Saudi Arabia criticizes U.S., seeks `breather' in fighting

Official says it will oppose occupation government

War in Iraq

March 23, 2003|By Kim Murphy | Kim Murphy,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Saudi Arabia, deeply uneasy over the U.S. bombing campaign in Iraq, called today for a "breather" in the fighting and signaled that it will oppose a U.S. military occupation government in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, in remarks uncharacteristically outspoken in their criticism of U.S. policy in the region, said U.S. soldiers will be ill-equipped to govern a tribal and unruly Iraqi population in the wake of a collapse of the ruling Baath Party. He predicted "instability" unless the United Nations steps in to help rebuild Iraq's governing structures.

"We have always said that whatever war will occur must have as its most important objective to keep the country intact, to keep order in place, and then the U.N. only would act against those who refuse to cooperate with the demilitarization," Prince Saud told reporters.

"Now, you're facing a conflict that threatens to destroy the whole government. Who's going to run the government?" he said.

Saudi Arabia, America's largest oil supplier and its most important ally in the Persian Gulf, has quietly allowed more than 5,000 troops to be stationed inside the kingdom at an air base that is providing much of the tactical control for the bombing campaign under way in Iraq.

But the Saudi foreign minister's statements demonstrated how even some of America's closest allies in the region believe the Bush administration is misguided in its belief that it can prevail quickly in the military conflict and work with Iraqi citizens, exiles and civil servants in its aftermath to set up a new democratic government.

The Saudi foreign minister devoted much of his time today talking about the long-term governance of Iraq, even as he also called for an immediate halt to the bombing.

"Stop the war. Let's sit down. Let's have a breather, after we have seen the destruction. Let's have diplomacy work," Prince Saud said.

Kim Murphy is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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