Iraq: Iraqis remove police posts - Kuwait

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The Independent Online
KUWAIT CITY - Even as the American cruise missiles were hitting Baghdad last night, Iraqi officials began dismantling the six police posts on the southern side of the new Iraq-Kuwait frontier which the United Nations had ordered them to remove, writes Robert Fisk.

The 46 policemen manning the positions have left the area, according to UN officers, and the posts were expected to be totally dismantled by this morning.

News of the Iraqi action which the UN had demanded be completed by 15 January came only hours after an Iraqi policemen was shot dead and another was wounded on the Kuwaiti side of the frontier yesterday.

The dead man, like his wounded colleague - and a third Iraqi who was captured - were all armed with pistols and were wearing Iraqi police uniforms. The shooting broke out near Umm Qasr, the Iraqi naval port where most of the six Iraqi police offices - and their 46 occupants - which should have have been moved, were positioned.

Gun battles between Iraqis and Kuwaitis across the new border - which at Umm Qasr has been redrawn by up to one-third of a mile in Kuwait's favour - are a regular occurrence. UN observers in the border strip say such shootings are second only to allied aircraft overflights in their weekly list of violations.

The UN is, meanwhile, considering sending reinforcements to the UN Iraq-Kuwaiti Observer Mission (Unikom), which monitors the 149 miles of frontier. The UN troops based along the border include US, British, French, Russian and Chinese troops - effectively representing the five members of the Security Council - and are unarmed.

UN officers have made it clear they prefer to have no armed troops in their midst; they are also stressing privately they have asked both Kuwait as well as Iraq to remove five more police posts, without compliance by either side.

Around 15 miles south of Umm Qasr the Kuwaitis have deployed a line of tanks. But the Kuwaits can be under no illusions that it is the new force of 1,200 US troops - along with their tanks, armour and artillery - who would form the real defensive line against any Iraqi attack.

But the US presence, like the Kuwaiti tanks, is little more than symbolic. The Iraqis have massed no forces on the Kuwaiti border. The immediate military challenge between the US and Iraq is not going to be decided on land.