- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 18 (UPI) — President George W. Bush was fond of saying it was time for nations to stand up and be counted as the U.N. saga on Iraq drew to a close. The world should know who was willing to stand up to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and who opted for continuing to appease him. In reality, it was the Bush supporters — or some of them — who preferred not to be counted, at least not publicly.

On Tuesday, the State Department helpfully made available to reporters a list of 30 coalition countries that had agreed to have their names published as backers of U.S. action in Iraq.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher explained: "This is a list of countries, 30 countries, that want to be publicly associated with the idea that Iraq needs to be disarmed now. They're all participating, contributing in some way, or interested in participating in some way. I suspect the numbers don't quite compare yet."

Another 15 coalition countries did not want their names announced even though in some cases the help they are providing is crucial for pursuing the impending war.

As it turns out a sizable part of the Bush administration's backing was coming from a coalition of the unwilling-to-be-named.

The group is dominated by countries that have been vehement in their public opposition to U.S. war plans in the United Nations.

France — now publicly blamed by Washington for the collapse of the U.S.-British-Spanish Security Council resolution authorizing war on Saddam, and as unwilling as any country can be to back the U.S.-led action — will allow U.S. combat planes to fly over French territory. Earlier this month, Germany, the other bete noir in the Security Council, provided Turkey with Patriot air defense batteries to boost its defenses against a possible Iraqi attack.

In some cases America's silent partners have already let the cat out of the bag. Take the case of Bulgaria, one of the first countries to come out in support of the United States and its allies.

Kuwait itself, which is host to 149,000 U.S. troops poised to strike Iraq with the media in full attendance, is not listed among the 30 states helping the American war effort.

All of the Gulf States have signed a pact to come to the defense of Kuwait in the event that it is attacked by Iraq; but you will not find any of the emirates and sheikdoms identified among the 30 members of the "coalition of the willing."

Saudi Arabia is allowing the United States to fly defensive air missions from Prince Sultan Air Base. But it has opted to keep this indispensable help hidden from the public for now.

It won't be so secret to Iraqi jets once they are intercepted by planes flying over Iraq's southern border.

Israel, an early proponent of armed action against Iraq, does not get a mention either. Its inclusion would have made it harder for Arab allies to cooperate.

Yet last year, Israeli elite commandos units ventured into the western Iraqi desert to locate scud missiles. Israeli also trained some of the U.S. Special Forces in urban warfare.

On the other side of the secret alliance spectrum is Iran. But Iran's deputy foreign minister pledged as early as January to absorb excess refugees from Iraq in the event of a conflict, and agreed to close the Iranian border if any al-Qaida terrorists would dare escape into their territory.

The main reason for this unusual coyness is fear of provoking anti-U.S. sentiment, compounded with opposition to the Iraq war.

The official list of 30 nations includes obvious allies like Spain and the United Kingdom, who co-sponsored the U.N. Security Council resolution to disarm Iraq by force.

But the list also includes Afghanistan, which is still looking for aid to rebuild its own country from the first battle on the war on terrorism in 2001. The Afghans are hardly likely to divert some of their own flow of cash to the rebuilding of Iraq.

Albania wants to send its dreaded commandos to the Gulf to fight alongside the U.S. force. Will this reassure Gen. Thomas Franks, chairman of the U.S. Central Command? Will the mention of Albania make Saddam, and sons Uday and Qusay, quake in their boots? Will the thought of the elite of Albania's army hasten the Iraqi collapse?

It's also nice to know that the Eritreans and Ethiopians, who ended a civil war in December 2000, want to be counted as coalition members — as long as they don't stop fighting the Ba'athists to resume fighting against each other.

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