U.S. Encounters Gulf Doubt on Bombing Iraq

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Bombing Saddam gradually out of power may seem like a good idea in Washington, but not all U.S. allies in the Gulf agree. Defense Secretary William Cohen, touring the Middle East to boost support for U.S. plans, on Wednesday encountered the first public thumbs-down by a Gulf ally to Washington's low-key war with Iraq. Qatar's foreign minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al-thani told a Cohen press conference that "while we understand the position of the United States, I cannot say that we support the daily attacks in the no-fly zone."

Although the Pentagon won't be deterred from its bombing campaign unless other regional allies follow Qatar in breaking ranks, the comments do cast doubt over Washington's objectives in Iraq. "Qatar believes the U.S. doesn't understand what's at stake," says TIME U.N. correspondent William Dowell. "They fear that if Iraq blows up, it'll be like Beirut with ballistic missiles. Qatar's priority is regional stability, and they believe that seeking the overthrow of Saddam at all costs may be ill-advised." With no obvious alternative to Saddam, and substantial potential for the Balkanization of Iraq if he's overthrown, Qatar is happier with the devil it knows.