

But a variety of different sources, including Iranian officials, are quoted
as saying that the visit had indeed been arranged but was called off by the
Syrians - at the "last minute," by some accounts.

That is seen as reflecting serious differences of opinion between Damascus
and Tehran, chiefly over the prospect of an American war on Iraq, though
some commentators also detect additional sources of mounting tension between
the two longstanding allies.

Saudi Arabia's pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat attributes Assad's decision
not to go to Tehran to he Syrian government's "dismay at the shift in Iran's
position on Iraq" - i.e. its seeming willingness to collude with Washington
in enforcing "regime change" in Baghdad.

Along with other Arab newspapers, it highlights remarks made by Foreign
Minister Kamal Kharrazi to the Iranian Parliament, just as news of the
cancellation of Assad's visit was breaking, indicating that Iran won't back
the current regime in Iraq if it comes under attack, and will strive to
uphold its own interests in the event of a conflict.

Ali Nourizadeh writes in Asharq al-Awsat that the suspicions of Syria -
which opposes any attempt to force regime change in Iraq - appear to have
been fueled by the way Tehran has been "extending an unusually warm welcome
to one Iraqi opposition leader after another" in recent weeks, and
facilitating plans to convene a meeting in Iraqi Kurdistan of the newly
formed alliance of opposition groups recognized by the US.

Quoting Iranian sources, Nourizadeh says the Syrians were also annoyed by
the way the Iranians got Hizbullah to signal that it has no plans to attack
Israel in the event of a US war on Iraq. Although Damascus wants the
Lebanese-Israeli border to remain calm, it was "surprised" that Hizbullah's
new line was agreed and announced without its prior knowledge.

To Nourizadeh's mind, these are all signs of growing "hitches" in the
hitherto "strategic" relationship between Damascus and Tehran. He suggests
that among the reasons the partnership is unravelling is that Iran no longer
needs Syria as its "gateway" to the Arab world, since President Mohammed
Khatami succeeded in rebuilding Iran's bridges with other key Arab states
like Saudi Arabia.

He adds that Syria, which has occasionally acted as a back channel between
Iran and the US, is also dismayed at "Tehran's attempts to woo Washington
directly" and cut deals with it behind its back. This is not the first time
this has happened, Nourizadeh indicates: The Syrians acted to foil secret
Iranian-US talks in the 1980s by leaking word of them to the media - hence
the Iran-Contra affair - and moved again last year to scupper similar hush
hush contacts between the two sides.

"The last time Tehran concealed its contacts with the US from Damascus was a
few weeks ago, when Damascus learned of the existence of a quasi-agreement
between Iran and the US on keeping a channel open between them as part of
Washington's handling of the Iraq issue," he writes.

Under the terms of the deal, Tehran agreed to place no restrictions on the
"active and effective participation" of the Iran-based Supreme Assembly for
the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and its guerrilla army, known as the
Badr Brigade, in the war on Iraq. In exchange, Washington undertook to
"recognize the role" of SCIRI and its leader, Mohammad Baqer al-Hakim, in
determining Iraq's future government.

This was all done without the knowledge of Iran's "strategic ally" Syria,
Nourizadeh writes, and "for this reason, and others which remain unknown,
the Syrian president decided to cancel his planned trip to Iran at the last
moment, after Tehran failed to reply to questions which reached it from
Damascus recently."

The Lebanese daily An-Nahar quotes analysts as saying that the reason
Damascus is opposed to an American war on Iraq and the overthrow of its
regime "is not love for Saddam Hussein" - with whom it maintained a 20-year
breach, which it only ended in 1997 "for economic reasons" - but because of
"other Syrian considerations."

Above all, Syria fears the installation of a US client regime in Baghdad
would leave it isolated and surrounded by pro-American regimes, making it
more vulnerable to Israel. The forcible removal of an Arab regime would,
moreover, set a precedent that could be used to threaten any other
government that doesn't do Washington's bidding in the future. Syria also
fears the demise of the regime in Iraq could trigger a civil war, leading
possibly to partition and anarchy on Syria's eastern border, and believes
"regime change anywhere should be an internal and not external decision."

As for Tehran, while sharing Damascus' opposition to a war on Iraq, it takes
a "different view" on regime change - as illustrated by the attempts of
Iranian-backed Iraqi opposition groups to promote the idea of a "Shiite
regime" to replace Saddam's.

An-Nahar's sources say that it was their shared hostility to Baghdad that
prompted Iran and Syria to develop their "strategic alliance" in the first
place, under which they jointly backed the Lebanese resistance and
Hizbullah. But they argue that since Khatami's election, the partnership has
appeared bound to weaken to some extent, given "Tehran's desire to draw
closer to Washington under the guise of the 'dialogue between
civilizations,'" and its conviction that "Hizbullah's role ended with the
liberation of the South."

Lebanese commentator Saad Mehio warns that Hizbullah could find itself on
the receiving end of an Israeli blitz on Lebanon - especially if the
Americans opt to postpone planned action against Iraq.

Writing for the UAE daily Al-Khaleej, Mehio points to a number of recent
indications that an Israeli attack could be imminent, including Israeli
claims that Iraq has moved weapons of mass destruction to South Lebanon for
safekeeping and statements by various US officials and politicians
portraying Hizbullah as a greater threat to US national interests than Iraq
or Al-Qaeda.

Washington is in the mood to exact revenge from Hizbullah for the
hostage-takings of the 1970s and 1980s, he writes, and the only thing that
appears to be preventing it from giving Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
the "green light" to attack is the timing.

There are many uncertainties, Mehio continues. "A war against Hizbullah
could last several weeks and we could see a dangerous escalation given the
various types of missiles at Hizbullah's disposal. Moreover, many players,
including Saddam and Osama bin Laden, could get in on the act to take
advantage of the turning of attention away from them."

That means the odds on an imminent assault on Hizbullah are about even, "but
what is certain is that the party's turn on the American agenda will
eventually come," he says.

"Hassan Nasrallah knows that, and so does Sharon. It remains for us to know
whether President Assad will manage to get Hizbullah, his principal regional
card, off the American radar screen." That can be done relatively easily now
by curbing the party's operations in the Shebaa Farms, "but after the fall
of Baghdad, more than mere curbing may be required," Mehio remarks. "Syria
may have to reconsider Hizbullah's role in toto."

A columnist in the Omani daily Al-Watan identifies Syria and Saudi Arabia as
the two Arab countries that most fear being targeted by the US after Iraq.

Mohammed Abdulkhaleq writes that with the US virtually treating Saudi Arabia
as a terror sponsor and leveling new charges against Syria related to
doomsday weapons, both countries are treating the US campaign against Iraq
as a "warning."

He sees them making common cause with a range of other countries - from
Pakistan to Iran - who also feel threatened by the behavior of a US
administration whose policies in the region are increasingly being
determined by Israel's lobby in Washington.

The prospect of Pakistan becoming "the next target after Iraq on the
American hit-list" is raised by Ahmed Muwaffak Zaydan, Al-Jazeera
television's correspondent in Islamabad, in an article for the Saudi-run
pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat.

He writes of the "alliance" between the US and Pakistan against "terrorism"
in Afghanistan having given way to something of a "cold war," with strains
growing between the two sides and Washington lending an increasingly
receptive ear to Islamabad's detractors in New Delhi.

Zaydan says the recent spate of American statements accusing Pakistan of
having passed on nuclear material or expertise to Iraq or North Korea, or
even Al-Qaeda or the Taleban, have strengthened the feeling that the two
sides may be on a collision course.

These charges, plus hints that the US may take steps to curb Pakistan's arms
programs, have been accompanied by a steady strengthening of military
relations between the US and Pakistan's adversary India, he notes.

Many observers attribute Washington's "anger" at Islamabad to its failure to
curb elements of Al-Qaeda, the Taleban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hezb-e
Islami in the tribal regions adjacent to the border with Afghanistan, where
US forces are subjected to constant hit-and run attacks.

Things have been made worse by the election of an Islamist administration in
the frontier region, where they are establishing a "Taleban-style"
administration. The Pakistani Islamists reject any cooperation with US
forces in the area, which the Americans believe has become the main bastion
of Al-Qaeda sympathizers, and this has greatly hindered America's moves and
enabled Islamabad to justify its non-cooperation with US forces.

So has the advent of a civilian government and an elected Parliament in
Islamabad, which makes it harder for the US to make unpopular demands of
military ruler General Pervez Musharraf.

Zaydan adds that Washington is well aware that there is a "strong current"
within the Pakistani military that has major qualms about the country's
cooperation with Washington, which they view as damaging to Pakistani
national interests, and it may have had a hand in the wave of anti-US
protests that swept the country earlier this month.

By cooperating with the US in Afghanistan, Pakistan helped its local
enemies, the Northern Alliance, assume power and become a "thorn in its
side." It feels that US demands for it to crack down on groups the Americans
suspect of "terrorist" links are also jeopardizing its national security,
without earning it Washington's appreciation.

It has detained and extradited large number of people at the Americans'
behest and complied with many other requests, yet is still treated as
"suspect" by Washington.

Zaydan writes that the Pakistanis are increasingly showing their frustration
with the US in various ways. They had been expecting to be "rewarded" for
their cooperation in Afghanistan with a settlement to their dispute with
India over Kashmir, only to find India upping the ante against them with the
perceptible support of the Americans. The US appeared to hope that the
threat from India would prompt Pakistan to make more concessions to it on
the Afghan front.

As a result of all this, and of the perception that the US and the West are
intent on ensuring that no Muslim country possesses a nuclear capacity or
sophisticated military capability, there is a growing feeling that "2003
will be a problematic year for Islamabad."

Zaydan adds that the former head of Pakistani military intelligence, retired
General Hamid Gul, recently went so far as to predict that "the next target
for the US after Iraq will be Pakistan and its military and nuclear
capability, which constitute a threat to America's strategy in the region
and to its ally, Israel."

by Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi
Daily Star, Lebanon, 18th January

It is always good to believe that even the darkest of clouds have silver
linings. This is especially the case now, with war looming in the Middle
East. For it seems almost certain that the near future is going to bring
conflict, innocent victims and multitudes of refugees seeking safety and
shelter. Inter-Arab quarrels are sure to erupt and there will be fury and
confusion as well as feelings of impotence expressed along the breadth of
the Arab world. We are also sure to listen to many fiery sermons, and
contradictory fatwas and edicts that are certain to further confuse people.

Turkey's young Prime Minister Abdullah Gul - an old friend since his Welfare
Party days - expressed these fears during his recent tour of four Arab
capitals that are as concerned as his country is at the consequences of the
imminent US war on Iraq.

Gul tried his best to find ways to avoid conflict, not by pressuring the
United States but by concentrating efforts on the main cause of the wars and
crises the region has seen in recent decades - namely, Saddam Hussein. Only
through working on Saddam can the region's leaders hope to be able to do
something positive to influence events in the region.

By joining the Middle Eastern leaders' club, Turkey's young Islamist leaders
- chiefly Gul and his party boss Recep Tayyip Erdogan - with their
pragmatism and traditional Muslim values, can help inject new blood into the
veins of the old Fertile Crescent, which could be expanded to include the
entire Middle East with the exception of Israel. Only by adopting more
civilized values, and by becoming more modest and understanding of its true
size - and the fact that it is an alien entity in an ancient and cultured
region - can the Jewish state ever hope of being accepted in our midst.

The dark clouds of war (which I don't expect would last more than two or
three months) now enveloping the region can herald a better future if our
leaders play their cards right; they should not allow the alien entity
(Israel) planted in our midst to exploit the situation, and should pressure
the United States not to adopt an agenda that serves only Israel by
redrawing the regional map and fanning the flames of sectarianism and ethnic

We have in our hands a civilized blueprint for the future of the region in
the shape of the partnership initiative recently announced by US Secretary
of State Colin Powell. This plan was initially met with skepticism by many
Arab commentators, as if they were afraid that its provisions would threaten
their free and prosperous societies. While Powell's initiative did have its
weak points (it almost completely overlooked the rights of the Palestinian
people), it had much that could be built on and developed. By agreeing to
Powell's plan, we Arabs can test the sincerity of American intentions. The
war would then be about more than oil, domination and promotion of Israel's
interests; it would become a war for a new, happy and more prosperous Middle
East - built on the same standards Powell proclaimed.

I believe the major and more stable countries in the region - Saudi Arabia
especially - can, in cooperation with others, prevent the evil ideas thought
up by far-right Americans allied to Israel's Likud from bearing fruit in a
Middle East yearning for progress.

The Middle East can indeed become a better place. Just take a look at a map:
Put your finger on Basra in southern Iraq (it doesn't matter if you point at
neighboring Kuwait at the same time, since we are talking of a different
world in which both can be seen together), drag your finger north up the
Tigris and Euphrates rivers; you will pass through Baghdad and Kurdistan and
end up in Diyarbakir in southern Turkey. Continue in an arc, and you will
find yourself pointing at eastern Syria after passing through Aleppo,
Latakia, and on to Beirut. Go south and you will arrive at Amman. Jerusalem,
alas, though forming the heart of this crescent geographically and
spiritually, is not part of it politically.

The American orientalist James Henry Breasted (1865-1935) dubbed this arc,
extending from Basra to Beirut or Amman, the Fertile Crescent. The term is
still sometimes used to describe the area, although its use has lessened in
the last 30 years for political and economic reasons.

But a fertile crescent it certainly is, rich in human, natural and mineral
resources. Unfortunately, however, it has fallen on hard times. Political
conflicts, domestic strife, and wars between its different countries have
taken their toll. With the exception of the Arab wars with Israel, most
conflicts in the Middle East have been fought in the Fertile Crescent: Iran,
Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Lebanon - all have had more than their fair share of

No one in the region wants war, but that is not our choice. If war it is to
be, then we had better prepare for the worst. We must also not lose sight of
the opportunity for creating a prosperous Middle East with Saudi Arabia at
its heart crowned by the Fertile Crescent.

As a Saudi, I felt proud to see billboards advertising Saudi goods on the
road between Syria and Lebanon last summer. In Beirut, Saudis own many
supermarkets and apartment complexes. Taking my children to a Lebanese
amusement park, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that an Iraqi owned

This is a modest example of the Fertile Crescent I wish to see; an
integrated region in which Saudi, Iraqi, or Lebanese businessmen can find
large and ready markets for their products and services; a region free of
political conflicts, corruption and constantly changing investment
regulations - a single market extending from Dubai to Sanaa, from Riyadh and
Jeddah to Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut.

There is no doubt that the Americans have ulterior motives for pursuing
their war on Iraq. Some of these motives might coincide with ours, while
others might not. This is politics, after all. But there is another player
with which we will never agree. Consequently we must try our best to keep
him away from our Arab problems. This player is none other than Israel under
its extremist Likud government.

What is essential is that we have a plan to transform the painful events to
come into a beginning of a new era of stability and cooperation in which the
long-suffering Iraqis can prosper in freedom and integrate with their
neighbors in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria and Lebanon without the security
concerns made necessary by the mistakes of Saddam Hussein and others of his

In this context, the assurances of former Saudi Deputy Trade Minister
Abdel-Rahman al Zamil, who led a delegation of Saudi businessmen to Iraq a
few weeks ago, were encouraging. Zamil said he found unbounded enthusiasm
among Iraqi businessmen for the day when they could do business with their
Saudi counterparts. After all, the wars that created boundaries between the
two peoples were not of their making. There were no borders between Iraq and
Saudi Arabia before Gertrude Bell (English traveler, administrator in Arabia
and writer who played a principal part in the establishment in Baghdad of
the Hashemite dynasty) came along to create modern Iraq after the Great War
- which was supposed to end all wars.

The revival of the Fertile Crescent would be good news to us Saudis; it
would also be a source of strength for the entire region when its energies
are dedicated to cooperation and construction instead of the conflicts that
have plagued it over the last 50 years, and which have only resulted in
political defeats and economic backwardness.

It is time to make a new beginning, to pick up where the late Kings
Abdel-Aziz (of Saudi Arabia) and Faisal (of Iraq) left off in the mid-1950s,
in which the two most important countries in the region met and dreamed
together of a better tomorrow.

Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi is a Saudi political analyst and the deputy editor in
chief of Saudi Arabia's English-language Arab News. He wrote this commentary
for The Daily Star

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