Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Unlike 1990, Arab Support for Attacking Iraq Is Tepid ; Egyptian Officials Yesterday Focused on US Role in the Israel- Palestinian Conflict

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Unlike 1990, Arab Support for Attacking Iraq Is Tepid ; Egyptian Officials Yesterday Focused on US Role in the Israel- Palestinian Conflict

Article excerpt

There is a keen sense of deja vu in Dick Cheney's tour of the Middle East to rally support against Iraq. But this is no replay of the mission he made as Defense secretary in 1990 when the US was building its mighty 28-nation coalition to liberate Kuwait from Iraq.

Today, no Arab state is rushing to support US-led military action. Unlike 12 years ago, Mr. Cheney can expect military support from no more than two or three countries, analysts say. "Kuwait will, the Turks will go along with it if they're given enough incentive," says Fred Halliday, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics.

On the other hand, no Arab leader is willing to launch a diplomatic initiative to save the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein. Simply put, Arab regimes are in a Catch-22 situation.

"The Arab leaders are being asked to go black or white, either to go against their own people or to go against the United States. They don't want to do either," says Said Aburish, a Palestinian author who has written a biography of Saddam Hussein. According to Mr. Aburish, the vice president is being told: "We don't like him [Hussein], we want him to go, but we cannot help you openly."

Iraq's invasion of Kuwait split the Arab world in 1990. Twelve of the Arab League's 21 members agreed to support the US-led coalition militarily, among them countries such as Egypt that had been close allies of Iraq. But Yemen, Jordan, Tunisia, and the PLO were among those that opposed military action. Libya kept a foot in both camps.

The late King Hussein of Jordan and the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, insisting on an Arab solution to the crisis, spearheaded peace initiatives, but were regarded as appeasers of the Iraqi leader by the West and the US's Gulf Arab allies. Both suffered diplomatic isolation and Gulf states cut off financial aid.

The political landscape of the region has changed dramatically in the past decade. Yemen, Jordan, and Mr. Arafat are taking a different approach this time.

Yemen recently agreed to allow in some US forces to root out Al Qaeda members from its territory. King Abdullah of Jordan has also been a staunch backer of the US's antiterror campaign. But he opposes an attack on Iraq. "A strike on Iraq will be disastrous for ... the region as a whole and will threaten the security and stability of the Middle East," said King Abdullah just before Cheney's Tuesday visit.

In Egypt yesterday, Cheney got a similar message. Most Arabs leaders say that an attack on Iraq will fuel anti-American

sentiment which is running high because of Washington's failure to curb Israel's attacks against the Palestinians. American diplomacy, they say, should focus on bringing peace to the Middle East rather than attempting to drum up support for a new war against Iraq.

"Two things are different this time [compared with 1990]. …

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