Civilian Casualties Raise Iraq Danger

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Saddam Hussein may be his own worst enemy, but the absence of a clear U.S. strategy to defeat him has left a dangerous vacuum. Civilian casualties from Monday's U.S. missile strike in Basra have given Iraq ammunition to press for Arab sympathy, but Saddam squandered that Tuesday by amplifying his threats against Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. "Arab states sympathize with the plight of ordinary Iraqis, but they're reluctant to back Saddam on sanctions because he's becoming more aggressive toward his neighbors," says TIME Middle East bureau chief Scott MacLeod. "Civilian casualties in Iraq do create a domestic political problem for those governments, however, because the recent bombing intensified anti-American sentiment among ordinary Arabs."

Pro-Western Arab governments are even more alarmed over Washington's perceived lack of direction. "U.S. policy is confused and is failing to achieve its objectives," says MacLeod. "We're seeing daily confrontations without a clear and viable U.S. strategy. Inevitably, there will be civilian casualties and possibly even a U.S. plane shot down -- and the consequences of either are dangerously unpredictable."