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Middle East - AP
Saudi Arabia Quietly Helping U.S. in War
15 minutes ago

By DONNA ABU-NASR, Associated Press Writer

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - 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.

AP Photo


Thousands of U.S. troops have deployed near the border with Iraq (news - web sites) 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 efforts."

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 (news - web sites). 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 (news - web sites)'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 (news - web sites) 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. alliance.

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 Arabia.

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."

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