Saudi Arabia quietly helping U.S. in war

  • From: "" <muslim_affairs@xxxxxxxxx>
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  • Date: Tue, 25 Mar 2003 19:29:16 -0000

March 20, 2003  |  RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- Saudi Arabia woke up to a
war it has for months been trying to avert. But despite its opposition and
repeated assertions it won't take part, the kingdom has quietly been helping
the United States set up for the conflict. 

Thousands of U.S. troops have deployed near the border with Iraq and in a
garrison town in the north. More of them have been deployed at an air base
near Riyadh, the capital. And 3,300 Saudi soldiers are in Kuwait as part of
the Peninsula Shield, a military operation ordered by the Gulf Cooperation
Council to protect Kuwait from a possible Iraqi attack. 

“They have given the Americans everything they have asked for," a Gulf
official said on condition of anonymity. “Saudi Arabia is not participating;
it's facilitating." 

Hours after the start of hostilities, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal
reiterated his government's position that it would not be taking part in the
war against “brotherly" Iraq. 
In a statement to the official Saudi Press Agency, Prince Saud expressed
“grave concern and deep regret" over the war. He hoped “military operations
end as soon as possible and that there be a return to the language of peace

When talk about a U.S.-led war on Iraq began a few months ago, attention
turned to Saudi Arabia, which hosted the U.S.-led coalition that expelled
Iraq from Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War. At that time, the kingdom was under
direct threat from the Iraqis, who were moving south in the direction of
Saudi Arabia. 

After that war ended, thousands of U.S. troops, now housed at the Prince
Sultan air base outside Riyadh, stayed to monitor the no-fly zone
established in southern Iraq to protect that country's Shiites from Iraqi
President Saddam Hussein's troops. 
That war and the high-profile participation of Americans roused the anger of
Muslim militants and gave a pretext for Saudi-born Osama bin Laden to go
after the ruling Al Saud family and the United States. 

A complex element this time is the Sept. 11 attacks, carried out by 19
Arabs, including 15 Saudis, all of them believed to be bin Laden followers.
Following the attacks on New York and Washington, dozens of al-Qaida
sympathizers have been arrested in the kingdom and a few Westerners have
been attacked. The attacks have also strained the decades-old Saudi-U.S.

The kingdom has been walking a tightrope between its desire to maintain good
relations with the United States and the resentment Saudis feel over the
war. The government fears an extremist backlash if it is seen by its people
as siding with the United States against Iraq, a fellow Arab state. 

Spurred by its domestic concerns, the kingdom has tried to resolve the
crisis diplomatically. 
Weeks ago, it discreetly floated the idea of Saddam going into exile. It
also presented to major Western powers the idea of offering amnesty to all
but the tight circle around Saddam in the hopes that senior generals would
overthrow him. At the same time, the kingdom has been assuring its citizens
that no Saudi troops will participate in the war. 

But behind the scenes, Saudi Arabia has quietly been helping the Americans,
mindful that if it did not join in the effort, it would have no say in
helping shape a post-Saddam Iraq. 

Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia announced it was closing the northern Araar
airport to civilian traffic, saying it would serve as a base to provide
humanitarian assistance to Iraqi refugees. 
However, the Gulf official said thousands of U.S. troops have poured into
the town of Araar, 60 kilometers (40 miles) south of the Iraqi border, and
the garrison town of Tabuk, 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the Jordanian
border. The official said the U.S. troops in Araar include U.S. forces who
will use helicopters and aircraft to carry out search-and-rescue operations
_ basically help recover any downed pilots or planes. The official did not
dismiss the possibility that attack missions will be carried out from Saudi

Moreover, Western diplomats said the Americans have increased the number of
their troops at the Prince Sultan base, from where U.S. and British troops
have for more than a decade launched reconnaissance and patrol flights over
southern Iraq. Those flights will continue during the war. 
One diplomat said on condition of anonymity that what the United States has
been doing in the no-fly zone will continue in what is now a war zone in
southern Iraq. 
The diplomat said that from the beginning the Americans have been careful
not to ask too much of Saudi Arabia. 

Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi political analyst, recently said in a piece in the
Beirut-based Daily Star that Saudi Arabia must “play some role in the
'liberation' of Iraq." 

“Saudi Arabia must pursue a pragmatic policy," said Khashoggi, who is also
editor-in-chief of the Saudi Al-Watan daily. “It is ... better for the
Saudis to ensure a place for themselves in the operations room." 

Source: Washington Post

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