Saddam's Grab for Advanced Western Arms

Arab Allies Press Iraq To Negotiate and Withdraw

SADDAM HUSSEIN's few Arab friends as well as the global community are putting the heat on the Iraqi leader to pull back from the brink of war. The result, Arab specialists on Iraq say, is an apparent effort - though with mixed signals - to lay the ground for negotiations and even, some add, for a possible pullout from Kuwait. Iraq's major allies - Jordan, Sudan, Libya, and the Palestine Liberation Organization - are all trying to find ``an Arab formula'' to end the Gulf crisis. It is being described publicly as a way of averting war and ensuring the withdrawal of US troops from Arab soil. But an Iraqi pullout from Kuwait is an integral part of the proposal.

``In the end,'' says a Western diplomat and specialist on Iraq, ``this could be the pressure which has influenced Saddam Hussein more than any other.''

However, the Iraqi president's announcement Tuesday that foreign women and children would be allowed to leave Iraq does not mean that resolution of the Gulf crisis is imminent.

The holding of foreign families was a key card in Saddam's hand as Iraq was squeezed both by the trade embargo and the buildup of United States-led forces on its border. At that point war seemed inevitable.

Alarmed at this prospect, King Hussein of Jordan and other Arab leaders on friendly terms with Baghdad launched another diplomatic offensive to try to cool the crisis.

Not only were the Iraqi president's opponents in the Middle East telling him to withdraw from Kuwait, but his friends were arriving in Baghdad and whispering a similar message in his ear.

``They told him that to challenge the West was one thing,'' a senior Arab official says, ``but to bring the catastrophe of war on the whole Arab nation was too much.''

In the view of some Arab experts on Iraq, Saddam may now be resigned to the eventual withdrawal of troops from Kuwait. They also say he apparently does not expect, at least at the moment, a US-led attack.

Therefore, Saddam is laying the grounds for a period of negotiations. ``He is trying to project a different image, that of statesman,'' an Iraq specialist says. ``That is why he is having these chats on television, always talking about the need for peace. That is why he is suddenly letting women and children go. And he is so out of touch with reality that he believes the world will see this as a benevolent gesture. I think that under all this pressure he is getting confused.''

One obvious area of confusion is the future of Kuwait. Only hours before announcing that Western families would be allowed to leave he declared Kuwait to be a province of Iraq.

Saddam has a deliberate policy of sending conflicting signals, says a Western diplomat in the Gulf. ``It is all part of the drama. He is getting what he can while he can before the bargaining starts.''

Oil industry sources in the Middle East say the Iraqis are grabbing everything they can in Kuwait in a way that suggests they do not intend to stay long. The Iraqis are said to have smashed oil-industry equipment and taken away the sophisticated computers which control the flow of oil and monitor the operation of refineries and other oil installations.

Saddam, in the opinion of Arab specialists on Iraqi affairs, feels he has won a breathing space. In this period he hopes to gain as much public support as possible around the world by appearing to be reasonable and humane. He hopes too that his friends in the Arab world will throw him a lifeline, perhaps in the form of financial remunerations, or even of territorial concessions and political influence in a future Kuwait. If he could show his people and the wider Arab public that Iraq was better off than it was before the invasion of Kuwait, then the withdrawal of his Army could be justified.

Gulf experts predict that if Arab mediation plans do not work or the threat of imminent war looms again, Saddam will make one last attempt to defy the mounting economic and military pressures, while hiding behind the human shield of Westerners still under his control.

The Iraqi president would then face the options of capitulation or war. But that moment of ultimate choice, the experts say, could still be a long way off. -30-{et

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