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James Naughtie A ‘Kuwaiti’ Road To Nowhere?

Today Defence Correspondent Andrew Gilligan reports.
In search of some clues as to what the Kuwaitis may be preparing for.

I took a taxi to the Iraqi border yesterday. It’s a road to nowhere. There are no towns, no villages, barely a farm for forty miles and the border itself has been closed since 1991.

The last significant traffic on this road was the fleeing Iraqi army, incinerated by US bombers as they crossed the Mutla ridge. A few of their burnt-out vehicles and some of their tanks are still here, shoved to the sides - going rusty. There’s wispy sand blowing across the carriageway and, all the way, ours is the only car.

Yet this road to nowhere (all sixty miles of it) has just been resurfaced - to a standard rather higher than the average German autobahn. It’s three lanes now, in each direction, completely smooth. Strengthened bridges, hardened tarmac.

They’re putting up street lights - all along it - all the way up to the Iraqi border. Even the Kuwaitis don’t waste this kind of money. Something heavy, something camouflaged, is going to be driving along this empty motorway pretty soon.

It can be hard, trying to find what’s going on in a place like Kuwait. Some people want you to believe that perhaps nothing is.

What you can do is look for clues. The US Army PR man talking about setting up a coalition press centre in "a hotel very like the Kuwait Sheraton". The visit of a team from Permanent Joint Headquarters - the people who plan and run all Britain’s military operations. The slight increase in hassle suffered by the foreign media here.

But best of all, a blue-covered, A4-sized booklet from the Government Printing Office called Al-Kuwait Al Yum - the weekly Kuwaiti State Gazette. It includes all the official tenders. And last week’s official tenders, won by the Ahmed Eeya company, include one for 45 heli-pads out in the Kuwaiti desert - delivery time specified as six weeks, customer: the United States Army.

Last month another tender, for a tent city of 280 large marquees, delivery by December. Orders for food, for floodlights, for air-conditioning plants, for hospital beds.

Soon, I think, we’ll no longer need to read the tea leaves like this. With a UN resolution finally under its belt, it’ll be time for the United States to focus Iraq’s attention once again on the consequences of backsliding. The military will come back out into the open.

It is, I suppose, just possible that if Saddam capitulates entirely, or is overthrown, a war can be averted. But nobody here seems to believe it. Quite soon, that empty motorway is going to be a road to somewhere again.


Kuwait's road to nowhere.
Watch this space!
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