Tags: U.S. | Asks | Muslims' | Reaction | Attack | Iraq

U.S. Asks Muslims' Reaction to Attack on Iraq

Wednesday, 13 February 2002 12:00 AM

Diplomats from Muslim countries told United Press International this week that U.S. officials discussed the possibility of a military offensive against Iraq with Islamic leaders who came to the U.S. capital.

Leaders from Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have visited Washington recently. Jordan and Turkey were represented at the highest level, and Saudi Arabia sent several key members of the ruling al Saud family.

"Both Jordan and Turkey have economic interests in Iraq and fear that a military offensive against Saddam can adversely affect their economies," said one Muslim diplomat.

Turkey's Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit also raised the issue of his country's minority Kurdish community when he visited Washington last month. Turkey fears that strikes against Iraq could encourage moves toward a separate Kurdish state in northern Iraq, which, in turn, would boost the separatist aspirations of Turkey's Kurds.

Turkey is the only Muslim member of NATO.

Jordan's King Abdullah was more supportive but sought economic assurances from the United States, the diplomats said.

Jordan already finds it difficult to fully enforce the 11-year-old U.N. sanctions against Iraq. Many Jordanians have a deep sympathy for Iraqi civilians who have been hit hard by the sanctions, and businessmen want to maximize their trade with Iraq.

Lacking oil, Jordan relies heavily on trade and foreign aid. It has a rapidly growing population of 5 million, three-quarters of whom are under 30. The recent history of the Middle East has shown the young are most vulnerable to militant Islamic propaganda.

The Saudis have different concerns. They fear that a new U.S. military offensive to remove the Iraqi leader may fail, like the previous attempt by President G.H.W. Bush.

Another failed offensive, they fear, may increase Saddam's popularity among the Arab masses, already perturbed over recent U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan.

Discussing U.S. plans for an offensive against Saddam, the Saudis say that the Americans are taking major risks.

According to them, the Americans believe that by weakening Saddam, they will enable an Iraqi opposition alliance to take over Baghdad. The Saudis see flaws in this plan.

"To begin with, no such alliance exists so far," said one Muslim diplomat. "Even if the Americans use their influence to form one, there is no guarantee that it will succeed in replacing Saddam."

However, after President Bush's Jan. 29 speech, in which he called Iraq, Iran and North Korea part of "an axis of evil," most Muslim leaders are convinced the Americans will sooner or later launch a military offensive against Iraq.

"The question is not 'If the Americans will attack,' but 'When will they attack,'" said another diplomat.

"There is a great deal of nervousness about the likely nature of the campaign and the real resolve of the United States to see this through," said Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow at Brookings Institute. "But if the action is quick and successful, it will be condoned, if not welcomed, by most of the Arab world."

Statements emanating from Washington not only increase this "nervousness" but also create confusion about U.S. intentions.

Though last week Washington was abuzz with rumors of an imminent U.S. attack on Iraq, this week some U.S. officials said they were also considering options other than a full-fledged military strike.

The CIA is working on a plan for covert action to remove the Iraqi dictator, and it has already been authorized to destabilize the regime, they said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell referred to one option on Tuesday when he jokingly said that "natural causes" could also make Saddam disappear. Powell said that though Saddam and he were the same age, the Iraqi did not enjoy good health.

O'Hanlon, however, believes that "there is more than 50-50 chance that the United States will opt for the military action.

"Covert actions don't tend to work, particularly against someone so good at staying in power. His presidential guards are faithful to him, and most people are fearful of him. They may not participate in a coup attempt. Plans like this make the Arab world nervous."

He believes that the military action against Iraq will easily succeed, but it will be more difficult to put together an alliance to rule over Iraq after Saddam.

"There are groups like the Iraqi National Congress and Kurdish parties, but calling them an alliance would be a overstatement," he said. "Like in Afghanistan, the United States will have to force people to work together, telling them that they would get U.S. support only if they work together."

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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Diplomats from Muslim countries told United Press International this week that U.S. officials discussed the possibility of a military offensive against Iraq with Islamic leaders who came to the U.S. capital. Leaders from Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have visited...
Wednesday, 13 February 2002 12:00 AM
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