Sports

Another war anniversary to remember (China Daily)

This has been a busy period for anniversaries of wars, but one that remained largely unremarked upon, considering what a major event it was at the time, happened a quarter of a century ago.

After 100,000 Iraqi troops and 700 tanks drove into Kuwait on Aug 2, 1990, I was questioned by police in the Qatari capital, Doha. Just days before the invasion, the front-page headline on the British newspaper The Independent screamed “Iraqi tanks mass on Kuwait border”. I went over to our translator at Gulf Times in Doha, where I then worked as the sports editor, to tease him. “See, there is going to be war,” I said, though I did not really believe it.

Unknown to me, Ismail had just got his own show on Qatar TV. A day after the invasion Ismail told his viewers; how is it, how is it that an Irish sports journalist could tell there would be war and not one Arab journalist predicted it?

That night, the police raided the newspaper’s office. “Where is Tom?” they shouted. I identified myself. “How did you know, what information did you have?”

“It was on the papers,” I replied.

“Show us,” they demanded.

I pointed to the yellowing stack of Independents and the top one with the tanks headline.

“There, see the headline,” I pleaded.

They left.

Ten minutes later, a newspaper in Saudi Arabia contacted us, unsure how to give the news. Saudi Arabia did not officially announce that Kuwait had been invaded for two days.

The two incidents reveal much about the sense of panic, disbelief and sheer incredulity of those days in August 1990.

In examining the runup to the war, the importance of one agreement is often overlooked. In 1975, Iran and Iraq signed the Algiers Accord. This agreement of convenience suited both Saddam Hussein, who was increasingly in power but not in office until 1979, and the Shah. It demarcated their disputed borders and allowed Saddam to crush the Kurds in the north of Iraq who had been getting help from Iran. But it also de facto established the Shah as the Gulf’s Policeman. When the Shah was overthrown, Saddam, with the blessing of Washington, became the Policeman and was encouraged and paid handsomely by the Gulf sheiks to topple the Ayatollah.

In September 1980, Iraq invaded Iran. It was meant to be all over by Ramadan. Iran, the feeling went, was in turmoil. Piece of cake. Eight years later it ended but like 1918, the seeds of further conflict were sown. Whatever his shortcomings in executing the war, Saddam felt he had saved the Gulf sheikdoms and was worthy of greater respect.

Images of invasion, human hostages, Operation Desert Shield, Operation Desert Storm, anti-aircraft flak, Scuds and wailing sirens, precise missile strikes and billowing smoke from burning wells flooded our TV screens.

The last major conflict before the onset of the Internet, this one was a TV war with nightly highlights. It ended on Feb 28, weeks before the start of Ramadan.

Contact the writer at tomclifford@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 09/07/2015 page2)