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All’s well, er, almost

Kuwait, March 27: Barely discernible through the wail of the siren sounding the air-raid alarm, the short, low rumble ends with two thuds.

For journalists outside the Kuwait Sheraton Hotel waiting to go to southern Iraq, that is a missile brought down by a Patriot anti-missile battery. The scheduled visit is cancelled. For Kuwait, it is a reminder that it is still firmly in the war theatre even if the front line has moved up from its border with Iraq to the right bank of the Euphrates.

That is the way this war is playing out in its ebb and flow.

Iraqi missile forces: effectively neutralised — no, mostly — and then one flies into Kuwait in the morning.

Iraqi Television: bombed out, but it’s back on air in three hours, so it has to be bombed again.

Humanitarian aid: reaching Umm Qasr in 24 hours; no, on Thursday. No, again, the HMS Sir Galahad cannot dock today because the port has not been cleared of sea mines, so maybe tomorrow.

Basra: Not a military target; but the Iraqi 51 Division has withdrawn into it, so it is now a military target; the British forces are encircling it; no, not fully, the Iraqis still have a supply line to the north, but they are boxed in, but there is an armoured thrust to the south towards the Al Faw Peninsula. No, that was not quite it, it was a small force.

Nasiriyah: Fallen; no, not fully, bypassed but the bridge has been crossed; but there is fierce fighting. The Marines are going up north and now they have made a tactical retreat.

Najaf: same.

Karbala: same.

At a briefing in the US Central Command forward headquarters in Doha, Qatar, today, a reporter asked the officer what the “value proposition” of Centcom briefings was if they did not really reveal what was happening in the war. What the officer said in effect was if one reporter was not interested, there were others, chiefly the ‘embeds’, who were.

In contrast, writes Robert Fisk of The Independent, London, who is in Baghdad: “Iraqi briefings are very detailed. They give you the officers’ names, they’ll tell you which corps and which battalion is fighting where.”

Fisk asked the Iraqi deputy Prime Minister at the end of a session marking the end of a week of war yesterday: “You have given us a dramatic description of the past seven days. Can you give us a dramatic description of the next seven days'” Tariq Aziz replied: “Just stay on here in Baghdad and you will find out.”

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