A Wide Gulf Remains Between Victory and Peace WAR IN THE GULF

March 10, 1991|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON — Washington. The Persian Gulf war vanquished the biggest and most menacing threat to the oil-rich Arab states and Israel. But it's a giant leap from victory over Iraq to securing the stable Middle East that President Bush and his allies hope for.

The war's end opened up a caldron of discontent with Saddam Hussein's regime in southern Iraq. While the government moved to suppress the revolt, a serious question remains whether Iraq's shattered military can keep the nation's centrifugal ethnic and religious forces in check. Continued erosion of Iraqi strength could undermine, rather than enhance, the region's balance of power.

Elsewhere, the war strained economies, fanned anti-Western hatred, exacerbated ill-will between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs and may well have increased a regional arms appetite, complicating efforts to bring a lasting peace.

Here's how other major countries emerged from the crisis:

*Kuwait faces a huge reconstruction and repair task while battling the flames at oil facilities that will restrict new revenue for some time. Meanwhile, it will have to cope with a new assertiveness on the part of pro-democracy Kuwaitis.

*Saudi Arabia and its neighboring gulf states can savor vastly improved security with Iraq's defeat and assurance of American commitment to protect them. At the same time, the war's immense costs drained Saudi coffers to the point where the country has been forced to borrow. It has also invested heavily in added oil-production capacity to enable the market to withstand future price shocks, while seeing current oil prices drop as a result of a world oil glut.

*Turkey won worldwide acclaim for its decisive anti-Iraq stand, plus a renewed defense commitment from NATO and recognition that it is strategically vital to the West despite the reduced Soviet threat. But the war left President Turgut Ozal in a shaky political position and his country more insistent than ever on improved economic ties with Europe.

*Egypt, its ties with the United States and Persian Gulf states strengthened, has gained debt forgiveness and stands to get new weaponry, while drawing future economic benefit from its longer-term role in providing forces to the gulf. Its economy, however, remains in bad shape.

*Syria saw a bitter enemy defeated and gained a much-improved relationship with the West not only by sending forces to Saudi Arabia but helping to curb the kind of terrorism that it formerly sponsored.

*Israel, with minor casualties despite weeks of terror from Scuds, is being rewarded rhetorically and financially and could benefit from a softening in the moderate Arab states' attitude. But the war brought just a brief respite from pressure to work for a settlement with Palestinians whose alienation has, if anything, deepened.

*Iran, a noncombatant, emerged a big winner, with scores of Iraqi jets, improved relations with gulf Arab states, respect in the West for its adroit behavior and the possibility of added leverage in the region through its influence over Iraq's large Shiite population.

*Jordan has plummeted in Western and moderate Arab esteem and stands to see a cut in American aid. But it remains geographically central to the Palestinian conflict. And neither the United States nor Israel wants to see King Hussein toppled.

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