Mideast Crisis Leaves U.S. Too Busy to Deal With Saddam, Experts Say

Forcing out Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has become a tricky proposition for the United States because of the war on the West Bank.

Just weeks ago, the Bush administration was talking as though Saddam was a new target in the war on terrorism, and military action was an imminent possibility.

But the violence between Israelis and Palestinians has thrown the region into turmoil and further polarized the Arabs, which makes an American military move against Iraq politically more unlikely, many analysts say.

"The world would be better off without him," Bush said Saturday during a news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Bush said he told Blair, who was spending the weekend at Bush's Texas ranch, that "the policy of my government is the removal of Saddam, and that all options are on the table."

Blair said they have not settled on a way to deal with Saddam.

"How we now proceed in this situation, how we make sure that this threat that is posed by weapons of mass destruction is dealt with, that is a matter that is open," the prime minister said.

To retired Rear Adm. Eugene Carroll, an independent analyst in Washington, "It is absolutely not viable in the near future," for America to launch an attack on Iraq. "The small region simply cannot contain two conflicts at the same time."

Even if the warfare between Israel and the Palestinians is contained, Carroll said, "keeping the peace will remain a top priority. An attack against Iraq could throw another match on the kindling."

Some administration officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, have made clear in recent days they still view Iraq as a priority threat.

Rumsfeld has criticized the Iraqi president for his link to the Palestinians' campaign of suicide bombing attacks that have killed dozens of Israelis. Saddam's government has said he pays each dead bomber's family $25,000.

The Bush administration accuses Iraq of developing weapons of mass destruction and sponsoring terror. Bush repeatedly has demanded that Iraq readmit U.N. weapons inspectors unable to work there for almost 3 years. Officials say the administration is weighing options ranging from diplomatic pressure to possible eventual military strikes.

Now, however, any move against Iraq undoubtedly would be complicated on many levels.

Vice President Dick Cheney's recent trip to the Middle East confirmed that political support among Arab nations for military action is scarce. At their recent summit, Arab countries issued a statement saying that any attack on Iraq would be considered a threat to the security of every Arab country.

"The Arab nations simply are not going to tolerate our support of Israel and a decision to attack another Muslim nation," said Joe Stork, an adviser for Washington-based think tank Foreign Policy in Focus. "Even if the leaders agreed with the United States that Saddam is bad for Iraq, their people wouldn't support it."

The problem is not just one of offending regional allies; the lack of support could hinder the United States' tactical position.

Saudi Arabia has made clear that U.S. troops could not operate from Saudi soil in any move on Iraq, although many U.S. officials contend the Saudis might cooperate behind the scenes.

Kuwait and Turkey might still allow U.S. forces and airplanes to operate from their territory by providing the space and bases necessary for air or ground assault.

Still, some military experts suggest any attack without Saudi Arabia would be more dangerous.

"It is definitely more risky in terms of human lives," said Christopher Helleman, a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information. "If we have to kick the door down by using a smaller border, we're going to lose more people. And creating a major base in another country is going to make it several times more expensive."