WORLD/COVER

COMING HOME

VICTORIOUS ALLIED TROOPS MAKE PLANS TO RETURN FROM THE GULF AFTER A STUNNING 100-HOUR GROUND WAR

BOB LEVIN March 11 1991
WORLD/COVER

COMING HOME

VICTORIOUS ALLIED TROOPS MAKE PLANS TO RETURN FROM THE GULF AFTER A STUNNING 100-HOUR GROUND WAR

BOB LEVIN March 11 1991

COMING HOME

WORLD/COVER

VICTORIOUS ALLIED TROOPS MAKE PLANS TO RETURN FROM THE GULF AFTER A STUNNING 100-HOUR GROUND WAR

When historians write their accounts of the Persian Gulf War, they will undoubtedly note that, as the allied forces were preparing to launch their long-awaited land assault against the supposedly fearsome Iraqi defences in Kuwait, countless Iraqi soldiers were cowering in their bunkers, desperately wanting to surrender. That is the way the war went last week. Some Iraqis fled. Some fought. Thousands were incinerated in their tanks, blasted by bombs and artillery shells, blown apart by allied planes as they fled north from Kuwait City, leaving a searing scene of charred bodies and burnt-out vehicles—a traffic jam from hell. No more one-million-strong army. No more glowering threats from Saddam Hussein. The desert was a graveyard for his dreams of panArab dominance, the rumors rampant of his impending exile. But the so-called Butcher of Baghdad, who had promised “rivers of blood” only to see the blood run mostly Iraqi, had not lost the weapons of defiance and deceit: from the country’s ruined capital, he bizarrely claimed victory.

One hundred hours is all it took. One hundred stunning hours for U.S.-led forces to storm around and through the entrenched Iraqi lines on the Kuwaiti-Saudi Arabian border and complete the rout that coalition warplanes had begun six weeks earlier. It was President George Bush who finally silenced the guns of February. After rejecting repeated peace offers from Hussein, and under growing interna-

tional pressure to stop the bloodshed, Bush went on television Wednesday night and announced a ceasefire, effective on Feb. 27 at midnight EST. Proclaiming the liberation of Kuwait and the defeat of Iraq’s army, he added: “We declared that the aggression against Kuwait would not stand, and tonight America and the world have kept their word.” In the postwar euphoria, only the most hard-line skeptics sought to put the allies’ accomplishment in

perspective: the triumph, however satisfying, of a superpower and its 32 partners over a Third World country with a gross domestic product somewhat less than that of Alberta.

By the time the fighting stopped, Iraq had agreed to accept all 12 UN resolutions against it, including paying war reparations to Kuwait. On the weekend, coalition officers led by U.S. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the bearish man who directed the allies’ smart-bombing, blitzkrieg attack, were scheduled to meet their Iraqi counterparts at an unspecified site to work out a final settlement and exchange of prisoners. The coalition also sought the release of thousands of Kuwaiti civilians whom the Iraqis had taken hostage during the occupation, many in the desperate last days. The missing people, along with the grisly tales of Iraqi murder and torture, the damaged buildings and flaming oil wells, dampened the flag-waving, stranger-hugging jubilation that greeted the liberating armies.

Combat: For Canada, which en gaged in foreign combat for the first time in nearly 40 years, the war's end meant a speedy homecoming for at least some of the nation's 2,200 ser vicemen and women in the Gulf. The CF-18 Desert Cats fighter squadron, based in the tiny emirate of Qatar, flew 2,700 sorties, including 56 offensive bombing strikes in the final week. And although some domestic critics complained that the country had jeopardized its traditional peacekeeping role on the world stage, no one argued over one outcome: not a single Canadian casualty.

Count: The coalition in general was not quite that lucky, although, as Schwarzkopf said, the low casualty count was nothing short of “miraculous.” In all, 148 allied soldiers were killed in combat, including 28 when an Iraqi Scud missile slammed into a corrugated-metal barracks at AÍ Khobar, Saudi Arabia, last Monday night. Iraqi casualties were more difficult to gauge, and infinitely more horrific: some estimates exceeded 100,000 dead. An estimated 175,000 Iraqi soldiers were taken prisoner, compared with 13 from coalition members’ contingents.

For the Iraqis, blinking into the daylight of a devastated country, the ceasefire meant freedom at last from the grim ritual of daily bombardment. Soldiers fired guns into the air in celebration, and children rode bicycles amid the rubble. UN doctors warned of a potential health disaster in the sewage-filled streets of Baghdad, while in the southern city of Basra

there were reports of utter chaos as dazed soldiers straggled home from Kuwait. Meanwhile, Baghdad radio, in the black-is-white style of Big Brother, insisted that “Iraq is the one who is in control and victorious.” At the weekend, the Algerian government denied published reports that Big Brother himself, Saddam Hussein, who had not been seen in public since before the war ended, was seeking asylum in their country.

But even Hussein’s eventual exit could not promise peace and stability for a traumatized region. U.S. Secretary of State James Baker was scheduled to visit the Middle East this week to discuss security and reconstruction with Arab leaders, while External Affairs Minister Joe Clark planned his own trip—to Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan—to offer postwar initiatives. In a radio address to American troops on Saturday, Bush declared that “the first test of the new world order has been passed.” But, as even the President has admitted, winning the war was the easy part. Trying to launch a new world order on the ancient and turbulent lands of the Middle East will require answers that no bombs, however smart, will ever provide.

BOB LEVIN