Iraqi troops reportedly retrieve arms in Kuwait U.N. observers don't patrol at night

August 08, 1991|By New York Times News Service

KUWAIT -- The Iraqi military, in violation of the cease-fire agreement, has made several incursions into Kuwait to retrieve stockpiles, including Silkworm missiles, left behind during their retreat, allied officials here say.

All of the incursions have been in the demilitarized zone patrolled by the United Nations, the officials said.

Under the terms of the U.N. cease-fire agreement, the Iraqis are allowed to clear weapons and munitions from dumps on their side of the border.

Iraqi soldiers from Iraq are barred from entering the demilitarized zone, although allied officials contend that many are entering dressed in civilian clothes to gather war materiel.

The zone runs along the 25 miles of the Khor Abdullah waterway and 125 miles along the common border and extends six miles into Iraq and three miles into Kuwait.

The allied forces that pushed back the Iraqis are similarly banned from the sector.

In fact, during the day, Iraqi trucks, which often work in groups of four or five, rarely venture into the Kuwaiti part of the zone, allied military officials in Kuwait said. But at night, when the 300 United Nations observers do not patrol, the Iraqi trucks have been sighted inside Kuwait.

"As soon as we turn our lights out, they can do what they want," said a European U.N. observer who occupies one of the 17 posts along the border. "We have no night vision equipment and no night patrols."

Allied officials and the Kuwaiti police who are allowed to operate in the demilitarized zone described the pilfering operation as "massive."

"It is a bit like mushroom season out there," said a European allied official. "They have just figured out that no one is going to stop them."

The Iraqis reopened 10 police posts and four police centers in June along the border, two of which are inside Kuwait under a 1963 border agreement.

The Kuwaitis have not yet established a police presence along the border, and that is compounding the problem of unchecked Iraqi incursions, the officials said.

Allied officials are especially incensed that the Iraqis carted away 15 Silkworm missiles from a bunker complex in Umm Qasr, just inside Kuwait, during the last three days of May.

Four missiles were inexplicably returned a few days before the July 25 deadline given to President Saddam Hussein to disclose to U.N. officials all of his nuclear plants.

The military stores available to the Iraqis along the border are enough to equip several thousand troops, allied officials say.

While many of the larger weapons, such as tanks and heavy artillery, were destroyed by allied forces, thousands of smaller weapons and truckloads of ammunition were untouched.

The Iraqis have also raided stores of uniforms and taken away items such as motorboat engines, the officials said.

They said the Iraqi convoys tow damaged vehicles and military equipment such as artillery pieces from the zone. The Iraqis are able to get spare parts from the equipment that the embargo has made it difficult for them to obtain otherwise.

One week ago, 15 miles north of the border with Saudi Arabia, an abandoned Iraqi position within the zone had enough serviceable ammunition for about three battalions, or 4,500 soldiers. Now there is little left.

During the last seven nights, Iraqi trucks have hauled away load after load of rocket-propelled grenades, cases full of machine-gun rounds, mortars and stacks of automatic weapons.

"Now that they know they can do this with impunity, they have sent down convoys of trucks," said a European official. "Since Monday they have been very, very busy."

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