- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 20, 2003

Senior government ministers in Saudi Arabia have drawn up contingency plans to deal with domestic health and security problems if U.S.-led forces resort to nuclear weapons in the military campaign against neighboring Iraq.
The Bush administration has given no indication that it is considering the nuclear option as it masses forces against Saddam Hussein, but the secret Saudi order, approved personally by powerful Interior Minister Prince Nayef, underscores the nervousness in Saudi Arabia and in other front-line states about the looming conflict.
"I would assume virtually every country in the region is preparing for all of the worst possible outcomes," said Talal Belrhiti, an editor at the Middle East Journal, published by the Washington-based Middle East Institute.
"The scenario isn't very likely, but you always have to plan for the worst case," he said.
The contingency plan, drafted in early February, was obtained by The Washington Times from pro-reform Saudi exiles, who say it was leaked by Saudi military officers.
Saudi Embassy spokesman Adel al-Jubeir said yesterday he had not seen the document and could not confirm the authenticity of the plan. But the cover letter bore the official stamp of Prince Nayef's ministry and was marked "received" by the office of the governor of the northern province of Jouf, which borders Iraq.
"I am not aware of this plan and there have been many false documents floating around the region in recent days," Mr. al-Jubeir said.
He said Saudi officials have made plans to deal with an expected crush of Iraqi refugees fleeing the fighting, and has also moved to stockpile several months' worth of food, medicine and energy stocks in anticipation of a war the desert kingdom has long opposed.
"Contingency plans are the sort of action that any responsible government would be taking in these times," Mr. al-Jubeir said.
The plan, written in Arabic, concedes that the possibility of a U.S. nuclear strike is "slight but possible."
But it lays out four scenarios in which American forces might resort to the nuclear option: If Iraq unleashes chemical or biological weapons on allied forces; if Iraqi forces retreat to deeply buried bunkers; if the U.S.-led forces suffer unexpectedly heavy casualties or fierce resistance; or if Iraq unleashes a damaging barrage of Scud missiles against Israel.
As in the 1991 Persian Gulf war, U.S. commanders have promised drastic if unspecified measures if Saddam resorted to weapons of mass destruction against coalition forces.
Lt. Gen. David D. McKiernan, the top American general in Kuwait, told reporters at Camp Doha yesterday it would be "a hugely bad choice on the part of any Iraqi leader or commander to employ chemical weapons."
Asked what would be the American response, the general said only it would be "dramatic."
The Saudi plan directs the country's interior, health, defense and security ministries to coordinate efforts to deal with a nuclear attack, contain the fallout, maintain order and provide treatment centers for victims and refugees.
Ali al-Ahmed is director of the McLean-based Saudi Institute, a pro-reform group working for political liberalization in Saudi Arabia. He said the government's plan was sound on paper, but that reports he received from inside the country indicated that the government had actually done very little real preparation.
"Schoolchildren are being told to bring a bucket and a cloth to school in the event of a chemical attack," he said. "The problem is in the implementation."

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