THE prospect of Saddam Hussein surviving as Iraq's head of state has begun to weigh on Arab leaders committed to the United States-led coalition in the battle to free Kuwait. The forced removal of Saddam would go beyond the officially stated goals of the coalition in the Gulf. It would also exceed the 12 United Nations resolutions that sanction the forcible removal of Iraq from the emirate.
But according to sources familiar with Saudi views, elements of the royal family are committed to the removal of Saddam. As one said, ``They want Saddam's head on a plate. They will be satisfied with nothing but Saddam's total defeat.'' There is no doubt that the exiled Kuwaiti government shares the sentiment.
Saudi Arabia's animosity toward the Iraqi leader goes beyond anger over his invasion of Kuwait. Saddam's actions have altered the delicate balance of relations between Saudi Arabia and neighboring Yemen. Since the early weeks of Kuwait's occupation, Yemen has been in the pro-Iraq camp. Saudi Arabia responded by expelling hundreds of thousands of Yemeni workers.
The rift threatens to revitalize Yemeni claims that Saudi Arabia has occupied part of its territory since the Yemeni civil war of the 1960s.
Of perhaps even more concern, Iraq has cast doubt on Saudi Arabia's role as custodian of Islam's holy sites. Iraqi radio broadcasts have stressed that the deployment of non-Muslim Western soldiers in Saudi Arabia has tainted the religious sanctity of places of worship.
``Saddam Hussein has, in a way, destroyed the Saudi image in the Muslim world,'' says Fahmy al-Howeidy, an Egyptian expert on Islamic affairs. ``The Iraqi propaganda against Saudi Arabia has had an effect. In Algeria people are saying they will boycott the hajj [annual pilgrimage] this year.''
Egypt, which has contributed about 35,000 troops to Operation Desert Storm, is considered less likely to actively seek Saddam's overthrow. Recent official statements have signaled a shift toward preparations for post-war diplomacy, emphasizing Egypt's willingness to continue good relations with Iraq once the war ends.
``It will be easier for Egypt to adjust to a post-war Saddam situation than for the Gulf countries,'' says an Arab academic. ``When Saddam Hussein begins this post-war strategy he will certainly open up first to Egypt rather than the Gulf states. Egypt is too important.''
Since the onset of the crisis, Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak has appeared personally bent on the defeat of Saddam. But, as the academic says: ``Egypt's major problem is that if you go outside Egypt and the Gulf, the opinion is overwhelmingly pro-Saddam.
``It is a problem for Egypt to adjust to Saddam's survival. But it will [adjust] because it must.''
He also warned that Egypt's small anti-war movement would experience an upsurge in support if the campaign continues beyond Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait.
Lutfi al-Khouly, a veteran political commentator with the semi-official daily Al Ahram, is less confident.
The heads of state know it is in their interests and those of all Arab countries that Iraq not be divided up or destroyed, he says. ``But at the same time they are against Saddam Hussein coming out of this crisis as the head of state. If he does, they feel that they will be, all of them, no more than senators in his cabinet.''
Mr. Al-Khouly continues: ``The death of Saddam is not in their interests or - if they have a minimum of intelligence - even the interests of the Americans.
``Saddam Hussein, if he is killed, would be the hero of the Arab countries ... ``He will become a myth. Neither the Americans nor the Arabs want the problem of dealing with a myth. It will be more dangerous than Saddam alive, as a man.