- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Some centrist Muslim and Arab governments are considering what concessions to demand of the United States in exchange for supporting or at least not opposing an attack on Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, diplomats from the region said yesterday.

Emboldened by the U.S.-led military victory in Afghanistan and the self-implicating Osama bin Laden tape released last week, those governments are exploring ways to take advantage of a positive though not completely favorable shift in public opinion, diplomats said.

They said the Muslim and Arab states most likely would ask the Bush administration to consult with them on both military operations and an exit strategy for an attack on Iraq, as well as seeking generous economic assistance.

"Our concern is not a war against Iraq, but an exit strategy after the war," one Turkish official said in an interview. "We are against any division of Iraq and change of borders in the Middle East.

"We are fully aware that we'll have no veto power" on Washington's decision to go after Saddam, "but we would like to be kept in the loop in terms of strategy," the official said. "We wouldn't shed a tear when he is gone, but we need to see a strategy."

An Egyptian official said his government is confident the United States would consult Cairo "at every step" and "we have to study it very well." A decision whether to support Washington publicly would be based on what "pretext" it has to topple Saddam and how that would affect the "strategic balance in the region."

While bin Laden's involvement in the September 11 attacks gave President Hosni Mubarak's government a solid justification for its support for the U.S.-led campaign against the Taliban, the Egyptian public would be harder to convince in case of an attack on Iraq, the official said.

"Egyptians wouldn't be happy without strong evidence of indictment," he said.

Public opinion in other countries, such as Turkey and Jordan, could also be influenced by Washington's willingness to commit economic assistance, diplomats said. Egypt is already the second-largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid after Israel.

The Turkish people, for example, can't easily forget the way the United States treated them after the 1991 Gulf war, the Turkish official said. Turkey lost more than $35 billion as a result of being part of the anti-Iraq coalition both during and after the war yet it received less than $3 billion in compensation, he said.

"This is still vivid in the public mind and would become a problem when potential operations are being contemplated," he said, referring to possible action against Saddam.

The United States and Britain currently use Turkey's Incirlik military base to enforce the northern no-fly zone in Iraq.

Although the Bush administration claims it hasn't yet decided on the next stage of its war against terrorism, the State Department says a U.S. policy calls for a change of the regime in Baghdad.

Yesterday, Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer warned of a possible Iraqi chemical or biological attack on Israel if the United States extends its war on terror to Iraq.

"If he has his back to the wall, Saddam Hussein will renew his attacks on Israel, and there is no guarantee that it will not be biological or chemical weapons, or even both at the same time," he said.

But two former prime ministers, Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu, said a U.S. attack against Saddam was almost inevitable.

"There is no way to avoid confrontation with Iraq," Mr. Barak said. "There is no possibility of a stable new world order if, at the end of this war, Saddam Hussein is still in office, as if nothing had happened."

Mr. Netanyahu said he had no doubt Washington would "end up taking the decision to attack Iraq, because the mixture of terrorist mentality and military capacity in unconventional weapons put the future of civilization in danger."

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