Raid on Iraq: Cadillacs fuelled for desert flight: Robert Fisk finds Kuwaitis as unprepared for war as they were two years ago when the Iraqis marched in

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THE NIGERIAN ambassador was holding his farewell reception at the Kuwait International Hotel last night, an uninspiring affair on any ordinary evening in the emirate but one that was historically transformed at a quarter to nine.

It was then that, with much bustling of heavy security men, the US ambassador, Edward Gnehm, left the party with a clutch of Kuwaiti officials and climbed into his armoured limousine for the 30-second journey to the American embassy on the other side of the road. The Gulf war - which so many of us in this city had thought had ended almost two years ago - had suddenly, briefly, ignited again.

The Kuwaitis had known something was up. They were still emptying some of their bank accounts yesterday in case the Iraqis poured down the road from Basra, just as the Iraqi army did on 2 August 1990. They had gutted supplies at petrol stations across the city and parked their massive Cadillacs in their driveways, just in case they had to make that panic- stricken escape to Saudi Arabia once again. They had paid their evening visit to the overstocked supermarkets and gone home to prepare their TV dinners. Then they had sat in front of their satellite televisions and waited.

Back in 1990, the Kuwaitis were unprepared for war; it has to be said that the same applied last night. The chief of staff of the Kuwaiti army was a thousand miles away, in Somalia on a tour of inspection of the Kuwaiti contingent to the multinational force in Mogadishu. On the road north to Basra, no Kuwaiti reinforcements could be seen. Neither the Iraqis nor the Kuwaitis bothered to send extra troops to the newly defined frontier between the countries.

It was an hour before midnight that we noticed, in the very far distance - and it must have been 100 miles away - a dull, pink glow that suffused the horizon. It lasted for perhaps 45 minutes, flickering from time

to time.

An American television video picked up small pinpoints of light that emerged at the base of this glow.

What it was we could not tell from the 17th floor of our building in the heart of Kuwait City. But somewhere near Basra the allies struck something that burned cruelly in the night.