Strong support for US troop presence in region

After Saddam

REMAKING THE MIDDLE EAST

SPECIAL REPORTS : KUWAIT

Iraq was just the beginning. American ambitions in the Middle East, some say, go well beyond removing Saddam Hussein. The plan is to transform the troubled region. The Straits Times Foreign Desk looks at how countries in the region are likely to react to having US forces at their doorsteps.

Kuwait is the biggest beneficiary of an American strategic presence in the Middle East.

With Iraq, their nemesis, gone, Kuwaitis can now sleep easy and feel avenged for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s invasion of the tiny oil-rich state in 1990.

Writer Ayed al-Manna said in the country’s Al-Watan newspaper: ‘Kuwait wants a democratic and stable Iraq that will help communication between the two countries.

‘It will end all those years of suspicion when Saddam Hussein was in power.’

Furthermore, Kuwait believes that United States troops are needed in Iraq.

Without a stabilising force, there may be ‘a complete catastrophe in the region because of the ethnic and tribal rivalries’ in Iraq, some people have warned.

The Kuwaiti government is especially worried about the aspirations of the Shi’ite majority in southern Iraq.

In the past, Saddam’s totalitarian regime was able to keep a lid on the various religious, ethnic and tribal tensions. But with that now gone, there are concerns that old rivalries may flare up.

Kuwait does not want to take sides, especially if religious rivalries boil over.

But if it has to, it will be forced to side with the Sunni minority in southern Iraq. Like many other Gulf countries, Kuwait has a majority Sunni population.

For strategic reasons, most Gulf states, especially Kuwait, do not want to see a Shi’ite state in the south of Iraq.

Mr Ahmed Al-Tammar of Iraq’s Ministry of Information said: ‘We would be more at ease knowing that there are American forces in Iraq keeping a check on things.’

Analysts believe that one reason why the government is so keen to cultivate strong ties with the US, and therefore loathe to criticise Washington, is because it does not want Washington to set its democratic sights on its own regime.

This buying favour extends financially too. Kuwait says it has spent US$20 million (S$35 million) on aid for Iraq, and ‘would be willing to support further contributions for positive causes’, government sources have disclosed.

There is one caveat, however. Although Kuwait agrees with the US presence in Iraq, it does believe that American troops should withdraw eventually and at the very least be less visible when Iraq forms its own constitution.

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