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War Diary : Seed Corn and ‘Saddam’s Rashes’ as the Allies Advance

<i> From Times staff writers in the Middle East</i>

MONDAY, FEB. 18

Allied commanders in Saudi Arabia are still puzzled by the flight of the Iraqi air force to Iran. They are heartened by the fact that those planes--now numbering about 150--are out of the war, but still.. . . “It disappoints me that they were able to get away,” says Vice Admiral Stanley Arthur. “Even if the war ends tomorrow, that provides a seed corn for the Iraqi military to rebuild, and that’s not very healthy.”

Israel continues to fight its psychological battle with the potent weapon of Jewish humor--this time with a newly released booklet called “All Saddam’s Rashes,” purportedly put out by Baghdad’s “Scud” Press.

Mostly a collection of dusty old jokes brushed off and adapted for the current situation, there are up-do-date exceptions. A quintessentially Israeli example concerns an inspector from the rabbinate, charged with enforcing kosher laws, who arrives at a kibbutz and cannot believe his eyes.

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“What’s this?” he cries. “There is a law against raising pigs!”

“What do you mean, pigs?” a kibbutznik replies. “These are only sheep with gas masks on.”

TUESDAY, FEB. 19

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the U.S. commander of Operation Desert Storm, leans back in his chair in the fifth-floor conference room of the Defense Ministry in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. What would a ground war be like? he is asked. “I do not expect it to be prolonged. and I do not expect it to be that bloody,” he replies.

But then he catches himself, not wanting to fall into the trap of overconfidence that ensnared so many generals in the Vietnam War. “On the other hand,” he goes on after a pause, “there are no guarantees out there, so I can’t really guarantee that it’s going to be short and low in casualties.”

Israeli Television reports that Defense Minister Moshe Arens told a closed parliamentary committee meeting that Iraq had turned out to be a very great military power and that there would have to be some “soul-searching” among intelligence officials after the war about how much they knew about Iraq’s capabilities.

The report, which depicts the defense minister’s comments as criticism, draws an immediate telephone call from Arens’ office saying his remarks were nothing of the kind. Then Arens personally takes to the airwaves to affirm that Israeli intelligence is among the best in the world.

His high level of sensitivity about possible intelligence and military failures, however, is read as presaging the “inquiry commission mentality” that many Israelis expect to come after the war.

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For nearly a week, a crew of Navy Seabees has been working around the clock drilling for water in northeastern Saudi Arabia. Now, on the seventh day, they find a fully operational well just a few miles away. “A gift of God,” says a jubilant Marine Gen. Charles Krulak. “We have no idea who drilled that thing. But it’s brand new, with a brand new engine,” says Krulak, commander of a huge supply depot.

Just in case it wasn’t God but the Iraqis who were responsible for the well, the Marine officer has the water tested for signs of deliberate poisoning. It proves clean, and Krulak boasts that the find can yield up to 100,000 gallons of water a day.

For many Turkish officials, an important achievement of the Gulf War has been the free publicity it has given to what they feel is their underrated country. But they perceive one last problem: The nation’s name, which they fear might be confused with that of a certain ungainly bird.

Some Turkish publications are already referring to the republic in its as-yet-unofficial new guise: From now on, the Turkish Treasury has quietly ordered, all publicity brochures for foreigners will use the name “Turkiye.”

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WEDNESDAY, FEB. 20

“Soldiers fight not for mom, apple pie and all that stuff, but to keep their brothers alive,” says Army Maj. Alonzo McQueen, as thousands of U.S. troops move across the northern desert, taking up positions for the assault on Kuwait.

“If (the Iraqis) are cohesive in that sense, then it means they are going to be difficult to fight.”

Civil defense officials limit to 500 the number of people permitted into Tel Aviv’s Noga Theater on this sunny afternoon to hear the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra’s first public performance since the war began, and the concert is a sellout.

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Among those still hoping, by hook or crook, to come up with a ticket is a woman carrying a gas mask draped with an Israeli flag. All the windows of her apartment were blown out in a Scud attack, she frets to anyone within earshot. “And I wanted simply to see the concert.”

As the lights go down inside, signaling the opening notes, the woman can be seen ensconced contentedly in a balcony seat.

Sgt. Jose Roche’s 2nd Marine Division infantry company, from Camp Lejeune, N.C., which is dug in within sight of the border berms, practices hand-to-hand combat daily. “There’s none of that Bruce Lee stuff,” says the Juana Diza, Puerto Rico native. “We just go for it--biting, kicking, scratching, whatever it takes.”

For Gunnery Sgt. George Haynes, such an encounter would be something of a rematch. He came up against an Iraqi opponent during a boxing match at the 1977 World Games in Cairo. “It was probably one of the toughest fights of my career,” says Haynes, now 36, of Millington, Tenn. He won the three-round match by a decision.

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Nearly 900 soldiers and more than 1,000 civilians have crossed the wintry mountains from Iraq into Turkey, the Turkish Foreign Ministry says--nearly half of them in just the last four days.

When Turkish security forces arrive to move a group of refugees from a hotel in Van to other quarters, many are terrified that they are about to be sent back to Iraq. More than 100 occupy the hotel roof for two hours, shouting protests and waving placards inscribed: “Help!” Women clutching children to their breasts threaten to leap to their deaths.

THURSDAY, FEB. 21

The Marines, traditionally the most publicity-conscious of the American military services, have three military historians traveling with the troops. They’re teaching officers how to compile monthly “command chronology” reports and they’re gathering such battlefield gear as gas masks, boots, canteens, personal letters.

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“These things may seem trite now,” says historian Lt. Col. Dennis Mrockzowski, “but they’re the blue blouses . . . the Springfield rifles and cartridge box of the Civil War.”

With a red pen and a shaky hand, Marine Lance Cpl. Robert Grady inscribes a new nickname on his battle helmet: “Lucky as Hell.”

Grady and his partner, Lance Cpl. William Noland, survived a direct hit on their Stinger-missile-equipped Humvee all-terrain vehicle while accompanying a large Marine reconnaissance foray in the bitterly contested no man’s land between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

“We saw mortar rounds exploding in front of us, one, two, three,” says Grady. “The fourth nailed the Hummer in the rear. There was a loud boom, we were thrown up against the windshield, then we shoved out and were running for cover.”

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Four of the Stingers, each of which carries the explosive power of a half-pound of TNT, had ignited in the back of the vehicle, which is now a smoldering ruin. It had been close.

“It was a lucky shot,” joked Noland. “But it was a very good lucky shot.”

FRIDAY, FEB. 22

Army Spec Marc Penn of San Gabriel, Calif., bundled in a parka, is in his sleeping bag, behind the turret of his tank. “Penn! Penn!” a friend yells. “First sergeant has a message for you!” Penn jumps down and hurries across the rutted dirt desert to the first sergeant’s Humvee.

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“What’s up?” Penn asks, already having a pretty good idea what the answer will be. “We got a message for you,” responds 1st Sgt. Robert Hard of Hot Springs, Ark. “You had a baby boy. Seven pounds 11 ounces. Mother and son doing fine. The baby’s name is Kendrell.”

Army soldiers in one unit deployed along the northern Saudi border have begun to ask for a prayer for the enemy during religious services.

“They’ve got to be in bad shape,” says supply Sgt. Bryant Dixon. “When you bomb day and night, the other guy doesn’t get any sleep. His nerves must be shot.”

“Our spirit is such that we immediately feel sympathy for the downtrodden,” explains Maj. Lawrence Krause, a Protestant chaplain from Elmira, N.Y. But Krause is also realistic. “When the Iraqis start causing casualties on our side,” he predicts, “that perception will change.”

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In what may be the largest map-making effort ever, military cartographers and surveyors are working around the clock to map Iraq and Kuwait for a ground war. The goal is to produce 130,000 copies of 40 to 45 different types of maps each week.

"(Allied commanders) expect the pace of battle to go so fast that they’re going to want the maps covering a large area,” says Capt. Jon Brazier, commander of Alpha Company, 649th Engineer Battalion.

The map makers had little to work with at first. Most area maps were 30 to 40 years old and too inaccurate to be of much use. The military map makers rely on precise satellite photographs, as well as soil samples and other intelligence gathered by secret reconnaissance teams sent to study the terrain from the ground.

With no alcohol, drugs or prostitutes--the sad symbols of Vietnam for many--troops in the Army’s 1st Armored Division based in Ansbach, Germany, pass the endless hours of waiting on the Kuwait border with calmer pursuits.

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Three solders play poker under the shadow of their tank turret. A major rereads his dog-eared copy of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” the classic story of World War I troops in the trenches.

Perhaps nothing is so popular as huddling around a shortwave radio, listening to scratchy, static-filled broadcasts for the latest news.

Staff Sgt. Frederick Lennartz, 33, of Naples, Fla., doesn’t mind the waiting. “The longer we wait is another day we are alive,” he said.

SATURDAY, FEB. 23

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After the months of waiting, the excitement is palpable on the northern front as the U.S. deadline for an Iraqi capitulation approaches. Troops flash “victory” signs, wave U.S. flags on their tanks and trucks, shake hands, and hurriedly write last letters home.

“It’s unbelievable but it’s happening,” says Pvt. Michael Day, 24, of Costa Mesa, Cal. “I never thought I’d see combat when I enlisted.”

Spec. Rich Klementovich, 21, of Manville, N.J., chalks “Saddam is Going to Die” on one of his mortars. “They don’t have a chance,” he says. “We’re going to do him in.”

SUNDAY, FEB. 24

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The mood is ugly on the streets of Amman, Jordan, as popular anger over the U.S.-led land invasion of neighboring Iraq seethes. But there is an oasis of warmth, kindness and optimism in one suburban district of the city. It’s the Kuwaiti Embassy.

There, a consular official posted to Amman more than a year ago by Kuwait’s pre-invasion ruling Sabah family greets Western journalists with a smile, a visa application and perhaps the rosiest allied battlefield estimates available anywhere on this first day of the ground war.

“I think there will be no problem,” he tells an American reporter. “You should have your visa for liberated Kuwait within, say, a week--two at the most.”

As dawn breaks over an air base in eastern Saudi Arabia, Andy Jensen, a 22-year-old Navy Seabee 3rd Class from Long Beach is waiting for a flight to the front. He cheers when news of the war comes across the radio of his jeep. “It was like yea!” he says.

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“It’s pretty scary,” he adds, thinking about his friends already on the firing line. “I wouldn’t say it was a great day.. . . But it’s about TIME!”


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