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  End of Raids Spurs Conflicting Arab Reactions

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, December 21, 1998; Page A24

KUWAIT CITY, Dec. 20 – The decision to end military strikes against Iraq was welcomed today by U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf region who in the past four days strove to play down any logistical assistance they offered and issued public statements that ranged from begrudging, indirect endorsements to outright condemnation of the attacks.

Fearing that Operation Desert Fox could inflame opinion in the streets without ever toppling Iraqi President Saddam Hussein – their private wish – the conservative gulf states were deeply conflicted about the aerial bombardment of Iraq.

"The operation did not have a very clear goal," said Talal Ayyar, deputy speaker of the Kuwaiti parliament, in an interview tonight. "If the aim was to topple Saddam, then there would have been complete support from the gulf states. A limited operation only strengthens Saddam."

Kuwait and Oman, alone among the six gulf states that have military agreements with the United States, allowed U.S. and British fighters to participate in airstrikes from military bases on their territory.

"In Kuwait there is a kind of mixed feeling," said Abdullah Naibairi, an opposition member of parliament in Kuwait. "People want Saddam toppled but there is concern for Iraqis, concern about reaction in the Arab world, that Kuwait will be blamed for its support."

There were demonstrations against the United States and Britain in Syria and Egypt, and Reuters news agency reported that National Guard troops were deployed around some residential buildings where American and British citizens live in Kuwait.

The Kuwait Council of Ministers tonight welcomed the end of military operations. And it expressed "the sincere hope that all causes leading to increasing tension and the spreading atmosphere of instability in this vital area of the world be eliminated," according to a statement issued by Abdelaziz Dekheel, minister of state for Cabinet Affairs.

The other four allies in the area – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates – allowed support operations including airspace clearance and the takeoff of refueling planes that service fighters.

But Saudi Arabia, where 60 U.S. fighters are based, has long refused to allow the planes to attack Iraq from its soil. Saudi Arabia condemned the brinkmanship of the Iraqi regime and expressed its sympathy for the Iraqi people, but also said it hoped military operations ended quickly. And there was little public acknowledgment of Saudi Arabia's operational support.

In fact, reporters on bases in the region were told not to identify their location because of the sensitivity of the host nations.

"They don't like talking about it, but at the end of the day we are here," said Graham Boyce, British ambassador to Kuwait, explaining the regional reticence Saturday at a base where British Tornadoes were deployed.

While Saudi Arabia carefully condemned Saddam Hussein and equivocated on military action, the United Arab Emirates said the strikes were "a flagrant and forceful attack against Iraq."

"The option of force should not have been considered, as the only ones who suffer are the Iraqi people," said United Arab Emirates defense minister, Mohammed bin Rashid Maktum. He also said he was angry that the airstrikes continued into Ramadan, the holiest period in the Islamic calender.

"It's a wise decision to end it now," said Shamlan Essa, a political science professor at Kuwait University. "With the religious significance there was even greater potential to make Saddam a hero."

Observers in the gulf region also said hostility to military action could spread to more cooperative states, such as Kuwait, if Saddam Hussein's hold on power is not shaken.

"If Saddam is not clearly weakened, there could be negative consequences," said Naibairi.

On the streets of Kuwait, however, there was explicit support for the attack and regret that it was not sustained.

"Every time I see a bomb drop on Iraq a burning in my heart is extinguished. I feel better," said Falima Ali, 37, who lost two brothers after Iraq invaded Kuwait and occupied the country for seven months in 1990-91.

This evening as they ended their daily fast, some Kuwaitis said they were unconcerned that the attacks had continued into Ramadan.

"When they invaded, they didn't bring God," said Abdulateaf yaqub Taher, 61, the mayor of Failakas, the only inhabited Kuwaiti island. "So we are not worried about Ramadan now. They should have kept going."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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