Hesitant Gulf Coalition

091301, story image, terror rescue effort rubble, JM
Mike Heller
In 1990, then-President George Bush didn't have to do much to persuade Persian Gulf nations to join an international coalition to kick Iraq out of Kuwait. Now, his son wants them to join a new coalition to fight terrorism. But old allies are hesitant.

This time around, the aims seem much less clear-cut.

"Who is the enemy? Is it a common enemy? Is it terrorism? Is it Osama bin Laden? The United States needs to answer these questions and convince the world, especially the Arab and Muslim worlds, before striking at a Muslim nation," said Abdul Khaleq Abdulla, a political analyst in the United Arab Emirates.

In 1990, "the enemy was established and the issues were clear. That is not the case now," Abdulla said.

The United States has identified Saudi exile bin Laden as the likely instigator of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington, and has warned Afghanistan (where bin Laden has taken refuge) that it faces retaliation if it doesn't hand him over.

Most Arab and Muslim nations have condemned the attacks and said they would cooperate with Washington in the fight against terrorism.

But few have committed to lending military support, such as use of their air space or bases.

The United States has yet to lay out detailed evidence in its case against bin Laden to would-be alliance partners, or at least not publicly. Neither has it said exactly what it would want of its coalition allies.

There's resentment on the part of some in the Gulf that the United States instead is using pressure, either real or perceived, to win support for its expected upcoming military campaign.

Egypt, a major political force in the Arab world, has ruled out joining any military coalition and indicated any response should come under the auspices of the United Nations.

Iran, no friend of either the United States or neighboring Afghanistan, argued Wednesday that the promised war against terrorism should be a thought-out campaign by all nations.

"Intensifying and complicating the current crisis, and expanding it to all over the world, is not in the benefit of any government or nation, and to be free of this evil, we need to be patient even more than before and to avoid hurriedly seeking any revenge," Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said in a message to British Prime Minister Tony Blair that was reported on state-run Iranian radio.

Saudi Arabia has said it will cooperate fully with the United States but stopped short of saying publicly whether that includes lending aid to a military campaign. The Saudi kingdom is both a leading U.S. ally in the Mideast and one of only three countries to recognize Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban government.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal was on his way to the United States on Wednesday for talks with President George W. Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The Saudis "understand very clearly that it's as much in their interests as it is in ours that we end these kinds oactivities, and that we put a stop to this kind of international terrorism,"' U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

The U.S. call puts Gulf governments at a crossroads, Qatar University professor Hasan al-Ansari said: A choice between siding with the United States, or risking appearing at odds with the world's military and economic super power.

"Under the current international scene, the Arab states can't be on a different front than the U.S.," al-Ansari said.

Within Gulf states, the U.S. call to war is already being opposed by some Muslim groups and clerics, who say that attacking a Muslim nation goes against Islamic teachings.

Clerics in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Pakistan and other Muslim states have condemned last week's attacks on the United States, but said that without proof, launching a strike against Afghanistan was a sin.

In Pakistan, a Muslim nation of 140 million, protesters have burned flags and effigies of the U.S. and Pakistani leaders in recent days, condemning Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf for agreeing to help the United States go after bin Laden.

The presence of U.S. troops in the Gulf, now totaling about 25,000 military personnel at sea and on land, has also been met with opposition, at times violent.

Two bombings in 1995 and 1996, carried out by militants opposed to American troops in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam's two holiest sites, killed 24 Americans.

Iran, which opposes the American military presence in the Gulf, has urged the region's countries to rely on themselves instead of U.S. troops.

"Washington is using the presence of U.S. troops in Gulf states as a pressure tool to force these countries to yield to all of America's demands," complained Saudi analyst Akeel al-Inizi.

By Tarek Al-Issawi
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