DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iraq's denials of any intent to push south beyond Kuwait have failed to calm raw nerves in the small oil sheikdoms along the Persian Gulf.
Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are considered easy pickings if the Iraqis decide to push on down the coast, and alarm in the region has been heightened.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday August 9, 1990 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Column 1 Metro Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Mideast forces--In an illustration detailing some of the Mideast's most powerful military machines, The Times on Wednesday erroneously listed Turkey as an Arab state.
Qatar's news agency reported Tuesday that Foreign Minister Mubarak Ali al Khater had left for Jidda, Saudi Arabia, for an emergency meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The council is an economic and military alliance that binds Saudi Arabia and its smaller neighbors.
Heino Kopietz, a Middle East analyst for Control Risks, a London consulting firm, said that if the Iraqis plan to attack he "would expect it within the next 24 to 36 hours." Kopietz said the first target could be the Saudi Arabian city of Dammam, south of the refinery center of Jubayl. Second would be Bahrain, he said, suggesting that the first blows would be struck from the air.
The three smaller countries have a combined population of 2.3 million, most of them foreigners, with the Emirates the largest at 1.5 million. The Emirates, a collection of seven sheikdoms including Abu Dhabi and Dubai, would be high on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's punishment list. Along with Kuwait, it drove down world oil prices in the past year by pumping beyond assigned OPEC quotas.
In the war of words that preceded the Kuwaiti invasion, Hussein charged that overproduction by Kuwait and the Emirates had cost Baghdad $14 billion. Pledges to draw down production and drive up the price of oil, made at last month's Geneva meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, failed to appease the Iraqi leader.
If the Iraqis attack, military analysts expect little resistance from the sheikdoms, whose leaders, beyond a prompt council denunciation of the invasion of fellow member Kuwait, have put up a nearly invisible profile. But Emirates state television reported extensively on the crisis Tuesday night, including a series of segments on world nations joining the trade embargo against Iraq.
"They would be easy targets," said Don Kerr, an analyst for London's International Institute of Strategic Studies. "The gulf states don't have the capacity to stop Hussein, and his army could advance at a pace that he chooses."
For the Iraqi leader, the only military stumbling block would be Saudi resistance backed up by Western air and sea power, and the threat of Western air strikes against Iraq itself. In a large operation in the gulf region, the Iraqis could also require a seaborne supply train.
By themselves, "the Saudis are well equipped--fairly well trained but not very numerous," Kerr noted. The Saudis have 200 combat aircraft against Hussein's 500 or more.
"The facts are in the statistics," another analyst said. "The larger air force ultimately wins."
Kopietz, the Control Risks analyst, said the sheikdoms have negligible air power, "a couple of squadrons (of 12 planes each)."
He said the London government had sent word to British companies on Bahrain, an island nation connected by causeway to Saudi Arabia, to prepare their employees for possible evacuation. This could not be confirmed here.
Hussein's ambitions are well known in the gulf region, which together with Iran supplies more than 25% of the world's oil. The first goal of an expanded Iraq would be to take over stewardship of the region's resources. Shortly after coming to power in 1979, the Iraqi strongman declared himself the "protector of the gulf."
Here in Dubai, anxiety was evident. Among Tuesday's developments:
Although Abdul Malik al Hamar, governor of the Emirates' Central Bank, insisted that the Kuwait crisis has had no effect on the financial system, individual bankers reported a heavy demand for dollars. The Dubai dirham fell from 3.65 to the dollar to 3.80, as traders sought to unload their gulf bank notes. According to several reports, some American bankers said they could no longer sell dollars, and one said he had only $6,000 left in cash.
Emirates Oil Minister Mana Said Oteiba, the architect of the emirates' overproduction strategy, called on OPEC members not to raise production to fill the gap left by the embargo on Iraq and Kuwait oil. "The UAE asked members . . . to adhere to their outward quotas in the light of the current situation in the gulf," WAM, the Emirates' news agency, reported in disclosing Oteiba's plea.
The sudden public silence of the sheiks was likened by Kerr, of the IISS, to "the small dog behind a fence that yaps loudly, and when the gate is open turns tail and runs."
"A year from now, they just might find themselves a province of Iraq, a likelihood they would not want to trigger by challenging (Hussein) strongly now," he said. "They know him for what he is, a man with a short fuse."
Kopietz agreed that Hussein was capable of quick judgments. "He may decide he has nothing to lose and go for broke," he said.
THE MIDEAST'S MILITARY MACHINES