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Anti-American Sentiment Expands In Persian Gulf, Two Marines Shot

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran

In the early 1990s, Kuwaiti shopkeepers would give American customers the “George Bush discount,” a few percent off to express thanks to the United States for leading a military coalition to expel Iraqi invaders.

Americans still are welcomed here, but feelings on the street are notably less enthusiastic and universal than they were a decade ago, according to Kuwaitis and long-time American residents. Many Kuwaitis say that while they remain grateful to the United States, they are outraged by what they perceive as growing U.S. bias toward Israel and against the Palestinians.

A small but vocal minority goes even further, insisting that U.S. troops should vacate this tiny Persian Gulf country, sentiments highlighted by the shooting of two U.S. Marines here on Tuesday by Kuwaiti gunmen identified as Islamic activists.

Similar anti-American attitudes have been bubbling forth in other U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf, including those closest to Washington. The resentments pose complex new challenges for the region’s leaders, who seek to maintain close ties with the United States, and for U.S. military planners who hope to use gulf nations as bases for a possible attack against Iraq.

“There’s a debt of gratitude here, but it’s not as strong as it used to be,” said Leigh Gribble, a former U.S. Navy attache in Kuwait who now runs a regional security consulting firm. “If you were to ask for that discount now, they’d just laugh at you.”

Although the U.S. military has faced hostility in Saudi Arabia before, including two bombings against installations connected to the U.S. military, expressions of anger and incidents of violence directed at Americans are relatively new in places such as Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar -- small, Persian Gulf nations whose pro-Western governments have permitted U.S. troops on their soil to enhance their security and their relations with Washington.

In Qatar, a gunman opened fire last fall on American and Qatari troops guarding an air base used by U.S. military aircraft. In Bahrain, where the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based, anti-American protesters lobbed Molotov cocktails inside the U.S. Embassy compound earlier this year, leading police to fire rubber bullets and tear gas. And most recently, two Kuwaiti men shot at a group of U.S. Marines conducting urban-warfare exercises on an island off Kuwait City on Tuesday, killing one Marine and wounding another.

The Bahrain protest was prompted by anger at U.S. policy toward Israel. The motive for the Kuwait shooting remains unclear. But Kuwaitis who knew the two shooters -- killed by the Marines after the attack -- have said the two likely were motivated by fury over Israeli military action against Palestinians, which many here believe is condoned by the U.S. government. The brother of one gunman said they were driven to violence by television footage of an Israeli missile strike in the Gaza Strip that killed 10 Palestinians.

“There is a lot of disapproval with America’s foreign policy toward Israel,” said Mohammed Musfir, a professor of political science at Qatar University. “People are not happy with what’s going on. What happened in Kuwait is a message. It could happen in Bahrain. It could happen in Oman. It could happen anywhere in the region where Americans are.”