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War Diary : Seed Corn and 'Saddam's Rashes' as the Allies Advance

February 26, 1991| From Times staff writers in the Middle East

MONDAY, FEB. 18

Allied commanders in Saudi Arabia are still puzzled by the flight of the Iraqi air force to Iran. They are heartened by the fact that those planes--now numbering about 150--are out of the war, but still.. . . "It disappoints me that they were able to get away," says Vice Admiral Stanley Arthur. "Even if the war ends tomorrow, that provides a seed corn for the Iraqi military to rebuild, and that's not very healthy."

Israel continues to fight its psychological battle with the potent weapon of Jewish humor--this time with a newly released booklet called "All Saddam's Rashes," purportedly put out by Baghdad's "Scud" Press.

Mostly a collection of dusty old jokes brushed off and adapted for the current situation, there are up-do-date exceptions. A quintessentially Israeli example concerns an inspector from the rabbinate, charged with enforcing kosher laws, who arrives at a kibbutz and cannot believe his eyes.

"What's this?" he cries. "There is a law against raising pigs!"

"What do you mean, pigs?" a kibbutznik replies. "These are only sheep with gas masks on."

TUESDAY, FEB. 19

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the U.S. commander of Operation Desert Storm, leans back in his chair in the fifth-floor conference room of the Defense Ministry in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. What would a ground war be like? he is asked. "I do not expect it to be prolonged. and I do not expect it to be that bloody," he replies.

But then he catches himself, not wanting to fall into the trap of overconfidence that ensnared so many generals in the Vietnam War. "On the other hand," he goes on after a pause, "there are no guarantees out there, so I can't really guarantee that it's going to be short and low in casualties."

Israeli Television reports that Defense Minister Moshe Arens told a closed parliamentary committee meeting that Iraq had turned out to be a very great military power and that there would have to be some "soul-searching" among intelligence officials after the war about how much they knew about Iraq's capabilities.

The report, which depicts the defense minister's comments as criticism, draws an immediate telephone call from Arens' office saying his remarks were nothing of the kind. Then Arens personally takes to the airwaves to affirm that Israeli intelligence is among the best in the world.

His high level of sensitivity about possible intelligence and military failures, however, is read as presaging the "inquiry commission mentality" that many Israelis expect to come after the war.

For nearly a week, a crew of Navy Seabees has been working around the clock drilling for water in northeastern Saudi Arabia. Now, on the seventh day, they find a fully operational well just a few miles away. "A gift of God," says a jubilant Marine Gen. Charles Krulak. "We have no idea who drilled that thing. But it's brand new, with a brand new engine," says Krulak, commander of a huge supply depot.

Just in case it wasn't God but the Iraqis who were responsible for the well, the Marine officer has the water tested for signs of deliberate poisoning. It proves clean, and Krulak boasts that the find can yield up to 100,000 gallons of water a day.

For many Turkish officials, an important achievement of the Gulf War has been the free publicity it has given to what they feel is their underrated country. But they perceive one last problem: The nation's name, which they fear might be confused with that of a certain ungainly bird.

Some Turkish publications are already referring to the republic in its as-yet-unofficial new guise: From now on, the Turkish Treasury has quietly ordered, all publicity brochures for foreigners will use the name "Turkiye."

WEDNESDAY, FEB. 20

"Soldiers fight not for mom, apple pie and all that stuff, but to keep their brothers alive," says Army Maj. Alonzo McQueen, as thousands of U.S. troops move across the northern desert, taking up positions for the assault on Kuwait.

"If (the Iraqis) are cohesive in that sense, then it means they are going to be difficult to fight."

Civil defense officials limit to 500 the number of people permitted into Tel Aviv's Noga Theater on this sunny afternoon to hear the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra's first public performance since the war began, and the concert is a sellout.

Among those still hoping, by hook or crook, to come up with a ticket is a woman carrying a gas mask draped with an Israeli flag. All the windows of her apartment were blown out in a Scud attack, she frets to anyone within earshot. "And I wanted simply to see the concert."

As the lights go down inside, signaling the opening notes, the woman can be seen ensconced contentedly in a balcony seat.

Sgt. Jose Roche's 2nd Marine Division infantry company, from Camp Lejeune, N.C., which is dug in within sight of the border berms, practices hand-to-hand combat daily. "There's none of that Bruce Lee stuff," says the Juana Diza, Puerto Rico native. "We just go for it--biting, kicking, scratching, whatever it takes."

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