- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

KUWAIT CITY, March 6 (UPI) — Impending war with Iraq has again put Kuwait in the Persian Gulf's political hot seat, not only with its belligerent neighbor to the north but with other Arab states who fear a new, more decisive war would cataclysmically alter the region's political balance and their own futures.

Diplomatic sources, all insisting on anonymity, say Sunni Muslim Arab states fear a "balkanization" of a post-war Iraq, which would tip the military balance in the Gulf toward Iran and its Shia Islamist theocracy.

The impending confrontation puts ruling governments — from Cairo to Riyadh — in another dilemma: balancing hard political reality with super-charged man-in-the-street emotions, in which the United States and its allies are portrayed as affronts to Arab honor and to Islam itself.

"They don't agree with Kuwait's stand, for sure, because they fear it's not only Kuwait but other Gulf countries that are becoming too American," one European envoy told United Press International.

"They fear that if there is a change of regime in Iraq, it will entail repercussions throughout the area," such as more pressure for democracy and freedom of speech. This is especially true for Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt.

"I think in the end, everybody would acknowledge that in the long term it is impossible to stop such change, but no one wants to rush it."

An example is what happened in Kuwait after Iraq's 1990 invasion, occupation and ejection the following year by U.S.-led military forces.

Kuwait's ruling family, which fled the country during the occupation, was pressured upon its return to allow more participatory government. The parliament — the oldest if not one of the oldest in the Gulf — was reconvened, and women were scheduled to vote this June for the first time in emirate history.

That fear of balkanization has figured prominently in political pronouncements from Washington, with every one from President George W. Bush on down insisting the U.S. goal in a post-Saddam Iraq is a unified country — no succession by southern Shias or northern Kurds, and no neighboring countries annexing those areas.

Many of the more than 150,000 U.S. troops assembled in Kuwait awaiting word to invade Iraq to forcibly remove Saddam Hussein from power and disarm the country of its weapons of mass destruction, will be charged for months after the war to ensure that vision is not tampered with.

The split between Gulf states such as Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar and other Arab nations was billboarded this week in Qatar, where a Gulf state motion to urge Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to step down from power to avoid war was scuttled. The Arab ministers later put out a document calling for a peaceful resolution of the stand off between Washington and Baghdad.

"Shut up," an Iraqi delegate shouted at one point at a Kuwait official, who he called a "minion" of the United States and a "monkey."

"Yes, the United States has of course put some pressure on Kuwait. Kuwait knows its security and stability depend on U.S. troops as long as Saddam is in Baghdad," a European diplomat said. "But you have to remember the position of Kuwait is different from other Arab countries because of the war, and the people here have always had this vision that Saddam must go if they are to be safe."

That assessment was echoed by another, who added the main disappointment for Kuwaitis after Gulf War I was that it ended when and where it did — short of Baghdad and with Saddam in power.

The influx of U.S. troops to this country, the staging point for an Iraq invasion, over in the past two months has sparked only three or four incidents of attacks on Americans, which included the death of one person.

Reports Thursday said a Kuwaiti policeman who shot two U.S. servicemen had been sentenced to 15 years in prison for the incident, which occurred south of the capital.

Sources said 10-15 men have been arrested in connection with the recent shooting of two American contractors, one of whom died. hose arrested are believed jihadis — men who went to fight with fundamentalists in Afghanistan.

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