Saudis pledging no part in war on `brotherly Iraq'

Government warns against nation's breakup

Deadline For Hussein

March 19, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Saudi Arabia, one of the United States' strongest allies in the Middle East, said yesterday that it would take no part in an American-led invasion of "brotherly Iraq" and warned against a breakup of the country in the wake of a war.

As if to punctuate the reasons for that position, an explosion ripped through a house in the capital earlier yesterday, killing a man who was apparently building a bomb.

The government is investigating any possible link to al-Qaida.

Reading a statement on state television yesterday evening in the name of King Fahd, who is incapacitated, Crown Prince Abdullah, the country's de facto ruler, said, "The kingdom will not participate in any way in the war" against Iraq, adding that Saudi Arabia's armed forces would not enter Iraqi territory.

"We strongly reject any blow to Iraq's unity, independence and security, and oppose the country's military occupation," Abdullah said.

He added that "if the situation develops otherwise and the war goes beyond such aims, we will change our stance toward it."

The United States conducted the 1991 Persian Gulf war against Iraq from Saudi Arabian military bases, but the kingdom, facing rising anti-American sentiment in its population, has publicly opposed military action against Iraq this time around and has repeatedly said it would not allow attacks launched from its soil.

The United States has several thousand troops stationed in the kingdom and continues to send surveillance flights over Iraq from air bases here.

But widespread opposition to a war and to the continuing presence of the American military - opposition particularly in the country's formidable religious establishment - has kept the Saudi government on the sidelines in the current conflict.

The Interior Ministry said it was investigating the possibility that the blast yesterday, which killed an unidentified man in an eastern neighborhood of the capital, was linked to al-Qaida.

Police investigating the explosion found an arsenal of rifles, guns, hand grenades and other explosives in the house.

Saudi Arabia is the homeland of Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Bin Laden has cited the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia as one of the motivations for his attacks on the United States.

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