SAUDIS TURN UP HEAT ON SADDAM; Startling U-Turn as Allies Get the Go-Ahead to Attack Iraq from Desert Kingdom Bases
Hickley, Matthew, Daily Mail (London)
Byline: MATTHEW HICKLEY
IN A dramatic switch of policy, Saudi Arabia signalled yesterday that it will let Britain and the U.S. attack Iraq from bases on its soil.
The promise, ending months of Saudi opposition to war, is the strongest sign yet that opinion is hardening against Saddam Hussein among his Arab neighbours as well as further afield.
It came as British and U.S. warplanes launched fresh strikes against Iraqi targets and a new poll showed UK public opinion swinging firmly in favour of military action if the United Nations approves it.
Foreign Secretary Jack Straw issued a blunt ultimatum to Saddam, warning: 'Either he deals with those weapons of mass destruction or his regime will have to end. The choice is his, and he hasn't got much time to make up his mind.' Washington also stepped up the war of words. Condoleezza Rice, President George Bush's national security advisor, accused Saddam of supporting terror groups, including Al Qaeda.
The Saudi shift, even though it appeared to apply only to military action approved by the UN, would make an invasion of Iraq much more straightforward.
The Saudi kingdom has a 505-mile border with Iraq and was the launch pad for Allied forces during the 1991 Gulf War. Some 5,000 American troops are still stationed there, mostly at the remote Prince Sultan Air Base.
The Saudi royal family is facing a rise in Moslem fundamentalism, however, and the presence of Western troops on Islam's holiest soil has been a fraught issue.
They have been warning the West for months not to attack Saddam again and were refusing to allow their territory to be used.
But yesterday foreign minister Prince Saud Al Faisal abruptly switched direction.
He called on Saddam to accept UN weapons inspectors without delay - and unconditionally.
Prince Saud said: 'We are afraid that a refusal would harm the Iraqi people and increase their burden. We are worried about Iraq's unity, stability and independence.' Asked whether Saudi bases would be available to Allied forces preparing to invade Iraq, he replied: 'Everybody is obliged to follow through.' The new stance matches that of Egypt - one of the most influential governments in the Arab world - which said last week it would support a U.S.
strike on Iraq if it were under UN auspices.
Prince Saud also said Saudi Arabia would do 'everything we can' to keep oil prices stable in the event of war.
Meanwhile, Britain and America kept up the military pressure with more airstrikes. At least four RAF Tornados joined U.S. jets in a dawn raid on an air defence command post in southern Iraq, military sources said.
The tempo of bombing has risen dramatically in recent days. While yesterday's mission was officially part of regular patrols of the no-fly zones, it heightened speculation that the U.S. and Britain are systematically smashing Saddam's defences ahead of a major military operation. …