Gulf states gird for war as Arabs lose hope for a peaceful end

Thursday, February 13, 2003

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on Wednesday became the first Arab states to announce they were sending troops and weapons to defend Kuwait against possible attack if the United States wages war on Iraq.

The troops and armor will be part of a combined military force, known as the Peninsula Shield, that six Arab states in the Persian Gulf have agreed to dispatch to Kuwait.

Although gulf nations, like the rest of the Arab Muslim world, are pressing for a diplomatic end to the U.S.-Iraq crisis, nations of the region increasingly are preparing for the likelihood of war.

Gulf states are worried that if Iraq is attacked, Saddam will turn on Kuwait. With tens of thousands of U.S. troops already in Kuwait, the country could become a launch pad for any war on Iraq.

In the Emirates, a top military official said his country was sending 4,000 troops to Kuwait in coming days, along with gunships, tanks, amphibious armored vehicles, a missile boat and a frigate.

Bahrain said it would send its only frigate and an unspecified number of troops to Kuwait.

Other gulf nations have not yet said publicly what they would contribute to Kuwait's defense.

Under Kuwaiti command

The forces will be under the command of the host country, Kuwait, the Emirates official said, speaking by telephone from Abu Dhabi, the nation's capital and largest of its seven emirates.

"These forces will not take part in any military operation against Iraq," Saudi Arabia's deputy minister of defense, Prince Khaled ibn Sultan, said in comments published Wednesday.

"The deployment of these troops in Kuwait, at this country's behest, is aimed at protecting its territory" against Iraqi attack, Saudi Arabia's Okaz daily quoted him as saying.

Peninsula Shield proved powerless in August 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait and remained in the country until a U.S.-led coalition expelled Saddam Hussein's army seven months later.

Across the Arab world, hopes of a diplomatic end to the latest Iraq crisis have dwindled. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, a heavyweight of the Arab world, said Sunday that Arab states other than Iraq were powerless to avert a war.

Arab foreign ministers are scheduled to meet Sunday in Cairo to prepare for the annual Arab summit, expected to be held in Egypt in late February or early March.

Arab diplomats said a draft resolution expected to be adopted at the summit says Arabs should take "all necessary measures to deal with all the destructive consequences of war." It also urges Iraq to cooperate fully with U.N. weapons inspectors and suggests Baghdad be given more time to comply with U.N. demands it disarm.

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