US Attack Is 'Best Gift' for Sudan Strike on Suspected Chemical Weapons Plant Wins Sympathy for Regime at Home and Abroad

By Scott Peterson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, August 31, 1998 | Go to article overview
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US Attack Is 'Best Gift' for Sudan Strike on Suspected Chemical Weapons Plant Wins Sympathy for Regime at Home and Abroad


Scott Peterson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


The American flag no longer flies at the unmanned United States Embassy in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan. Instead, the flagpole has been broken, rocks carpet the compound, and lights and security cameras have been smashed.

The mess is the result of angry Sudanese demonstrators who breached the razor-sharp tines of the security fence 10 days ago to protest a US missile strike against a controversial target in Khartoum.

American diplomats have not been permanently stationed here since 1996, but the symbolic defilement of the US Embassy may be only the start of problems for Washington in the aftermath of the violence, analysts say.

One unintended consequence is likely to impact US policy long after the debris is swept away: America's goal of isolating Sudan appears to be unraveling. The strike has yielded wide sympathy abroad for the tough Islamist regime of President Omar al-Bashir and shored up its position at home.

"For Sudan, it's the best gift America could have given them," says a well-connected Western observer. "The government feels much stronger than it did before the strike."

That view was echoed by Hassan al-Turabi, the charismatic Islamic leader and speaker of parliament, who is believed to be the power behind the throne in Sudan. "God may have done it for us," he said in an interview.

"But Bill Clinton attracted the attention to the Sudan."

US officials say the Sudan attack was ordered along with those against training camps in Afghanistan run by terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden to "strike back at terror" after the two Aug. 7 embassy bombings in East Africa. Washington says it had convincing evidence that the El Shifa pharmaceutical factory produced precursors for chemical weapons, possibly in conjunction with or for Iraq.

But Sudanese officials flatly reject the accusation, have demanded a United Nations or impartial US investigation, and say that the destroyed factory provided half of Sudan's pharmaceutical needs.

In Arab capitals, Sudan is widely seen as an innocent victim. Even the British government, which officially supported the attacks, is reported to be divided, with some officials suggesting that American evidence for a strike on Khartoum was weak and that the attack was therefore "a serious mistake."

America's relations with Sudan took a nose dive in the mid-1990s, when the regime played host to Mr. Laden the Saudi financier now deemed by the US to have been responsible for the East Africa bombings, whose Afghan bases were targeted by US missiles.

In Sudan, Laden had set up three training camps for mujahideen (holy warriors).

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