November 8, 1997 in Nation/World

Notes From The Gulf


Skillful Saddam?

In the view of some Arab analysts, Saddam Hussein has played his latest confrontation with the United States skillfully: Instead of a military provocation, like his shifting of troops to the Kuwaiti border in October 1994, he has opted for something more limited.

He has done so, moreover, at a time of growing irritation with the United States in the region linked to the stalled Middle East peace process. Arabs have accused the United States of applying a double standard by punishing Iraq at every opportunity while ignoring what they regard as Israel’s maltreatment of the Palestinians under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Nobody is saying that Saddam is good,” observed Abdel Moneim Said, director of the Al Ahram Center for Strategic Studies in Cairo. “But he picked a ripe moment, while the peace process is not moving. He’s picking a small item on which he can get sympathy.”

According to Said, many Arabs believe that “if (the United States) can forgive Netanyahu for violating 40 things, well, allow this guy one.”

U.S. forces

The United States maintains a military force of about 20,000 troops in the Persian Gulf region, largely to deter Iraq aggression against its neighbors and to patrol zones over northern and southern Iraq in which Iraqi aircraft are forbidden.

The U.S. force looks roughly like this:

About 12,500 naval forces, including the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in the Gulf with about 5,500 sailors aboard, along with about 50 attack aircraft and 20 support planes. The Navy has two cruisers, four destroyers and three guided missile frigates in the area, plus one attack submarine.

The naval force includes about 2,100 combat-ready Marines in an amphibious assault group led by the USS Peleliu. This contingent includes assault helicopters and attack planes.

About 1,500 Army soldiers in Kuwait.

About 120 Air Force fighters and other aircraft based mostly in Saudi Arabia.

U-2 facts

The Air Force U-2 plane being used to aid United Nations monitoring of Iraqi weapons programs originally was developed by the CIA to spy on the former Soviet Union before the United States had surveillance satellites in orbit.

It first flew in August 1955 and remains a key part of the Air Force surveillance fleet.

Long, wide, straight wings give it glider-like characteristics. It carries a variety of electronic sensors and cameras to provide a continuous picture at day or night in all kinds of weather.

Our man in Baghdad

Forgive CNN a sense of deja vu. A diplomatic crisis looms with Iraq, its correspondents are posted in Baghdad and competitors are anxiously watching from the outside.

CNN’s Brent Sadler and Ben Wedeman have been transmitting reports this week from the Iraqi capital about the standoff over United Nations weapons inspections.

Meanwhile, journalists from ABC, CBS and NBC have been waiting for at least a week nearby, hoping for permission to enter the country to report on the story.

The same formula worked wonders in the Gulf War, CNN’s golden era. Bombs burst over the heads of correspondents Bernard Shaw and Peter Arnett and CNN solidly established itself among Americans as a network to turn to during a big news event.

“Iraq, I think, felt that the best way of beaming its message into the very heart of Washington was through CNN,” Sadler said in a telephone interview from Baghdad Friday. “They’ve learned to understand the way we’ve worked over the years. They’ve learned not only to understand but respect our objectivity.”

One rival news executive, who requested anonymity, suggested part of the reason may simply be that Saddam likes watching himself on CNN.

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