Saudis allow massing of U.S. troops near its border with Iraq

Friday, March 7, 2003

Saudi Arabia is said to have allowed the United States to deploy troops and aircraft near the Iraqi border.

Saudi opposition sources in London and Washington quoted witnesses as saying that up to thousands of U.S. soldiers have arrived the Iraqi-Saudi border over the last week. The sources said the U.S. military has taken over an airport in the area.

The Washington-based Saudi Information Agency reported that hundreds of American troops are in control of Araar airport. The facility is 15 kilometers from the Iraqi border.

The agency quoted a Saudi witness who was traveling through Araar, Middle East Newsline reported. The witness said he saw dozens of U.S. soldiers moving through the airport, which remained open for Saudis.

"The Americans are controlling the airport," the witness said. The Saudi opposition said the United States sent Galaxy transport aircraft loaded with heavy military equipment to Saudi Arabia. The opposition said the aircraft landed in Araar over the last week.

On Monday, another Saudi opposition group, the London-based Movement of Islamic Reforms in Arabia, said that thousands of U.S. troops landed at the Saudi air base at Tabouk over the last week. Tabouk is also located near the border with Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

Neither U.S. nor Saudi officials confirmed the report by opposition sources. Riyad has pledged not to participate in any war against Iraq.

Saudi opposition sources said the U.S. use of the kingdom's air bases appears to be part of a deal to exclude Riyad from a State Department list of major violators of religious freedom. Such a determination would have resulted in U.S. sanctions on Saudi Arabia.

"The decision not to list Saudi Arabia is apparently linked to Saudi acceptance to use the airbases in Kharaj and Araar against Iraq," the Saudi Information Agency said on Wednesday.

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