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News, 09-14/03/03 (2) THE WHITE MAN'S BURDEN (in the near future) * Looking Beyond Saddam * Iraqis arming for ethnic bloodbath * For Army, Fears of Postwar Strife * Politicians underestimate Iraq force * US Firms Set for Postwar Contract * Iraq's new rulers wait in the wings THE WHITE MAN'S BURDEN (in the past) * Liberating the Mideast: Why Do We Never Learn? * Miss Bell's lines in the sand THE WHITE MAN'S BURDEN (in the present) * Cumbersome chemical suits could kill * Life on hold in Operation Sandstorm THE WHITE MAN'S BURDEN (in the near future) http://www.time.com/time/covers/1101030310/story.html * LOOKING BEYOND SADDAM by Johanna McGeary Time, 2nd March [.....] A big U.S. military presence would be needed in the initial post-Saddam days. Someone would have to dole out the humanitarian assistance that Iraqi civilians would need. Almost 60% of Iraqis depend on their government for food. "Liberators" would not be welcomed if they did not swiftly provide the country's 25 million citizens with rations, water, shelter and medical care. Under the plan, Franks would start delivering supplies in the wake of his advancing troops. Other morning-after missions would include securing Iraq's borders, preventing Iraqis from settling scores among themselves, keeping the country's three main communities—Kurds, Sunnis and Shi'ites—from fighting and finding any weapons of mass destruction Iraq may possess. The Pentagon is already worried about the dynamics of that search. "We have to find and show the world Saddam's weapons," says a senior Defense official—in a way, he adds, that quells suspicions that the U.S. planted the evidence. That's one reason the Pentagon uncharacteristically decided to let 500 reporters from all over the world accompany American forces if they invade. Garner, reporting to Franks, would take charge of all civilian matters. He would coordinate reconstruction and civil administration and quickly, Washington hopes, shift humanitarian assistance from the military to U.N. and nongovernmental agencies. Initially, there was talk of making a civilian top dog to take some of the onus off a military occupation. But a senior White House official tells TIME, "A civilian czar is not what people have in mind." The U.S. feels that one more link in the chain of command would weaken the effectiveness of the operation. Garner and Franks would have total control of the country while the most critical decisions were made about its future. Administration officials tell TIME that the U.S. would place advisers in Iraqi ministries to link Garner's office directly to everyday affairs. Arab diplomats briefed on the plans disparage these advisers as communist-style commissars. But Washington says their role would be to help reform the Iraqi bureaucracy. Some of them might be Iraqi Americans, and all would bring to the job needed technical expertise and familiarity with Western democracy. Administration sources say they hope to give one Arab American a highly visible role: Lieut. General John Abizaid, one of the few in top rank to speak Arabic, was recently promoted to Franks' second deputy. Here's a sample of Garner's likely agenda: The sprawling apparat of agents who carried out Saddam's repressions—maybe 5,000 in the various special security services—would be purged. But Iraq would still need an army to preserve a unitary state and prevent interference from its neighbors. Bush hard-liners have pushed for a complete housecleaning. Cooler heads have warned that if the army were gutted, the U.S. would face thousands of angry, unemployed soldiers and have no competent forces to help police the country. The Pentagon has come up with only a rudimentary plan for rehabilitating the bulk of the army, a strategy full of mushy military jargon. A document, part of which was made available to TIME, calls for a three-phase approach: "Stabilization, transition, transformation." A skeptical U.S. official says, "I defy you to come up with the difference between transition and transformation." Under Saddam's rule, the party underpins the country's monolithic political power structure. Getting rid of Saddam's hidden army of spies, local operatives, snitches and cronies would be difficult and dangerous. Bush officials agree on the need for a cleansing process, but they're still debating how deep down the scouring should go. U.S. intelligence has combed its computer databases to prepare lists of leading Iraqis, divided into three categories. First, the culpable élite: hard-core Saddam loyalists—top military, security, intelligence and political officials, plus family members—who would be captured, tried and punished by some kind of war-crimes tribunal. Second, the repentant: senior officials whose allegiance to Saddam is less certain and who could be rehabilitated through local trials or truth-commission proceedings if they disavowed the dictator during the war. Last, the closet dissidents: key government and economic leaders who privately opposed Saddam and would be needed to run the country after him could receive a general amnesty. Washington has canvassed more than 2,000 names so far but won't say how many fall into each group. Occupiers might need to fend off vigilante reprisals against rank-and-file party members that could ravage the civil service that a new ruler would need. Since so much of the world suspects the U.S. of coveting the country's reserves (the second largest in the world), Washington would be judged by its behavior on this score. It has been widely rumored that British forces would be given the task of holding the oil fields during hostilities to buffer the U.S. from adverse propaganda. But senior U.S. officials tell TIME that such a role for the British has not been settled. Bush vowed in his speech that Iraq's oil resources would be used "for the benefit of the owners: the Iraqi people." Although some Pentagon advisers had hoped oil sales would help pay for the war, others at State counseled that the politics of appropriation would be damning. They suggest that an international panel could oversee oil operations until they could be handed back to Iraq. But Washington would expect Iraq's postwar oil revenue to help finance reconstruction, easing the burden on U.S. taxpayers. The toughest challenge would be how and when to cede political control back to the Iraqis. There are no good blueprints for transforming an authoritarian regime into a democratic one. But Iraq has special disadvantages. Many experts on Iraq, both in the Arab world and the West, fear that the U.S. is glossing over the realities of imposing democracy on a country that is deeply tribal, vengeful and embittered. The vacuum left by a collapse of Saddam's iron-fisted order could ignite power struggles and vendetta killings that could trigger long term civil strife or even the breakup of the country. There's no democrat in waiting to step in if the dictator departs. Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds would jostle for their share of power. Iraqi exiles would vie for supremacy with those inside the country who resent and mistrust them. Iraq has no tradition like Afghanistan's loya jirga that could give quick shape to home rule. That's why Administration hard-liners pushed to let the Iraqi National Congress, the controversial exile group encompassing the main opposition factions, organize a provisional government in advance. The White House finally decided against it, leaving exiles feeling betrayed. In the near term, officials tell TIME, Garner would move fast to name an advisory council of Iraqis, balanced roughly fifty-fifty between exile figures and leaders who would emerge from within. It would serve a largely symbolic role, and once political parties and new leaders emerged, local and national elections could take place. Washington, Bush said, wouldn't dictate the precise form of Iraq's new government; that's up to Iraqis, as long as it's not another dictatorship. While the Pentagon hopes the rudiments could be done in six months, most experts say it would take a minimum of two years. Fine concepts, but would they work in practice? Gary Samore, a National Security Council staff member in the Clinton Administration, says he cannot imagine Iraqis tolerating an American governor for more than a couple of months. Others say the real danger is not that the U.S. would stay too long but that it wouldn't stay long enough. Democracy, says Amin Huweidi, a former Egyptian ambassador to Iraq, can't be imposed on Iraq "with the push of a button. It's a building-up process that takes a long time." Many Europeans agree and see in Afghanistan the unsatisfying results of Washington's last invasion: a country still far from stable, democratic or even peaceful, now threatened with being forgotten after its own "liberation." In fact, Bush's 2003 budget did not even ask Congress for the money the U.S. pledged this year for Afghanistan's reconstruction. Success in Iraq, the president asserted, could change the entire region's landscape in two ways—by inspiring sclerotic kingdoms and repressive regimes to embrace democracy and by helping "set in motion" peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Bush has embraced neoconservative theology here: the U.S. is invading a dysfunctional part of the world to fix it, and the shock of war will finally jolt the Arab world into better health. It's an audacious idea but not a working plan. Neither Bush nor any Administration official has detailed how the wave of democratization would occur. Across the region, Arabs simply don't buy it. They don't trust Bush, and they're deeply skeptical of American attempts to impose democracy by force. Even if things could change for the better, says Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, "one would have to be truly naive to believe that the current U.S. Administration will invest serious efforts in promoting good governance in the region." Among Arabs, the vision of a postwar Middle East is filled with dread. Many are convinced that a war would breed regional instability and spark a fresh burst of anti-American rage. Terrorist ranks would find fresh recruits to spread violence across the region. Fundamentalist forces could provoke crackdowns that stifle any political opening. Or if regimes allowed a tenuous democracy, well-organized fundamentalists could come to power. "The consequences of war," Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal tells TIME, "are going to be tragic." [.....] Reported by Massimo Calabresi, Michael Duffy and Mark Thompson/Washington; Helen Gibson/London; and Scott MacLeod and Amany Radwan/Cairo http://www.gulf-news.com/Articles/news.asp?ArticleID=80100 * IRAQIS ARMING FOR ETHNIC BLOODBATH by Philip Sherwell Gulf News, from Daily Telegraph, 10th March The trade in black-market weapons is flourishing in Baghdad as Iraqis prepare for a bloody aftermath if Saddam Hussain is overthrown. Even middle-class Baghdadis who have not previously kept weapons in their homes told The Sunday Telegraph they now have bought Kalashnikovs to protect their families in the days after the fall of Saddam. They believe Iraq will be riven by ethnic bloodletting, mob violence and mass looting. Foreign diplomats, aid workers and Iraqi civilians all said that the illicit arms trade has reached new peaks in the last few weeks. The lucrative trade is focused on Saddam City, a district in eastern Baghdad. The volume of weapons has soared in recent months. Some have been smuggled in; most have been sold by tribal chiefs who were given the guns so they could fight the Americans. Saddam City could be critical to Saddam's plan to drag American forces into bloody street fighting in Baghdad. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A7867-2003Mar10.html * FOR ARMY, FEARS OF POSTWAR STRIFE by Vernon Loeb and Thomas E. Ricks Washington Post, 11th March The U.S. Army is bracing both for war in Iraq and a postwar occupation that could tie up two to three Army divisions in an open-ended mission that would strain the all-volunteer force and put soldiers in the midst of warring ethnic and religious factions, Army officers and other senior defense officials say. While the officers believe a decade of peacekeeping operations in Haiti, Somalia, the Balkans and now Afghanistan makes the Army uniquely qualified for the job, they fear that bringing democracy and stability to Iraq may be an impossible task. An occupation force of 45,000 to 60,000 Army troops -- the range under consideration by the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- could force an end to peace-time training and rotation cycles in a service already deployed in Germany, Korea, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo and the Sinai. Army officials note that they missed reserve recruiting goals in January and February, as potential reservists faced lengthy overseas deployments instead of the regular commitment of 39 days a year. There is even talk among senior officers that the Marine Corps may be assigned peacekeeping chores in northern Iraq to help share the burden. But the greatest source of concern among senior Army leaders is the uncertainty and complexity of the mission in postwar Iraq, which could require U.S. forces to protect Iraq's borders, referee clashes between ethnic and religious groups, ensure civilian security, provide humanitarian relief, secure possible chemical and biological weapons sites, and govern hundreds of towns and villages. Should U.S. forces succeed in overthrowing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, they will inherit a country divided among armed and organized Kurdish factions in the north, restless majority Shiites in the south and a Sunni population that has been the backbone of Hussein's Baath Party rule. Adding to the complexity will be the interests of at least two bordering powers -- Turkey, which has its own Kurdish minority and opposes any move toward greater Kurdish autonomy, and Iran, which has historic ties to Iraqi Shiites. "There's going to be a power vacuum," said one senior defense official sympathetic to the Army. "How will that be filled? I'm not an expert in the region, but if you use the Balkans as a model, we may be getting into the middle of a civil war." "The Army is wary of being the one left to clean up after the party is over," added retired Lt. Col. Andrew Krepinevich, director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think tank. Retired Army Maj. Gen. William L. Nash commanded the first Army peacekeeping operation in the Balkans in 1995. He also occupied the area around the Iraqi town of Safwan on the Kuwaiti border with three battalions for 21/2 months after the 1991 Gulf War. During that mission, his troops dealt with recurring murders, attempted murders, "ample opportunity for civil disorder," and refugee flows they never could fully fathom, he said. Nash said he believes 200,000 U.S. and allied forces will be necessary to stabilize Iraq, noting that up to two divisions alone -- 25,000 to 50,000 troops -- could be required just to guard any chemical or biological weapons sites that are discovered until the weapons are disposed of properly. "There's apprehension inside the Army as to the extent of the mission and a concern that there hasn't been the recognition by the senior leadership -- I read civilian -- as to the enormity of the challenge," Nash said. The Army's concern bubbled up publicly two weeks ago when Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army's chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that "several hundred thousand soldiers" could be necessary for peacekeeping duties. Two days later, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz -- one of the architects of the president's postwar ambitions in Iraq -- took the unusual step of publicly differing with the Army chief, dismissing his estimate as "way off the mark." Shinseki and other defense officials have said they hope allied forces will contribute significantly to the postwar mission, though it is unclear how much other countries will be willing to pitch in. The Bush administration has experienced difficulties recruiting other countries to send forces to the Afghan peacekeeping mission. Ivo H. Daalder, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said recent history shows that 60,000 peacekeepers were needed in Bosnia to separate warring ethnic factions, just one facet of the mission that could confront the Army in postwar Iraq. And Bosnia's population is 4 million, 17 percent of Iraq's 23 million. "I have no doubt that the Army is perfectly capable of doing an extraordinarily good job on this," Daalder said. "This is something we know how to do, as long as the administration is willing to learn from what we did in the 1990s, and that's a big if." Daalder, a former Clinton administration official, has argued that the reconstruction of Afghanistan would be much further along had the Bush administration contributed U.S. forces to an international peacekeeping force that is now confined to the Kabul area. Senior Bush officials, including the president, came into office disdainful of what they said was an over-commitment of American forces by President Bill Clinton to needless nation-building operations around the world. "If Afghanistan is the model for Iraq, we're in deep, deep trouble," Daalder said. "The administration has done the minimum necessary there to avoid disaster, and I think what Iraq requires is the maximum necessary to ensure success. It's a different standard. If they do the minimum necessary to avoid disaster, there's going to be a problem." Underscoring the concerns, retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, head of the Pentagon's office for postwar planning, cancelled his scheduled testimony today before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R.-Ind.), the committee chairman, said the Pentagon declined to send a deputy in Garner's place, and called the cancellation "a missed opportunity for the administration." Postwar Iraq promises to be highly volatile. In the north, two well-armed and well-organized Kurdish factions have enjoyed semi-autonomy under the protection of U.S. and British jets patrolling the northern "no-fly" zone. Longtime rivals, they have achieved an uneasy truce in anticipation of a U.S. invasion to unseat Hussein. They have been warned by the administration not to push for a Kurdish state. In turn, the Kurds have warned Turkey not to send troops into northern Iraq once the fighting starts to establish a buffer zone to control Kurdish refugees. In the south, around Basra, Shiites -- who represent a majority of Iraq's population -- have bitterly opposed Hussein's leadership since 1991, when the Iraqi president crushed Shiite uprisings after the Gulf War. Many Shiites, led by the Iranian-backed Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, still hold the United States responsible for facilitating the slaughter by allowing Hussein's military to fly attack helicopters against them. Hundreds of Shiite militiamen, backed by the Supreme Council and the Iranian government, have recently moved across the border and set up an armed camp in northern Iraq, from which they plan on fighting the Iraqi military once a U.S.-led invasion begins. The heart of the country, greater Baghdad, a sprawling metropolis of 6 million mostly Sunni and Shiite Muslims, is also likely to be torn apart by strife and intrigue, with revenge killings of officials from Hussein's Baath Party likely after its brutal reign. Kenneth M. Pollack, a former CIA analyst who argues in favor of invading Iraq, said he believes most Iraqis would see U.S. troops as liberators, at least initially. But he said he is worried about the fall of Hussein creating a destabilizing power vacuum. "What I am nervous about, if the U.S. goes to war in the next week or so, is that we won't have enough troops to provide the kind of immediate security presence to ensure that there isn't going to be a power vacuum," he said. The Army and the Marine Corps have extensive experience conducting stability operations in Iraq, having staged a humanitarian mission involving 20,000 troops called Operation Provide Comfort for 31/2 months after the Gulf War ended. Designed to protect Kurds, it was far more forceful than is connoted by the phrase "relief operation," said Army Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, who commanded an infantry battalion during the mission. While U.S. forces began by confronting the Iraqi military, they ended up squaring off with Kurdish militia, a cautionary tale for U.S. peacekeepers entering the north. "It was really a wild time, a very bloody time," said an officer who served in Provide Comfort, noting that the operation involved multi-front fighting in which Kurds attacked Iraqi security forces, and also attacked each other, while the Turkish military attacked one Kurdish faction, the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK. Provide Comfort could provide a glimpse of what postwar Iraq might look like, particularly in the north -- and what type of military response may be necessary. Indeed, one senior U.S. commander of the 1991 operation predicted that northern Iraq could turn ugly quickly once again. "If you put Turkish troops on the ground, they will get in a fight with the Kurds," he said. "The Kurds have had their own world down there, and they want to keep it, and the Turkish tendency is to solve their own problems with force." Interestingly, several commanders from Provide Comfort are key figures in the current confrontation with Iraq and have made clear that lessons learned 12 years ago have not been forgotten. One of them is Garner, the Pentagon's coordinator for relief and reconstruction efforts in postwar Iraq. Another, Marine Gen. James Jones, who commanded Marines during the operation and was accosted at one point by Iraqi forces, is Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's combatant commander in Europe. A third is Abizaid, an American of Lebanese descent who speaks fluent Arabic. He is deputy commander of the U.S. Central Command, which has responsibility for executing an invasion of Iraq, and defense officials speculate that he may be designated the U.S. military commander for postwar Iraq. http://www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/news/nation/5361364.htm * POLITICIANS UNDERESTIMATE IRAQ FORCE by Joseph L. Galloway The State, 10th March [.....] The last week of February, the Army chief of staff, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, was summoned to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., repeatedly pressed him to estimate the size of an occupation force after victory in Iraq. Shinseki was reluctant to give a number, knowing that if he laid down a marker it would be engraved in stone. If he said that 75,000 American soldiers would be enough, then Gen. Tommy Franks, the U.S. Central Command boss, and Lt. Gen. David McKiernan, the land force commander, would be stuck with that number. Pushed to the wall, Shinseki said his best estimate was "something on the order of several hundred thousand soldiers." He added: "We're talking about a post-hostilities control over a piece of geography that's fairly significant, with the kinds of ethnic tensions that could lead to other problems." Two days later, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, appearing before the House Budget Committee, bluntly rejected Shinseki's estimates as "wildly off the mark" and added that it was "not a good time to publish highly suspect numbers." He went on to suggest that other models weren't valid because Iraq did not feature the same kind of ethnic tensions as, say, Afghanistan. Say what? This ancient land almost invented the concept of revenge and payback, and virtually every family and clan in Iraq has been brutally whipped and beaten into submission by Saddam Hussein's Baathist Party thugs. Then there is the fact that the minority Sunni Muslims have ruled and terrorized the Shiite majority and for generations repressed the Kurds, Turkomen and others. Iraq is not a big Switzerland, it is a big Lebanon. It's a relief to know that there won't be any ethnic or tribal or religious tensions when the sun rises over liberated Iraq. A force the size of, say, the Texas Highway Patrol should be sufficient to keep the peace in a country the size of California, feed and house its refugees and rebuild what's been destroyed in the coming war, the last war, and the war before that one. Secretary Rumsfeld said that in his opinion, General Shinseki "misspoke." Shinseki tried to do the Army commanders responsible for what comes next - and Rumsfeld and his political lieutenants - a favor by leaving them room to deal with a much tougher reality, should that materialize. But in the Pentagon today, no good deed goes unpunished. Secretary Rumsfeld said in his opinion the general had "misspoke." Among the many jobs Shinseki has held in a career that spans 38 years since he graduated from West Point in 1965 is commander of the NATO Stabilization Force in Bosnia Herzegovina in 1997. He knows whereof he speaks. Let's take a look at how many soldiers it takes or has taken to keep the peace in some of the world's leading trouble spots. The British Army in 1995 kept 19,000 troops in Northern Ireland to control a population of 1.6 million. That's one soldier for every 84 residents. If a similar ratio were applied to Iraq, the United States and its allies would need an occupation force of 285,000 troops. In 1995, we had an international force of 60,000 to control the 4 million inhabitants of unhappy Bosnia. At that ratio, we would need 360,000 soldiers to occupy and control Iraq. In Kosovo, 50,000 soldiers now keep the peace among 2 million. Apply that formula to Iraq and you need an occupation force of 600,000. What Shinseki was, in essence, saying was that unless a sizeable force of allies join us in Iraq, the peacekeeping effort there could employ virtually the entire deployable Army and Marine Corps. Which, given the state of the world in which we live and the vagaries of North Korea's dear leader Kim Jong Il, not to mention Iraq's neighbors in Iran, is a truly scary scenario. Joseph L. Galloway is a war correspondent for Knight Ridder Newspapers. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org NO URL (sent to list) * US FIRMS SET FOR POSTWAR CONTRACTS by Danny Penman and agencies The Guardian, 11th March The American government is on the verge of awarding construction contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild Iraq once Saddam Hussein is deposed. Halliburton, one of the companies in the running for the deals, was headed by the US vice president Dick Cheney between 1995 and 2000. Halliburton has already been awarded a lucrative contract, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, to resurrect the Iraqi oilfields if there is a war. Other companies have strong ties to the US administration, including the construction giant Bechtel, the Fluor Corporation, and the Louis Berger Group, which is presently involved in the reconstruction of Afghanistan. Both Bechtel and the Fluor Corporation undertake construction and project management work for the US government. Only US companies are on the shortlist of five. The US agency for international development (USAID) defended the narrow shortlist. A spokeswoman said: "Because of the urgent circumstances and the unique nature of this work, USAID will undertake a limited selection process that expedites the review and selection of contractors for these projects." The spokeswoman said that it was a policy of USAID to use US companies for projects funded by the American taxpayer. Non-US companies were free, through their governments, to organise their own business, she said. The winning company would get about $900m (£563m) to repair Iraqi health services, ports, airports, schools and other educational institutions. Sources at the companies said the invitation was unusual in that USAID did not ask them to set a price for defined services but rather asked them to say what they could do for $900m. However, the winning company could expect to make a profit of about $80m from the deal. All five bidders have submitted their proposals or are preparing to do so after USAID "quietly" sent out a detailed request soliciting proposals from the likely bidders. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Iraq reconstruction plan will require contractors to fulfill various tasks, including reopening at least half of the "economically important roads and bridges" - about 1,500 miles of roadway - within 18 months. The contractors will also be asked to repair 15% of Iraq's high-voltage electricity grid, renovate several thousand schools and deliver 550 emergency generators within two months. Construction industry executives said the handful of firms are competing fiercely in part because they believe it could provide an inside track to postwar business opportunities. The most highly sought-after prizes are oil industry contracts. The US government is believed to be wary of any backlash against an invasion and is preparing plans for a "hearts and minds" operation that will swing into place as soon as the country is occupied. The government is mindful of the longterm benefits of feeding hungry Iraqis, delivering clean water, and paying teachers and health workers. "It's a sensitive topic because we still haven't gone to war," one industry executive told the Wall Street Journal. "But these companies are really in a position to win something out of this geopolitical situation." It remains unclear whether Iraqis, Americans or an international consortium will manage the oil industry during an early post-conflict period. Steven Schooner, a George Washington University law professor, said many billions of dollars are at stake. He estimated that $900m would barely last six months given the scope of the projects the administration has sketched out. "The most sophisticated firms that come in first, and establish good will with the locals obviously will reap huge benefits down the road," said Mr Schooner. "These are going to become brand names in Iraq. That's huge." http://www.dailystar.com.lb/opinion/12_03_03_c.htm * IRAQ'S NEW RULERS WAIT IN THE WINGS by Michael Young Lebanon Daily Star, 13th March As the Bush administration prepares for a new Gulf war, the administrators of post-war Iraq are patiently waiting in the wings. According to Arab press reports this weekend, the American occupation authorities intend to divide Iraq into three zones - a northern district that includes Kurdistan, a central one that includes Baghdad, and a predominantly Shiite southern district. Each zone will be run by an administrator reporting to retired army general Jay Garner. He heads the Pentagon's Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, the occupation's civil authority. The person slated to handle the central district is former US ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine, the Bush administration's response to Gertrude Bell, who helped govern Iraq for Britain after the First World War. Bodine's resume suggests she is an old style State Department regionalist. Though she received a degree in political science and Asian studies, she later shifted her attention to the Arabian Peninsula, twice serving in the Office of Arabian Peninsula Affairs at the Bureau of Near East Affairs. Bodine was stationed in Baghdad as Deputy Principal Officer, and in 1990 she was deputy chief of mission in Kuwait when the Iraqis invaded. For once the State Department put an ambassador in the right place when she was dispatched to Yemen, a natural link between Asia and the Arab world. Bodine was in Yemen during the USS Cole bombing. A dispute with the FBI, which was investigating the attack, hinted at the kind of person she is. Bodine barred an FBI special agent from returning to Yemen because she was angry at the bureau's heavy-handed presence in the country and its desire to arm agents with rifles and heavy weapons. Press reports suggested that she wanted to assuage Yemeni cultural sensibilities, even though she has defended American intervention through counter-terrorism operations. If Bodine's prospective appointment is designed to reassure the Iraqis of the benign nature of a US occupation, her boss, Jay Garner, will prove a harder sell. Garner famously signed onto an Oct. 12, 2000 statement by the archconservative Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, which praised the Israeli Army for having "exercised remarkable restraint in the face of lethal violence orchestrated by the leadership of a Palestinian Authority that deliberately pushes civilians and young people to the front lines." The statement noted: "We do not claim to be experts in the political affairs of Israel and its neighbors. However, in those travels (to Israel) we brought with us our decades of military experience and came away with the unswerving belief that the security of the State of Israel is a matter of great importance to US policy in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean, as well as around the world. A strong Israel is an asset that American military planners and political leaders can rely on." One passage was revealing: "What makes the US-Israel security relationship one of mutual benefit is the combination of military capabilities and shared political values - freedom, democracy, personal liberty and the rule of law." That Garner himself benefited from the security relationship is well known: As president of California-based defense contractor SY Technology, he oversaw the company's work on the US-Israeli Arrow defense system. David Lazarus recently reported in the San Francisco Chronicle that Garner's former company is also working on missile systems the US will use against Iraq. Not only does this appear to be a conflict of interest, it also happens to be peculiar politics. As Ben Hermalin, a professor at UC Berkeley who studies professional ethics, told Lazarus: "You have to wonder what the Iraqis will think of this guy and how much trust they'll place in him." To focus solely on Garner's ties with Israel and US defense contractors might be unfair. The general was also involved in Operation Provide Comfort, the humanitarian effort to help the Kurds after their debacle in 1991, when Iraqi forces swept through Kurdistan. However, it is also clear Garner was chosen because of his friendship with US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. It is premature to draw too many conclusions from Garner's and Bodine's appointments. Nor is it yet clear what will happen in the northern and southern occupation districts, which are to be administered by two other retired generals - perhaps a sign of US uneasiness with Kurdish and Shiite intentions. However, one cannot help but presume that Bodine will be a comforting but powerless civilian facade for an operation run mainly by the military. That's because authority will probably be concentrated less in Garner's civil administration than in the US military command under General Tommy Franks. However, Franks should feel at ease with three former generals working alongside him. The question, however, is whether the Iraqis will? THE WHITE MAN'S BURDEN (in the past) http://palestinechronicle.com/article.php?story=20030310081003283 * LIBERATING THE MIDEAST: WHY DO WE NEVER LEARN? by Robert Fisk Palestine Chronicle, from The Independent, 10th March On March 8, 1917, Lt. Gen. Stanley Maude issued a "Proclamation to the People of the Wilayat of Baghdad". Maude's Anglo-Indian Army of the Tigres had invaded and occupied Iraq ‹ after storming up the country from Basra ‹ to "free" its people from their dictators. "Our armies do not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators," the British announced. "People of Baghdad, remember for 26 generations you have suffered under strange tyrants who have ever endeavoured to set one Arab house against another in order that they might profit by your dissensions. "This policy is abhorrent to Great Britain and her Allies for there can be neither peace nor prosperity where there is enmity or misgovernment." Gen. Maude, of course, was the Gen. Tommy Franks of his day, and his proclamation ‹ so rich in irony now that President George Bush is uttering equally mendacious sentiments ‹ was intended to persuade Iraqis that they should accept foreign occupation while Britain secured the country's oil. Gen. Maude's chief political officer, Sir Percy Cox, called on Iraq's Arab leaders, who were not identified, to participate in the government in collaboration with the British authorities and spoke of liberation, freedom, past glories, future greatness and ‹ here the ironies come in spades ‹ it expressed the hope that the people of Iraq would find unity. The British commander cabled to London that "local conditions do not permit of employing in responsible positions any but British officers competent... to deal with people of the country. Before any truly Arab facade (sic) can be applied to edifice, it seems essential that foundation of law and order should be well and truly laid." As David Fromkin noted in his magisterial A Peace to End all Peace ‹ essential reading for America's future army of occupation ‹ the antipathy of the Sunni minority and the Shiite majority of Iraq, the rivalries of tribes and clans "made it difficult to achieve a single unified government that was at the same time representative, effective and widely supported". Whitehall failed, as Fromkin caustically notes, "to think through in practical detail how to fulfill the promises gratuitously made to a section of the local inhabitants". There was even a problem with the Kurds, since the British could not make up their mind as to whether they should be absorbed into the new state of Iraq or allowed to form an independent Kurdistan. The French were originally to have been awarded Mosul in northern Iraq but gave up their claim in return for ‹ again, ironies ‹ a major share in the new Turkish Petroleum Company, confiscated by the British and recreated as the Iraq Petroleum Company. How many times has the West marched into the Middle East in so brazen a fashion? Gen. Sir Edward Allenby "liberated" Palestine only a few months after Gen. Maude "liberated" Iraq. The French turned up to "liberate" Lebanon and Syria a couple of years later, slaughtering the Syrian forces loyal to King Faisal who dared to suggest that French occupation was not the future they wanted. What is it, I sometimes wonder, about our constant failure to learn the lessons of history, to repeat ‹ almost word for word in the case of Gen. Maude's proclamation ‹ the same gratuitous promises and lies? A copy of Gen. Maude's original proclamation went under the hammer at a British auction at Swindon last week, but I'll wager more than the 1,400 pounds sterling it made that America's forthcoming proclamation to the "liberated" people of Iraq reads almost exactly the same. Take a look at Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations ‹ on which Bush claims to be such an expert ‹ that allowed the British and French to divide those territories they had just "liberated" from Ottoman dictators. "To those colonies and territories which as a consequence of the late war have ceased to be under the sovereignty of the states which formerly governed them, and which are inhabited by peoples not yet able to stand by themselves... there should be applied the principle that the well-being and development of such peoples form a sacred trust of civilization... the best method is that the tutelage of such peoples should be entrusted to advanced nations who, by reason of their resources, their experience or their geographical position, can best undertake this responsibility..." What is it about "liberation" in the Middle East? What is this sacred trust ‹ a ghost of the same "trusteeship" the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, now promotes for Iraq's oil ‹ that the West constantly wishes to visit upon the Middle East? Why do we so frequently want to govern these peoples, these "tribes with flags" as Sir Steven Runciman, that great historian of the 11th- and 12th-century Crusades, once called them? Indeed, Pope Urban's call for the first Crusade in 1095, reported at the time by at least three chroniclers, would find a resonance even among the Christian fundamentalists who, along with Israel's supporters, are now so keen for the United States to invade Iraq. Urban told his listeners the Turks were maltreating the inhabitants of Christian lands ‹ an echo here of the human rights abuses which supposedly upset Bush ‹ and described the suffering of pilgrims, urging the Christian West's formerly fratricidal antagonists to fight a "righteous" war. His conflict, of course, was intended to "liberate" Christians rather than Muslims who, along with the Jews, the Crusaders slaughtered as soon as they arrived in the Middle East. This notion of "liberation" in the Middle East has almost always been accompanied by another theme: The necessity of overthrowing tyrants. The Crusaders were as meticulous about their invasions as the US Central Command at Tampa, Florida, is today. Marino Sanudo, born in Venice around 1260, describes how the Western armies chose to put their forces ashore in Egypt with a first disembarkation of 15,000 infantrymen along with 300 cavalry (the latter being the Crusader version of an armoured unit). In Beirut, I even have copies of the West's 13th-century invasion maps. Napoleon produced a few of his own in 1798 when he invaded Egypt after 20 years of allegedly irresponsible and tyrannical rule by Murad Bey and Ibrahim Bey. Claude Etienne Savary, the French equivalent of all those Washington pundits who groan today over the suffering of the Iraqi people under President Saddam, wrote in 1775 that in Cairo under Murad Bey "death may prove the consequence of the slightest indiscretion". Under the Beys, the city "groans under their yoke". Which is pretty much how we now picture Baghdad and Basra under President Saddam. In fact, President Saddam's promises to destroy America's invasion force have a remarkable echo in the exclamation of one of the 18th-century Mameluke princes in Egypt, who, told of a looming French invasion, responded with eerily familiar words: "Let the Franks come. We shall crush them beneath our horses' hooves." Napoleon, of course, did all the crushing, and his first proclamation (he, too, was coming to "liberate" the people of Egypt from their oppressors) included an appeal to Egyptian notables to help him run the government. "O shayks, 'qadis', imams, and officers of the town, tell your nation that the French are friends of true Muslims... Blessed are those Egyptians who agree with us." Napoleon went on to set up an "administrative council" in Egypt, very like the one which the Bush administration says it intends to operate under US occupation. And in due course the "shayks" and "qadis" and imams rose up against French occupation in Cairo in 1798. If Napoleon entered upon his rule in Egypt as a French revolutionary, Gen. Allenby, when he entered Jerusalem in December 1917, had provided David Lloyd George with the city he wanted as a Christmas present. Its liberation, the British prime minister later noted with almost Crusader zeal, meant that Christendom had been able "to regain possession of its sacred shrines". He talked about "the calling of the Turkish bluff" as "the beginning of the crack-up of that military impostorship which the incompetence of our war direction had permitted to intimidate us for years", shades, here, of the American regret that it never took the 1991 Gulf War to Baghdad; Lloyd George was "finishing the job" of overcoming Ottoman power just as George Bush Junior now intends to "finish the job" started by his father. And always, without exception, there were those tyrants and dictators to overthrow in the Middle East. In World War II, we "liberated" Iraq a second time from its pro-Nazi administration. The British "liberated" Lebanon from Vichy rule with a promise of independence from France, a promise which Charles de Gaulle tried to renege on until the British almost went to war with the Free French in Syria. Lebanon has suffered an awful lot of "liberations". The Israelis ‹ for Arabs, an American, "Western" implantation in the Middle East ‹ claimed twice to be anxious to "liberate" Lebanon from PLO "terrorism" by invading in 1978 and 1982, and leaving in humiliation only two years ago. America's own military intervention in Beirut in 1982 was blown apart by a truck-bomb at the US Marine headquarters the following year. And what did President Ronald Reagan tell the world? "Lebanon is central to our credibility on a global scale. We cannot pick and choose where we will support freedom... If Lebanon ends up under the tyranny of forces hostile to the West, not only will our strategic position in the eastern Mediterranean be threatened, but also the stability of the entire Middle East, including the vast resources of the Arabian Peninsula." Once more, we, the West, were going to protect the Middle East from tyranny. Anthony Eden took the same view of Egypt, anxious to topple the "dictator" Gamal Abdul Nasser, just as Napoleon had been desperate to rescue the Egyptians from the tyranny of the Beys, just as Gen. Maude wanted to rescue Iraq from the tyranny of the Turks, just as George Bush Junior now wants to rescue the Iraqis from the tyranny of President Saddam. And always, Western invasions were accompanied by declarations that the Americans or the French or just the West in general had nothing against the Arabs, only against the beast-figure who was chosen as the target of our military action. So what happened to all these fine words? The Crusades were a catastrophe for Christian Muslim relations. Napoleon left Egypt in humiliation. Britain dropped gas on the recalcitrant Kurds of Iraq before discovering Iraq was ungovernable. Arabs, then Jews, drove the British from Palestine and Jerusalem. The French fought years of insurrection in Syria. In Lebanon, the Americans scuttled away in 1984, along with the French. And in Iraq in the coming months? What will be the price of our folly this time, of our failure to learn the lessons of history? Only after the United States has completed its occupation we shall find out. It is when the Iraqis demand an end to that occupation, when popular resistance to the American presence by the Shiites and the Kurds and even the Sunnis begins to destroy the military "success" which President Bush will no doubt proclaim when the first US troops enter Baghdad. It is then our real "story" as journalists will begin. It is then that all the empty words of colonial history, the need to topple tyrants and dictators, to assuage the suffering of the people of the Middle East, to claim that we and we only are the best friends of the Arabs, that we and we only must help them, will unravel. Here I will make a guess: In the months and years that follow the invasion of Iraq, the US, in its arrogant assumption that it can create "democracy" in the ashes of a Middle East dictatorship as well as take its oil, will suffer the same as the British in Palestine. Of this tragedy, Winston Churchill wrote, and his words are likely to apply to the US in Iraq: "At first, the steps were wide and shallow, covered with a carpet, but in the end the very stones crumbled under their feet." http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,3604,912266,00.html * MISS BELL'S LINES IN THE SAND by James Buchan The Guardian, 12th March [.....] The historical waters have closed over TE Lawrence. Even back in the 70s, I could find nobody with any recollection of him at the scenes of his exploits in western Arabia. But "Miss Bell" is still a name in Baghdad. Even in conversations with the vicious and cornered cadres of Saddam Hussein's regime, her name will come up to evoke, for a moment, an innocent Baghdad of picnics in the palm gardens and bathing parties in the Tigris. Yet Bell and her superior as British high commissioner, Sir Percy Cox, laid down policies of state in Iraq that were taken up by Saddam's Arab Ba'ath socialist party. Those policies were to retain, if necessary by violence, the Kurdish mountains as a buffer against Turkey and Russia; to promote Sunni Muslims and other minorities over the Shia majority; to repress the Shia clergy in Najaf, Kerbela and Kazimain, or expel them to Iran; to buy off the big landowners and tribal elders; to stage disreputable plebiscites; and to deploy air power as a form of political control. "Iraq can only be ruled by force," a senior Ba'ath official told me in 1999. "Mesopotamia is not a civilised state," Bell wrote to her father on December 18 1920. The Ba'ath is facing extinction. Any US civil and military administration in its place will have the precedent of Bell's 1920 white paper (typically, the first ever written by a woman), Review of the Civil Administration of Mesopotamia. Sixteen volumes of diaries and about 1,600 letters to her parents, transcribed and posted on the web by the University of Newcastle library (www.gerty.ncl.ac.uk) are a must-read at the Pentagon, less for their portrait of an oriental culture in its last phase as for their perilous mingling of political insight and blind elation. Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell was born on July 14 1868 in Washington, Co Durham. Her family were ironmasters on a grand scale, with progressive attitudes. In 1886, Bell went up to Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, where she was the first woman to win a first-class degree in modern history. Unwanted in the marriage market - too "Oxfordy" a manner, it was said - she taught herself Persian and travelled to Iran in 1892, where her uncle was British ambassador. She wrote her first travel book, Persian Pictures, and translated the libertine Persian poet Hafez into Yellow Book verse. She also fell in love with an impecunious British diplomat, who was rejected by her father. Though she was to form passionate attachments all her life, she kept them under rigid formal restraint. The next decade she killed in two round-the-world journeys and in the Alps, where she gained renown for surviving 53 hours on a rope on the unclimbed north-east face of the Finsteraarhorn, when her expedition was caught in a blizzard in the summer of 1902. She had begun to learn Arabic in Jerusalem in 1897, wrote about Syria, and taught herself archaeology. She immersed herself in tribal politics and in 1914 made a dangerous journey to Hail, a town in northern Arabia that was the headquarters of a bitter enemy of Britain's new ally, the founder of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud. With the outbreak of war that summer, and the entry of the Ottoman empire on the side of Germany that November, Bell was swept up with TE Lawrence and other archaeologist spies into an intelligence operation in Cairo, known as the Arab Bureau. In Iraq, an expeditionary force from India had surrendered to the Turks at Kut al-Amara on the lower Tigris in 1916. Bell travelled to Basra, where a new army was assembling. When Baghdad fell to the reinforcements in 1917, she moved up to the capital and was eventually appointed Cox's oriental secretary, responsible for relations with the Arab population. British policy in the Middle East was in utter confusion. While the government of India wanted a new imperial possession at the head of the Persian Gulf, London had made extravagant promises of freedom to persuade the Arabs to rise up against the Turks. The compromise, which was bitterly resented in Iraq, was the so-called League of Nations Mandate, granted to Britain in 1920. Senior Indian officials, such as the formidable AT Wilson, argued that the religious and tribal divisions in Iraq would for ever undermine an Iraqi state. Bell believed passionately in Arab independence and persuaded London that Iraq had enough able men at least to provide an administrative facade. But she had two blind spots. She always overestimated the popularity of Cox and herself, and she underestimated the force of religion in Iraqi affairs and the Shia clergy "sitting in an atmosphere which reeks of antiquity and is so thick with the dust of ages that you can't see through it - nor can they". On June 27 1920, she was writing: "In this flux, there is no doubt they are turning to us." In fact, the Shia tribes of the entire middle Euphrates rose in revolt the next month, and hundreds of British soldiers and as many as 8,000 Iraqis were killed before it could be suppressed. The next spring, Winston Churchill called a conference in Cairo, where Bell - the only woman among the delegates - had her way. The Hashemite Prince Faisal, a protege of TE Lawrence who had been ousted by the French in Syria, was acclaimed King of Iraq in a referendum that would not have shamed the Ba'ath. The "yes" vote was 96%. In place of the mandate, an Anglo-Iraqi treaty was railroaded through the Iraqi parliament. Bell was carried away. "I'll never engage in creating kings again; it's too great a strain," she wrote with uncharacteristic vanity. She fell prey to Iraqi flattery and was given the nickname Khatun, which means fine lady or gentlewoman. "As we rode back through the gardens of the Karradah suburb," she told her father on September 11 1921, "where all the people know me and salute me as I pass, Nuri [Said] said, 'One of the reasons you stand out so is because you're a woman. There's only one Khatun... For a hundred years they'll talk of the Khatun riding by.' I think they very likely will." Yet she could also attend a display of the force being deployed by the RAF on the Kurds around Sulaimaniya: "It was even more remarkable than the one we saw last year at the Air Force show because it was much more real. They had made an imaginary village about a quarter of a mile from where we sat on the Diala dyke and the two first bombs dropped from 3,000ft, went straight into the middle of it and set it alight. It was wonderful and horrible. Then they dropped bombs all round it, as if to catch the fugitives and finally fire bombs which even in the brightest sunlight made flares of bright flame in the desert. They burn through metal and water won't extinguish them. At the end the armoured cars went out to round up the fugitives with machine guns." Bell was never liked, either in London or New Delhi, and when Cox left Baghdad in 1923, she lost her bureaucratic protector. She devoted more of her time to her old love, archaeology, and established the Baghdad Archaeological Museum which, remarkably, has survived. Her letters home were more and more dominated by illness and depression. On Monday July 12 1926, quite suddenly, Gertrude Bell died. The official story was that years of gruelling work in the 49C (120F) heat of the Baghdad summer had proved too much for "her slender stock of physical energy". In fact, she took an overdose of sleeping pills, by accident or by intention. She is buried in Baghdad. Thanks to crude oil, found in commercial quantities at Kirkuk in 1927, the little Iraqi monarchy survived Turkish intrigue, Saudi aggression and repeated uprisings, the worst in 1941 when pro-German officers drove the king and Nuri Said, the prime minister, into exile. But the collapse of British power and prestige at Suez in 1956 marked the end of the road. Faisal II and the royal family were murdered in a republican coup d'etat on July 14 1958. The Iraq of Gertrude Bell had lasted 37 years. The Ba'ath finally seized power in 1968, built a prosperous despotism in the 1970s but destroyed itself and the country in hopeless military adventures in Iran in the 1980s and Kuwait in 1990. As of yesterday, Ba'athist Iraq had lasted 35 years. [.....] THE WHITE MAN'S BURDEN (in the present) http://www.reuters.co.uk/newsArticle.jhtml?type=topNews&storyID=2366154 * CUMBERSOME CHEMICAL SUITS COULD KILL by Sean Maguire Reuters, 12th March CAMP MATILDA, Kuwait: Thousands of U.S. and British forces are set to invade Iraq wearing heavy rubber overboots and a padded suit that will ward off chemical attacks but will likely kill some of them from heat exhaustion. Military commanders have ordered that all troops heading into Iraq must don the charcoal lined suits that seal them from the nerve and blister agents that the United States alleges Iraq still possesses in defiance of United Nations resolutions. Heavy rubber galoshes complete the mandatory outfit, slowing even the fittest soldiers' advance to a walk. If there is a "snowstorm" -- military jargon for an enemy artillery or mortar attack -- gas masks and gloves will also be donned until the all-clear is given. The presumption is that any such fire will contain chemical agents, until proved otherwise. Inside the apparel soldiers will be so hot their masks will float on the sweat running down their faces. "I can't think of many times you'll take this gear off between here and Baghdad," said U.S. Marine Sergeant Keith Lattman, who trains on protection from chemical warfare. "You are going to be living, sleeping and eating in these suits." "It will be a nightmare," said a British soldier on the Marine base, 30 miles (50 km) south of the Iraqi border, that is home to some of the 250,000 military personnel gathered in the region for a possible attack on President Saddam Hussein's Iraq. "We are going to lose people to the heat," he added. Saddam launched nerve and mustard gas attacks on Kurdish rebels and Iranian troops in the 1980s, but refrained from using the banned weaponry against Western and Arab soldiers that forced his army out of Kuwait in 1991. Iraq says it has scrapped all its chemical and biological weaponry in accordance with U.N. instructions. Washington says Baghdad is hiding some illicit stocks and is threatening to attack Iraq to find and destroy them. Western experts doubt Iraq has much ability to launch a major chemical attack, and Marine forces training in the Kuwaiti desert said they did not expect more than a company of troops, around 120 men, to ever need decontamination. "Chemical warfare is going to kill more Iraqis than Americans given the poor protective gear they have," U.S. Marine Major General James Mattis told reporters. Marines said they were prepared to fight "dirty" if they ever got "slimed" (contaminated). But normally a unit would withdraw from combat to change its suits if it was hit by chemicals. To save their soldiers from the worst effects of prolonged enclosure in suits military planners are betting on a short war and starting the fight before Gulf temperatures get too hot. Many actions will be launched at night, in cooler conditions. But warm weather and the high winds that rip across southern Iraq could also be a blessing in disguise, said Sergeant Taryne Williams, because they vaporise and disperse chemical agents. Officers say their precautions are simply prudent and will not speculate on the likelihood of a chemical attack. But they have factored into their planning certain "trigger points" when they feel Iraq would be most likely to launch one. "I won't get into whether they are geographic triggers or triggers based on a length of time," said U.S. Marine Corp planner Lieutenant-Colonel George Smith. But Saddam has already scored a small victory over any invasion army by frightening them into wearing equipment that badly damages their ability to fight, argues retired military scientist Bernard Fine. "Wearing chemical protective clothing while under enemy fire in a hot ambient temperature is a stress of the very highest order," Fine wrote in a report for military think-tank GlobalSecurity.org. "Running, with weapon and full field gear, or carrying very heavy loads such as ammunition, for example, under conditions of high ambient temperature...will inevitably result in a very significant number of heat casualties in a short time." http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=%2Fnews%2F2003%2F03%2F14%2Fwi rq214.xml * LIFE ON HOLD IN OPERATION SANDSTORM by Oliver Poole in Kuwait with the Third Cavalry Combat Troop Daily Telegraph, 14th March The sun shines a dull white as the sand clouds race across the desert, driven by the gales that have forced men to crouch for protection in their tents, their eyes red from exposure and skin turned grey by the dust. The lines of canvas structures are barely distinguishable from the low-lying dunes that surround them, their half-moon shapes disappearing into the wind-whipped haze. As I pass one a flap is pulled open and a soldier peers out. "Welcome to hell", he says. While the debate continues over when the tens of thousands of US troops in Kuwait should head north into Iraq, they languish in the desert. With limited washing facilities, gas masks strapped to their legs, guns at the ready, they hope today will be the day they finally leave this Spartan spot. "The waiting is so frustrating," said one tank driver, Robert Holewinsk, 21, protective goggles strapped tight to keep out the dust. "We are ready and everyone just wants to get the job done and then go back to our families. "No one understands what conditions are like. When we were here training last summer I took pictures and showed them back home, but still no one could get it." On arrival at Tactical Assembly Area Hammer, the forward camp a few dozen miles from the Iraqi border which is home to the Third Brigade of the Third Infantry Division, the first question from every soldier is always: "Any news of when we go?" Tell them there is the possibility of another UN resolution or that France has threatened a veto and there is an audible groan. It is not that the troops do not want to fight - all are utterly confident in the power of the force they are part of - but the opposite. After nine months in Kuwait, six months' training last summer then back in January after only a 44-day break in America, they do not want to spend one more moment waiting than they have to. Home is meant to be their tent, but many are now so choked with sand and dust that soldiers have started to sleep in their vehicles. Showers and laundry are limited to once a week. When the mobile military general store arrives each Friday with its stock of cigarettes and chocolate bars, the queue forms three hours earlier. Weather conditions have made life even harder. Sandstorms have swept the region, disrupting sleep and yesterday blowing over one of the living quarters. There is nothing to break the monotony of the desert setting except the array of military vehicles. The one tree, a few miles down the Kuwait City road, is spoken of with reverential appreciation. The officers admit that maintaining morale has proved a challenge as diplomatic considerations repeatedly push back rumoured attack dates. As Col John Charlton, the 42 year-old first battalion commander, said as he sat one evening smoking a stubby cigar: "Every time we hear of something in the UN we just think, 'Oh shit'. It is all beyond our control and that is what is so frustrating." Not all the news from the outside world that seeps through to the soldiers is accurate - hundreds became convinced on Wednesday that the singer Jennifer Lopez had been killed in a car crash - but enough is known for them to be aware that not all is going well in the battle for hearts and minds, and they dwell on that too. Sitting in the back of his unit's armoured mortar carrier, Pte Nitai Schwartz, 19, had heard of the anti-war demonstrations in the US and was worrying about what they meant about people's attitudes back home. "The thing that gets me," he said, one hand resting on the gun barrel, "is the thought that people might be watching us on television and insulting us. What if this is like Vietnam where we go back and they throw rocks at us?" _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. 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