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If it’s a siren, it must be a Scud

Kuwait City, March 20: Kuwait Airways Flight 382 from New Delhi has landed at Kuwait International Airport hours late but weary passengers continue to remain locked in despite staying the night and the better part of the day in transit.

There is no one to wheel the mobile flight of steps to the door. Cabin crew call on telephones and mobiles but several minutes have to pass before a siren blows the all-clear and the ground staff whizzes to the Airbus A300 in fancy 4 X 4s.

Yesterday’s sandstorm that cast a pall over the city is phasing out but the sun is still a pale sphere.

In the airport, the staff had vanished into shelters. Just as the plane touched down, an air raid siren had rung out. It was the fourth in the day and for the Kuwaiti mind, the wail of the siren meant just one thing: S-S-S-Scud!

Thursday evenings — because they are followed by the weekly Friday holiday — are the Kuwaitis’ time to let the hair down. Today, however, Kuwait City has hunkered down.

If George Bush’s attack on Iraq within 90 minutes of the expiry of his ultimatum to Saddam Hussein was America keeping its word, Baghdad has replied with missiles aimed at Kuwait, threatening again the country it had invaded 12 years ago for remaining America’s firmest ally in the Gulf.

Kuwait is the main staging post for the America-led forces’ land assault on Iraq. Camp Doha, the headquarters of the Army Central Command near here, is a nerve centre of threatre-level operations.

An official in the Kuwait’s information ministry said five surface-to-surface missiles, presumably Scuds, were fired by Iraq at Kuwait. Two were brought down by three Patriot anti-missile missiles that are now touted to be much improved versions of the Patriots in the last Gulf War.

One missile landed near the US Marines’ Camp Commando in northern Kuwait; another — and this scared Kuwaitis most — fell near Mutla High, less than 45 minutes’ drive from Kuwait City to the north.

The others were said to have fallen in the demilitarised (now militarised) zone on the Iraq-Kuwait border near Abdaly. The official said that so far — and it was now 6 pm local time -— the US had fired at least 40 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Iraq.

A Kuwaiti government official cannot be the most authoritative source on the war. But his nervousness was showing because the Iraqi counter-attack — however mild it might be in comparison to the American bombardment — was underestimated at least by the civil populace if not by the military.

The upshot is that Kuwait City’s sweeping roads are almost bereft of traffic. At Sheraton Circle in downtown Kuwait, the only traffic is of vehicles ferrying journalists and camera crew, police and civil defence personnel. The radio and the television continuously blare out warnings, advising the citizenry on what to do in an emergency.

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