Although 15 January had long been a deadline for the removal of Iraqi equipment, the latest American ultimatum to Baghdad fuels the suspicion that the United States may be spoiling for a further showdown with Saddam Hussein. To underline the threat, 1,200 American soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division are due to arrive in Kuwait today.
The six Iraqi positions, all containing armed Iraqi border policemen, have been in existence for almost a year, during which time the frontier was redrawn, although Washington then made no issue about their presence. The Americans are now claiming, however, that the Iraqi policemen in the six ramshackle offices have been involved in firefights with Kuwaiti soldiers, one of whom was killed in a battle last August.
According to the Americans, the six posts - each within a kilometer of the Kuwaiti side of the demilitarised zone - now constitute a more serious security threat than the Iraqi incursions across the newly-defined Kuwaiti frontier last weekend. Those incursions were themselves held up by US officials as part of the reason - along with Iraqi violations of the allied no-fly zone and the positioning of Iraqi missile batteries - for Wednesday's air attacks.
The US force due to arrive at Kuwait airport today will include armoured, mechanised and artillery units, most of which will initially be positioned just north of the capital. The soldiers and their commanders - who flew into the city yesterday afternoon - have served in Kuwait before but there are ominous differences between the routine arrival of US forces last year and the men being flown into the emirate today.
This time, their mission will be open-ended - no date has been set for their return to the United States - and the men have been told they are on 'operational deployment'. All television and press coverage of their arrival in Kuwait has been banned and the units have been told that any military action in which they may be engaged will also involve soldiers of the Kuwaiti army.
Even as the new American threat emerged yesterday, the United States found yet another cause for grievance against the Iraqis. Baghdad, it was claimed, had made one more small incursion during the morning - less than 12 hours after the air strikes - into former Iraqi territory now ceded to Kuwait, to dismantle equipment at six disused oil wells at Ritka.
The wells, like the police posts, stand on land which was part of Iraq until the United Nations redefined the border in Kuwait's favour in the aftermath of the Gulf war. Iraq has never accepted the change in the frontier. It was this border dispute which led to the use of the term 'incursions' in the first place. Having rejected the frontier, Iraq insists that its men are still on Iraqi territory.
However worthless this claim may be in international law, UN military commanders in the Iraq-Kuwait observer force have no reason to be complacent about their own performance. For it has now emerged here that the UN in New York issued orders as long ago as last autumn that the Silkworm missiles held under UN guard at Umm Qasr - the rockets which the Iraqis 'stole' back last weekend - should be destroyed.
For months UN officers were unable to obey this instruction because UN and Kuwaiti government officials could not decide among themselves under whose authority the missiles would be disarmed and broken up. While the two sides argued, the rockets remained in the bunkers from which they were eventually taken by the Iraqis.
Pentagon denial. . . .10
Letters. . . . . . . . . . . .18
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