AS debate heightens in Western capitals over the prospects of a Gulf war and the dangers of compromise with Saddam Hussein, Iraqi's scenario for a peaceful solution to the crisis is crystallizing, say senior Arab officials. Key to a settlement, the officials say, would be United States recognition of the country as a regional power and of a special Iraqi role in relation to Kuwait.
Iraqi analysts who are close to the government cite the American acceptance of the Syrian role in Lebanon as one example for such a future Iraq-Kuwait relationship.
The implication of this scenario, as discussed by a small circle of senior Arab officials and Western diplomats, would be US abandonment of any attempt to eliminate or significantly dismantle Baghdad's military machine.
Furthermore, a special Iraqi role in relation to Kuwait practically means that a ``a friendly'' regime should replace the al- Sabah royal family and Iraqi access to the Gulf and to the disputed Rumallah oil-field should be guaranteed.
The first part of such an arrangement, Arab officials concede, would be unacceptable to Israel, which fears a solution that would leave its military rival intact. US allies in the Arab world, especially in the Gulf states, would also view such an arrangement as threatening.
Some analysts, however, argue that the US might be willing to accept such an arrangement if Iraq shifted to a more pro-Western position, or if peace was achieved between Israel and Arab states through negotiations.
Some Arab officials suggest that accepting a linkage between the Gulf crisis and the initiation of discussions for the settlement of the Palestinian problem would be a way for Washington to avoid the dilemma of having to choose between its strategic alliance with Israel and maintaining close ties with Arab states.
In a speech to the extraordinary Arab summit held in Baghdad last May, advocated the view that the US should be made to understand that its interests in the region can be safeguarded through endorsing a more balanced relationship rather than by relying solely on Israel.
Jordan's King Hussein and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat supported the Iraqi line at the summit. Both had increased their ties with Iraq in the hope that it would lead a strong Arab bloc that could fill the political vacuum resulting from the Soviet Union's pullback from the region.
Without an Arab power as a counterweight, they feared, Israel would fill the vacuum and there would be no prospect for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem.
Jordanian and Palestinian concerns have been heightened by the possibility - since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the deployment of Western troops in the region - of a military assault that aims at destroying Iraqi power altogether, leaving only Iran and Israel - non-Arab nations - as the powers in the region.
According to a well-placed member of Iraq's ruling Baathist Party, Baghdad still harbors suspicions that Iran, or at least a certain wing in the regime, will push for regaining the role the country held under the late Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlavi as the major regional power.
Recent statements by Iranian officials about an Iranian involvement in a regional security arrangement have confirmed Iraqi concerns.
The Iraqi Baathist suggests that the other Gulf states might be ready to support an arrangement that would remove Iraq as a potential threat to their interests.
``The Gulf states, including the Sabah family, were already involved in such a scheme to undermine Iraq prior to the Iraqi invasion,'' says an Iraqi official, repeating Baghdad's claims that it was a target of a US-backed plot to weaken Iraq.
In interviews, Iraqi officials refrain from discussing the future of Kuwait, expressing the hard-line position that Kuwait was part of Iraq and that it will never be relinquished.
But Saddam and other senior officials are said to be privately insinuating that there are other possibilities by claiming that the the original aim for going into Kuwait was to take over the Rumallah oil-fields and install ``a friendly regime.''
``The Iraqis say that they would have withdrawn to the disputed areas if it was not for reports they received that the US forces were about to invade the rest of Kuwait,'' says a senior Arab official.
``The Sabahs have never comprehended that there should be special ties with Iraq, considering Iraqi interests and that Kuwait was once part of Iraq,'' the Iraqi Baathist says.
He claims that within the Kuwaiti opposition, some have advocated such a relationship. Arab critics of Saddam, however, counter by saying that Iraq has not left any prospect for the Kuwaiti opposition to cooperate by annexing Kuwait ``and negating their identity.''
But the Iraqis, according to Arab officials, still believe that it is possible to find Kuwaitis who will accept ``the special relationship.'' Arab officials and analysts, however, warn that, if any peaceful compromise is possible, a future arrangement in Kuwait should be based on respect for Kuwaiti self-determination. Otherwise, they say, the whole episode will set a precedent for other Arab regimes to move into neighboring countries to install ``friendly governments.''