SANA’A, YEMEN – Washington admits that it wants to shape the entire Middle East into a kinder place. Sooner or later, that goal may take the U.S. to Yemen’s terrorist haven.

A political cartoon of Saddam being “dis-armed.” Frame one, his right arm is cut off. Frame two, his left arm goes. Last frame, to quote the Yanks’ objective on the first night of bombing Baghdad: decapitation.

I have yet to see anyone actually draw this. But it nicely illustrates that when Americans say they’ll disarm Saddam, they mean so much more.

And I wonder, if Washington is serious about preventing future terrorism hits in brutal 9/11 style, or worse, why isn’t it marching on Sana’a?

One reason is Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, sits squarely in the Yanks’ antiterror camp. A former military chief who has led this fledgling democracy astutely since north and south Yemen unified in 1991, Saleh has garnered U.S. President George W. Bush’s friendship and at least $100 million in U.S. anti-terrorism aid.

Indeed, their political relationship seems to be a pure love-in. In November a CIA missile obliterated al-Qaeda suspects huddled in a car rolling along the soil of this sovereign nation. Barely a murmur in government halls here.

Shortly after, Washington turned a blind eye to 15 Scud missiles shipped to Yemen from, of all places, North Korea. The kicker came days later when Saleh openly revealed he spent U.S. money, apparently with CIA approval, to buy arms from Russia.

Yemen, among Earth’s poorest countries and very dependent on foreign aid, reportedly spends $540 million US on arms annually. In 2002, Moscow reportedly sold it 15 Mig- 29s and 80 tanks. Those deals, says Saleh, will continue.

Saleh, probably the most outspoken Arab leader against striking Iraq, has also said he isn’t averse to sending Islamic warriors to protect Palestinians in the occupied territories. None of this bothers Washington. The Yanks, after all, are busy dealing with Saddam’s madness.

Yet while evidence linking Iraq to terrorism is flimsy at best, serious terrorist threats simmer in places like Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. This is why, for example, Yemeni-Americans in locales like Buffalo are charged with laundering terrorism money. It’s why Yemenis like Muhammad Ali Hassan al-Mouyad, a prominent cleric usually in Sana’a, is being held in Germany. Yemen wants him back, but the Yanks want him extradited to the United States. They say he’s used a Brooklyn mosque to help funnel millions of terrorism dollars, apparently personally delivering $20 million to Osama bin Laden.

Then there’s Abu Hamza al-Masri. Wanted in Yemen for terrorist activity, this Egyptian-born imam, with one eye and a hooked hand, used to preach in London’s Finsbury Park mosque. He’s called British Prime Minister Tony Blair a fair target for Muslim warriors and wants Muslim youths to fight a holy war against westerners.

There are other frightening examples linking terrorism to Yemen more than Iraq. So does this mean the Yanks should hit Sana’a? Of course not. But some folks here feel that sooner or later, they will.

That’s partly why last Friday’s protests in front of the U.S. Embassy, which saw up to four protesters killed by Yemeni police, were so bloody. Protesters see Afghanistan, then Iraq. They connect the dots to Yemen. That makes them afraid. And angry.

Considering the current political love-in with Washington, a Yank attack here seems far-fetched to me. But look at the wooly things pulled over our eyes already.

After months of diplomatic poker in the UN, Washington now admits it wants to use a new Iraq to reshape the entire Middle East into a kinder place. Some may feel that goal is valiant. Others will say it’s impossible. Either way, isn’t it funny it wasn’t mentioned before?

All we heard of was the need to disarm Saddam. In truth, the plan has always been to kill him or at least put him in exile, so the Yanks can effectively set up shop in this region.

Take that massive agenda, combine it with Yemen’s worst terror crazies, and add Europe’s historical colonial presence in the Middle East. Can you really blame Yemeni masses for fearing they’re next? God help them if radicals ever overthrow Saleh.

Any ideas on what assurances to offer?