Posted: Mar. 6, 2003 Memories of the last war A visit to Kuwait's unofficial monument to the oilfield destruction caused by Saddam Hussein
BY JULIAN E. BARNES Julian E. Barnes, a U.S. News senior editor, is reporting from Camp Arifjan, the Army's logistical hub, where thousands of reservists and active-duty soldiers provide support for combat troops in the field.
KUWAIT CITYThe United States armed forces have been crafting plans to prevent the Iraqi oil wells from being destroyed during a potential invasion. The reason why is apparent in the Burgan fieldthe largest oil reserve in Kuwait and second largest in the world, producing 1.2 million barrels a day.
Kuwaitis regularly bring visitors into the field to see Gathering Station 14, an unofficial monument to destruction wrought by Iraq. During the first Gulf War, the Iraqi Army set fire to the Kuwaiti oil wells. Most of the Burgan field is rebuilt. But three gathering stations, including No. 14, were too badly damaged to repair. So they were left alone.
Massive twisted oil tanks look like fallen birthday cakes, melted by the heat of the burning wells. Rusted pipelines are twisted into perverse modern sculptures. Small pools of oil collect beneath the walls of crumbling buildings. Small desert flowers bloom beside the black liquid. The oil fires burned for months, spewing smoke into the sky that blotted out the sun. Oil coated the ground, hardening into a brittle black frosting.
This is what the United States military hopes to prevent. Central Command is preparing combat teams to secure the wells before the order can be given to destroy them. Yet from Kuwait, it may be impossible for them to get to the wells in time. Therefore, the military has been leafleting and broadcasting in Iraq, imploring Iraqi civilian engineers and military officers to disregard any orders to destroy the Iraqi wells.
Preserving the wells will not only prevent an environmental disasterit will also ease the job of making a new Iraqi government self-supporting. Still, planners know they might not prevent the wells from being set afire and have been preparing teams to put out the fires as quickly as possible.
For Kuwaitis, places like Gathering Center 14 feed their anger against Saddam. Many employees of Kuwait Oil Co., the state-owned enterprise that runs the wells, have vivid memories of the day the oil wells started to burn. "It was horrible; I cannot describe it," said Fahad al-Rahman al-Qatan, an engineer. "It was raining black. The crude was raining down from the sky. You could not breathe."
Of all the gulf states, Kuwait is the most anxious to see Saddam fall. Hatred of him burns bright, and many Kuwaitis expect a war to be short and quick. "The Iraqi Army is waiting for the war to start so they can surrender," said Abdul Khaleq al-Ali, a Kuwait Oil Co. official.
Revenge and justice are not the only motivation. Kuwaitis argue that an Iraq without Saddam will be good for stability and even better for business. Saddam has threatened Kuwait since he came to power in 1979, but once he is gone, ties between the two countries will flourish, al-Ali predicts. While the big oil contracts, he says, will go to western countries, Kuwaiti businesses are eager for an Iraqi without Saddam. "You would not believe the number of companies waiting to get into Iraq," he says. "Business knows no borders."