Egyptians at Forefront of Offensive

EGYPTIAN and Kuwaiti troops are taking part in the spearhead of the coalition ground offensive against Iraq. The start of the ground war early yesterday local time came only hours after the expiry of the United States-set deadline. State-run Cairo Radio, quoting Kuwaiti military sources in northeastern Saudi Arabia, announced that Egyptian forces had entered occupied Kuwait. Egypt has sent more than 35,000 troops and several hundred tanks to Saudi Arabia in support of Operation Desert Storm. It is the second largest contingent, after the US, and the key Arab partner in the 28-nation coalition against Iraq. The start of the ground war followed Iraq's rejection of a US ultimatum to begin a retreat by midday (EST) Saturday. Egypt and Saudi Arabia endorsed the US ultimatum and appealed to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to comply with the demands. ``There is no time to waste to preserve the lives of the Iraqi people and the Iraqi Army,'' Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told reporters on Saturday night. Mr. Mubarak called on the Iraqi president to ``resort to reason to salvage whatever could be salvaged.''' He added, ``The passage of every hour means more destruction.'' Although Egypt, Syria, and the Gulf states have backed a continuations of the war, other Middle Eastern countries supported the Moscow plan. Yemen, Jordan, Tunisia, and Algeria all opposed the start of the ground offensive. Morocco, which has sent a small number of troops to Saudi Arabia, has recently withdrawn its public support for the campaign because of mounting pro-Saddam sentiment inside the country. The Palestine Liberation Organization, which has strongly backed Baghdad, also called for the coalition to accept the plan. Sharing the US viewpoint Egypt, the most important Arab partner in Operation Desert Storm, was understood to share Washington's view that the Kremlin's proposal was ``unacceptable.'' But Egypt was obliged to take domestic opinion into consideration before making a public rejection of the offer. Egyptians have been overwhelmingly supportive of Mubarak's position on the war. But the coalition bombardment of Baghdad and other civilian areas inside Iraq has angered many Egyptians. Authorities have arrested hundreds of Muslim fundamentalists and charged several journalists with incitement against the government. But even before officially supporting the US dismissal of the Soviet plan, it was apparent that the Egyptian government would not be satisfied with a negotiated settlement of the crisis. Egypt wants Saddam out At issue for the Egyptian government is the continued presidency of Saddam. In a Friday editorial, Cairo's semi-official Al Ahram newspaper left no doubt that official Egyptian circles seek Saddam's ouster. ``If Iraq survives a ground-battle massacre, its regime will last for only a short period, during which it will try to view itself as the victorious one,'' the editorial said. ``If Saddam is not taken by surprise by one of his regime's main corner stones - because of his people's anger - the Iraqi opposition will succeed very soon. Between those two possibilities, the fate of Saddam will be drawn.'' According to the paper, Iraqi opposition groups are being aided by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran toward that end. Other Cairo newspapers and magazines continued the call for Saddam's removal Saturday. A senior military source, speaking to the Monitor late last week, left no doubt that the Egyptian Army is committed to a total defeat of the Iraqi president. `Threat to region' ``Our objective is to liberate Kuwait and to get rid of Saddam Hussein,'' he said. ``It's not a question of physical but political assassination. If we permit Saddam to negotiate an honorable exit, he will remain in power and the threat to the region will remain. Only when Saddam is finished can we pull out our boys and bring them home.'' He continued: ``If Saddam wants to surrender - not to negotiate - he has to go to his adversaries. That means the Americans, the Saudis, the Kuwaitis. It's not a matter for the Iranians or the Soviets to decide. And if he surrenders, that means he will no longer be president.'' On Friday, Egyptian opposition groups called on Mubarak, Syria's President Hafez al-Assad, and Saudi Arabia's King Fahd to accept the Soviet plan. They argued the original justification for sending troops (the defense of Saudi Arabia) was no longer valid. In a letter to Mubarak, seven opposition politicians wrote: ``It is not in the interests of Egypt, the Arabs or humanity to insist on continuing to destroy an Arab country that declared its agreement to withdraw.'' -PATHNAME- /usr/local/etc/httpd/plweb/DBGROUPS/paper/database/tape/91/mar/week10/ocar.

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