March 9, 2003
DOHA, Qatar -- Saudi Arabia has allowed U.S. troops to use several of its air bases and offered logistical support for U.S. ground forces in a war against Saddam Hussein, a Saudi dissident group said Saturday.
The Saudi Islamic Reform Movement said the move came after an understanding reached by the kingdom and the United States under which Saudi Arabia provides facilities to the U.S. forces if there is a conflict with Iraq.
Saad al-Faqih, a London representative of the movement, said soon after the agreement was reached six weeks ago, the United States deployed some 9,000 troops at a base in northern Saudi Arabia near the Iraqi border.
Al-Faqih said Saudi Arabia has also provided facilities in five major air bases, including one in the capital, Riyadh, and others in Araar, Tabuk and Hafer al-Baten on the Iraqi border.
Pentagon officials declined to comment Saturday about the issue.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal denied the dissidents' reports, saying Saudi Arabia will not participate in any military actions against Iraq.
"The kingdom (of Saudi Arabia) does not and will not approve the use of its land for aggression against any Arab and Islamic country, including Iraq," al-Faisal said.
Al-Faqih, whose reports about internal developments in the kingdom have proved credible, said he received his information from Saudi delegates who participated in negotiations with the Americans.
"There is no other reason for these troops to be there if not to take part in the war against Iraq," al-Faqih told the Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Later, he told Qatar's Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera that the number of U.S. ground troops has reached about 30,000. They are stationed at bases on the Saudi side of the border with Iraq, he said.
On Friday, sources in Saudi Arabia told AP the government shut down civilian flights to the airport in Araar, about 40 miles south of the Iraqi border.
The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said hundreds of American troops have deployed at the Araar airport. The Pentagon declined to comment on the report.
On Wednesday, a Saudi dissident organization based in Washington said it obtained a secret document showing that Araar airport was closed to the public.
The Saudi Information Agency, which is affiliated with the dissident Saudi Institute, said the document was issued Tuesday by the director of Al-Jawf Airport, Yousef Hamaad Al-Balawi.
The document advised the airport police chief that Araar Airport was closing March 4 and all civilian flights would be diverted to Al-Jawf.
The dissident organization quoted a witness who traveled through Araar Airport earlier this week as saying he saw dozens of American soldiers and a lot of equipment at the airport.
In Riyadh, Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan said late Saturday the Araar airport was closed "for the safety of Araar and the people of Araar." He did not elaborate.
"We are on the verge of war and the situation is different from what it was in 1991," the prince said. "There's no secret U.S. base and we closed the airport for humanitarian reasons."
Saudi Arabia has said it will not allow U.S. troops to use its territories to attack Iraq. But officials said U.S. and British flights from an air base in the kingdom to monitor Iraq would continue.
Last month, the influential Saudi ambassador to Washington reportedly told a closed seminar held by Al Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, an Egyptian think tank, that the kingdom has no other option but to join U.S. efforts.