Iraq police raise two fingers to the world

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THEY are still there. The phrase sounds a trifle ominous in a front- line town where the only sign of Iraqi activity is a wisp of smoke from the roof of the grain silo and a yellow-funnelled Iraqi tugboat gliding down the waters of the Khor Abdullah waterway. But 'they' - 46 Iraqi border policemen armed with pistols and, possibly, a few automatic rifles - are still irritating the President of the United States, the United Nations, the Kuwaiti government and Captain Joe Gaffney, by continuing to sit in their six little police posts inside Kuwait.

Capt Gaffney, it should be pointed out at once, is one of the mildest of men, an Irish soldier who holds the unenviable position of UN Violations and Complaints Officer in Um Qasr. He it is who has to log, on the UN's blue-shaded map, the brick-and-metal police posts which the Iraqis should have evacuated on Friday night but which, with now typical insouciance, they chose not to. The policemen are now squatters in what was Iraq until the UN redefined the border by tearing off a strip of territory up to 800 yards in depth and giving it to Kuwait.

Um Qasr doesn't look worth dying for. The dockside cranes of Iraq's only naval base are rusted over with 13 years of disuse. Its houses are run down, its roads still smashed by Operation Desert Storm two years ago to the day. Even the missile bunkers from which the Iraqis trundled out their Silkworm anti-ship rockets under the eyes of the UN a week ago turn out to be Heath Robinson affairs, weed-grown concrete emplacements each topped by a shed with a tin roof.

For the record - and because the Americans could send their warriors back into the skies over this new crisis - the offending police stations are at Rudqa (one officer and five men), Talha (one officer, six men), Safwan and Abu Moussa (one officer and nine men each), Al Shahid Human (five men) and Um Qasr (one officer, seven men). Anyone who believes these folk are no more than friendly rural constables does not know much about Iraq.

Quotation marks are henceforth in order. The problem, of course, is that the 46 'policemen', like the 125 or so Iraqi residents who live inside the same belt of land, simply refuse to recognise the new border. They pay no attention to the 106 pillars the UN have placed at 800-yard intervals along the new frontier; they have even ripped off the brass nameplates bearing the titles 'Kuwait' and 'Iraq'.

Pity, at this point, the UN. Its unarmed observers are spread along a border zone 150 miles long and 10 miles deep. No one has even told them when the new border came into existence. Was it on 23 November, 1992, when the UN received a Kuwaiti request that Iraqi 'property' in their newly-acquired territory should be removed, or was it on 8 January when the Security Council insisted on the 'speedy removal' of the Iraqi 'policemen' and set a deadline of midnight last Friday?

'We visit the police posts and they are polite but they make no response to us,' a UN officer conceded. 'They have been pretty cold towards us since the latest air raids and some Iraqis in the town have given us inverted 'V' signs with their fingers.

'There's been some shooting at night between the Iraqis and the Kuwaitis with Kalashnikovs. And a few of our civilian staff in Um Qasr have recently been held by the Iraqis for a couple of hours, just to frighten us. But there's only one man who can take decisions about this place: he lives in Baghdad.'

IRAQ said yesterday it would continue to defy the no-fly zones imposed on it and that military commanders had been ordered to shoot down any planes that penetrated its airspace.

The deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, said Iraq could guarantee the safety of UN planes only if they flew in from Jordan, in the west. Last night the UN rejected these conditions. The UN inspection team wants to fly from Bahrain, over the no-fly zone.

In an unsourced report, CNN, the American news network, said that a second allied air strike, planned on Friday, was cancelled after John Major expressed reservations. The White House and Downing Street refused to confirm or deny the report.

Further reports, pages 11 and 13

Leading article, page 22