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US Fails to Enlist Arabs To Help Punish Saddam

In today's suspicious climate, the 1991 Gulf War coalition will be tough to reestablish.

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Outside the Arab world, the crisis with Iraq may appear to be just another round of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The model then was simple: Strongman Saddam Hussein sent Iraqi troops to invade oil-rich Kuwait in 1990. In response, the United States marshaled a broad Arab and Western military alliance that forced Iraq out.

But in today's crisis with Iraq - in which American members of United Nations disarmament teams have been barred from the country, monitoring cameras have been tampered with, and equipment crucial for Iraq to resume secret work on weapons of mass destruction has been hidden from inspectors' eyes - the equation is entirely different.

Today, the American threat of military action to enforce demands by the UN Security Council that Iraq fully dismantle its war machine is instead bringing contempt from the Arab world.

The reason is that Saddam Hussein has chosen a sensitive time - and perhaps an opportune one for him - to test US resolve in the Middle East.

American credibility in the region is already low, Arab analysts say, for several reasons: lack of progress in the Mideast peace process; strong US support for Israel, despite the apparent unwillingness of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to compromise for peace; and growing signs of US arrogance. This arrogance is seen to include arm-twisting Arab allies to go to an economic summit in Qatar this week that Israel will also attend. For many Arabs, hard-liners and moderates alike, any military strike against Iraq will simply confirm that American Mideast policy is too pro-Israel and vindictive toward them.

Yesterday, Iraq banned US arms inspectors from entering Iraqi sites for the seventh consecutive day and said its antiaircraft systems were on alert to shoot down American U-2 spy planes that have been used by the UN to monitor Iraq, the official Iraqi news agency said. The U-2s are scheduled to resume their flights today, at the same time the UN Security Council takes up the Iraq issue again.


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