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Qatar Might Host U.S. Forces for Iraq Strikes

Diplomacy: Foreign minister says his nation would 'look very seriously' at a request.

September 13, 2002|From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — Qatar's foreign minister said Thursday that while his government hopes Iraq will admit U.N. weapons inspectors, his nation would seriously consider any request from the Bush administration to aid in an attack against Saddam Hussein.

If the U.S. government asked Qatar to be a staging point for military strikes against Iraq, the country--home to a major American military base--"would look at this [proposal] very seriously," Sheik Hamad Jassim ibn Jaber al Thani told reporters.

Hamad Jassim spoke publicly at the Brookings Institution and met privately with members of the House International Relations Committee. The U.S. Central Command announced Wednesday that it would send 600 personnel from its base in Tampa, Fla., to Qatar's Al Udeid Air Base in November to test the readiness of newly designed mobile communications facilities.

The United States has not yet requested "permission for an attack from Qatar to Iraq," Hamad Jassim said at Brookings. "If they ask us, we will look seriously, but at the moment there is no decision" because there has been no request.

Hamad Jassim said he met recently with Hussein. He said he told the Iraqi leader that, in an attempt to avert a war in the region, he must allow United Nations weapons inspectors into Iraq without conditions.

"We are pushing and still hoping he will accept this," Hamad Jassim said, relating that Hussein said he feared that President Bush has already made up his mind to attack and that there was no point in allowing the inspectors back in.

Hamad Jassim indicated that the Iraqi leader was under no illusions about where Qatari sympathies would lie in the event of a conflict with the United States. "The Iraqis know that we have a very special relation with the United States," he said. "It is not secret and [American forces] are already in Al Udeid."

While the Pentagon has called the deployment of 600 troops to Qatar in November part of a one-week biennial training exercise, it acknowledges that some of them could be based in the Persian Gulf if a war seems close at hand.

The Pentagon has spent the better part of this year rapidly expanding its presence at Al Udeid, a base 400 miles from the southern border of Iraq and 710 miles from Baghdad. It has a 15,000-foot runway, which is long enough to handle all types of U.S. aircraft.

Saudi Arabia is another Mideast base for American forces, but the move to expand and improve facilities at Al Udeid has accelerated in recent months as relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia have frayed over the issue of Islamic extremism since the attacks of Sept. 11. The Saudi government has also been critical of the administration's handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it has expressed doubts in relation to the administration's desire to take military action against Iraq.

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