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Kuwait, Saudi Arabia Worry About Saddam Comeback

September 12, 1996

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) _ Saudi Arabia and Kuwait breathed easier when Saddam Hussein was routed in the 1991 Gulf War. Now they’re worried he may be making a comeback.

Their anxiety was heightened today when Iraq described Kuwait’s decision to accept U.S. fighter-bombers as an ``act of war″ against Baghdad.

Saddam’s successful foray into northern Iraq has demonstrated he still has a formidable military despite six years of comprehensive U.N. sanctions and close monitoring by the Americans and their allies.

``The garrison state of Iraq is still one of the most powerful Arab nations and Saddam Hussein’s military powers are on the rise,″ says Waheed Hashim, a Saudi professor of political science.

``I have no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein will try to take revenge on every nation that participated in his humiliating ouster from Kuwait,″ he said in a telephone interview.

Kuwaiti newspapers on Wednesday carried reports that Iraqi troops were massing near their borders. But the reports were denied by diplomats and the Kuwaiti government.

Al-Hayat newspaper, a Saudi-owned daily based in London, said today that Saddam had an ``appetite for more such victories″ following his triumphs in northern Iraq.

Saddam appears to be getting bolder.

Iraqi forces fired a missile Wednesday at U.S. F-16s patrolling over northern Iraq. The Americans have dispatched warplanes to the region and another confrontation is building.

Some of the American planes will be based in Kuwait, touching off an immediate verbal barrage from Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

``The Kuwaiti regime continues its aggressive policy against Iraq using all possible means,″ Aziz said. ``It does everything and spends all the money it possesses to harm Iraq, conspire against it and threaten its security and safety using malicious means that go beyond all limits.″

Although the United States has promised a massive response to any aggression by Saddam, his growing bravado worries both Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Despite its anxiety, Saudi Arabia, a staunch U.S. ally for decades and host to the coalition that liberated Kuwait from Iraqi occupation, has been trying to distance itself from the U.S. missile attacks.

The Saudi defense minister, Prince Sultan, reiterated Wednesday that his country would not allow the United States to use Saudi soil in launching such attacks against Iraq.

Ever since the Gulf War, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have bought billions of dollars’ worth of weapons between them. But their forces are still no match for Saddam’s.

Kuwait’s tiny army collapsed in a matter of hours when Saddam’s forces invaded six years ago. Saudi Arabia’s 100,000-man army is dwarfed by Saddam’s battle-hardened, 600,000-strong army.

U.S. officials say Saddam’s forces are still the biggest and strongest in the region.

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