Kuwait Official Criticizes Country

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Kuwait Official Criticizes Country

By DIANA ELIAS Associated Press Writer

KUWAIT - A former Cabinet minister and member of Kuwait's ruling family was hailed by liberals Monday for saying his government's support for the U.S. in its war on terrorism was hesitant because the country had been ''hijacked by groups that call themselves Islamic.'' Muslim conservatives, though, said Sheik Saud Al Sabah held a grudge against them for sharply questioning him in Parliament when he was a minister.

In an interview that appeared Saturday in the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, Sheik Saud said he was afraid Washington, which liberated Kuwait from Iraqi invaders a decade ago, would drop Kuwait from its list of allies because of its lackluster support.

''We should have led the international coalition against terrorism, not just taken part in it,'' Sheik Saud said.

Kuwait supports the U.S. anti-terrorism campaign and has pledged to provide information when it could as the United States investigates terrorists. But Kuwaiti officials say their support would not extend to military areas.

Influential Islamic groups in Kuwait have strongly condemned the U.S.-British strikes that began Oct. 7 on alleged terrorist bases in Afghanistan. The United States says Osama bin Laden, a Saudi exile taking refuge with Afghanistan's Taliban rulers, was behind the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

Sheik Saud was Kuwait's ambassador in Washington when Iraq invaded this small oil-rich state and occupied it for seven months. After a U.S.-led coalition liberated it in 1991, Kuwait signed a defense agreement with Washington.

''The majority of the ordinary people in Kuwait have now lost their memory and have forgotten what happened,'' liberal lawyer Hassan al-Issa wrote in the Al-Qabas newspaper in support of Sheik Saud.

In the interview, Sheik Saud, a former information and oil minister, said Kuwait was ''hijacked by groups that call themselves Islamic, while the truth is that they are using Islam as a garb that hides their political content.''

Liberals have long accused the government of allying itself since the 1970s with Muslim fundamentalists who have grown stronger since the Gulf War.

Abdullah al-Muttawa, who heads the Social Reform Society, one of the country's largest Islamic organizations, told The Associated Press: ''Sheik Saud has been holding a grudge ... because he was grilled in Parliament.''

In 1998, Sheik Saud was questioned by fundamentalist lawmakers for allowing several books they deemed blasphemous to be sold during a Kuwaiti book fair. The Cabinet resigned to avert a no-confidence vote against him.

He was reappointed as oil minister one year later. He became the driving force behind a $7 billion project to open the country's oil processing to foreign companies. Fundamentalist lawmakers have led opposition to the move. Early this year. Sheik Saud was replaced in a Cabinet reshuffle.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), October 15, 2001

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