Gulf analysts predict same old Baghdad if U.S. relents

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

ABU DHABI Gulf Cooperation Council states are quietly hoping that any U.S.-led war will begin within weeks and end quickly.

Gulf analysts said GCC countries are undergoing a period of extreme tension as they wait for the United States to launch a war against Iraq.

They said most of the countries have assessed that internal unrest will grow as Iraq seeks to sow panic in the region.

"Currently, the region is filled with a sense of anxiety regarding the possibility of war in Iraq, and ordinary citizens and elites alike remain divided on the issue," Shafeeq Ghabra, director of Center of Strategic and Future Studies at Kuwait University, said. "One fear is that a war would take too long and would create hundreds of thousands of refugees. Another concern is that a cornered Saddam would use weapons of mass destruction against his neighbors."

Ghabra, who is also a leading Gulf newspaper columnist, told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy that GCC countries are worried that the United States might stop short of dismantling the regime of President Saddam Hussein as in 1991. He warned of a loss of U.S. influence in the Gulf if the war against Saddam fails.

"If the U.S. pressure were reduced, Baghdad would quickly resort to its old ways." Ghabra said. "Indeed, U.S. inaction would have several negative consequences: Washington would lose credibility in the region; the Saddam model would be reinforced; the sanctions regime would collapse; and Arab countries, even Kuwait, would gradually be pressured into reconciling with the existing regime in Baghdad."

Arab diplomatic sources and other analysts agree. They said GCC states, already seen as cooperating in the U.S. military buildup against Iraq, are quietly urging Washington to order a massive attack on Baghdad this month.

"Most of them want the war over and done with, and have been colluding with the U.S. administration by granting it bases and facilities on the one hand and prohibiting any popular protests on the other," Abdelbari Atwan, editor and publisher of the London-based Al Quds Al Arabi, said.

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