Fearing Islamic militancy, Saudis push for peaceful solution - Detroit news, USA
- Fearing Islamic militancy, Saudis push for peaceful
By Donna Abu-Nasr / Associated Press
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Weeks before the 1991 Gulf
War, a Saudi named Abdulrahman al-Zamil traveled
across the United States to explain to Arab and Muslim
Americans why his country was letting the attack be
launched from its territory.
A few months ago, the prominent businessman was on a
different campaign -- leading a commercial delegation
to Iraq that was not only a business venture but also
an expression of support for Iraq's people in their
confrontation with the Americans.
Al-Zamil's travels reflect the turnaround Saudi Arabia
has made over 12 years, from supporting one war
against its neighbor to working hard to prevent
However, the driving force today isn't love and
friendship between nations but domestic concerns.
Saudis fear the next war would be exploited by Islamic
militants to infect Saudi Arabia with Iraq's own
internal schisms -- the presence of U.S. troops in the
kingdom in 1991 produced a cause for Osama bin Laden
to rally militants around him. A war could also send
waves of refugees across Saudi borders or goad Saddam
Hussein into attacking his neighbors with nuclear,
chemical and biological weapons.
"War will be a catastrophe to all of us in the region,
not only Iraq," said Prince Torki M. Saud Al-Kabeer,
the Foreign Ministry's undersecretary for political
After Saddam invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Saudi
Arabia, worried that Iraq would send its soldiers
south to invade the kingdom, invited U.S. troops to
Osama bin Laden, then flush with the triumph of
driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan, was outraged.
Why, he asked, did the kingdom turn to "infidel"
Americans instead of the Muslim veterans of
Afghanistan? He began calling for the overthrow of the
Saudi royal family, questioning their Islamic
credentials and demanding the American leave.
Over the years, Saudi Arabia and Iraq have slowly
mended ties, although they have not restored their
severed diplomatic relations. They have held low-level
meetings, and trade in the past three years is
estimated at $1.5 billion.
At an Arab summit in Beirut last March, Saudi Crown
Prince Abdullah embraced and kissed Saddam's deputy,
Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri.
Saudi officials say they see no justification for war
because Iraq is contained, the weapons inspectors are
doing their work and there's no proof yet that Iraq
has weapons of mass destruction. They feel that Iraq
poses no threat to the kingdom and that Iraq's people
have suffered enough under U.N. sanctions and Saddam's
The attack would come at a time when the decades-old
Saudi-U.S. alliance is blighted by feelings of
betrayal on both sides.
Americans ask how such a friendly nation could have
produced 15 of the 19 hijackers of Sept. 11, and
question Saudi Arabia's commitment to fighting
Saudis bridle at toughened U.S. visa rules, airport
searches and reports of mistreatment of their citizens
in the United States. They also share the anger
rampant in the Muslim world over U.S. support for
Israel against the Palestinians and a belief that the
war on terrorism is actually a war on Islam.
"Everything that could go wrong in the Middle East is
going wrong and you want to throw another bombshell by
occupying Iraq?" said a senior Saudi official speaking
on condition of anonymity.
"You say we need to tone down what's being said in
mosques, tone down the extremist rhetoric. How can we
do that if the U.S. is occupying Iraq? What will
happen if a bomb hits 500 worshippers in a mosque in
Iraq?" the official added.
???? Al-Zamil is a graduate of the University of
Southern California, a former deputy commerce minister
who is now a member of the king's appointed
Consultative Council. He considers the Iraq crisis as
"part of the big campaign against the Arabs and the
"If America wanted to fight a dictator, let them
mention to me one Third-World president or king that
is not on the same level" as Saddam, he said.
Al-Zamil, like many Saudi officials, warned that an
attack on Iraq would boost Muslim militants and
recruitment by anti-U.S. groups, especially if the war
kills many Iraqi civilians.
It would give extremists "credibility to lead all the
young, and the young are looking for leadership," said
The government also worries that toppling Saddam by
force could trigger civil war in Iraq among rival
Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims and Kurds and rock the
stability of Saudi Arabia and other Iraqi neighbors --
Turkey, Iran and Syria.
Saudis have said they want the United States to give
them one last chance to resolve the crisis peacefully
before the first shot is fired. Foreign Minister
Prince Saud has visited Washington, Paris, London and
several Arab capitals, looking for backing for the
Saudi officials insist their government is not
actively involved in some of the scenarios reported in
the Middle East for a peaceful way out -- encouraging
Saddam to go into exile or working with Iraqi generals
to topple him. They say Saddam's fate is up to the
However, one option Arabs are considering is to offer
amnesty to some of Saddam's generals in hopes of
encouraging them to overthrow him.
Such a move would also keep the Iraqi army intact to
maintain order in a post-Saddam Iraq and prevent civil
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