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Supply ‘snake’ in line of fire

Safwan (Iraq) and Abdaly (Kuwait), March 29: This here is the “tail” of the “snake”, the long supply line that feeds the military, moves reinforcement and material deep into Iraq.

“The snake will be cut off at different points at the right time,” Iraqi information minister Mohammed Saeed Al-Saeef has promised.

Between Abdaly in Kuwait and Safwan in southern Iraq, military convoys roll past one after the other, seconds separating them. There are 16, 18, 28, 32-wheeled trailers, trucks, military Hummers and Humvees.

There are bulldozers, wood, lots of planks and beams of wood piled high on trailers; there are huge containers with the label “Property of the United States Army”. Explosives. Bowsers, huge bowsers — “Potable water”, “Caution: Inflammable Material, Smoking Prohibited within 50 feet”.

There is a lot more traffic coming into Iraq than there is coming out. M1A1 Abrams tanks on trailers, armoured personnel carriers on their tracks; Bradley Fighting Vehicles; monstrous vehicles you never needed to know existed until now. In Abdaly, an office complex of the United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observer Mission has been converted into what looks like a supply depot. The air is thick with the smell of oil and gasoline.

Just inside Iraq, in Safwan, it is evident how potent the threat to the supply line is. Yesterday, a near riot broke out when the Kuwait Red Crescent Society sent aid. The Iraqis were fired on.

“Safwan, yes, we came straight through Safwan,” said Colonel Chris Vernon today, the spokesman for the British Army division that is in charge of these parts. “Now we are going back and across, strengthening rear area security. We’ve just slightly not looked to our rear. Safwan is on our main supply route. So there is a very, very strong reason to look at Safwan.”

For the coalition command, there could be no better reason for a “pause” in operations.

Safwan is on Route 80, an eight-lane expressway. Surprisingly, it would appear, the expressway was not mined in the run-up to the war, as if Iraq was extending an invitation.

Today, as a mob shaped a riot over aid in Safwan, urchins displayed currency notes bearing Saddam Hussein’s portrait.

Chinooks, helicopters the US Army uses for air attack if they are not transporting troops, fly into Iraq and back. The rocket pods of Apaches and Blackhawks, flying out of Iraq into Kuwait, have fired their loads. Just inside Kuwait, through the long-vision lens of a television camera, a Patriot missile battery.

Route 80 snakes to the north and the west, towards An Nasiriyah and An Najaf and Karbala, and to the east, towards Umm Qasr. In Najaf today, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint manned by the US Army. Five soldiers were killed.

As at the border, so is it on the road from the Shuaikh port in Kuwait, on the Persian Gulf. Convoys are lining up. “They’ve been coming for so many months now. They keep coming, keep coming,” the driver says. The war is guzzling men and material, critics would say. Look at the positive: it is generating industrial demand.

Yesterday, the US government decided to send 1.3 lakh more troops to the war theatre. The re-deployment of the 4th Mechanised Infantry Division, a more armour-heavy formation compared to the 3rd Mechanised Infantry that is an estimated 70 km short of Baghdad on the southwest.

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