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Mar. 24, 2003

About 30 Iraqi troops, including a general, surrendered today to US forces of the 3rd Infantry Division as they overtook huge installation apparently used to produce chemical weapons in An Najaf, some 150 kilometers (90 miles) south of Baghdad.

Asked to confirm The Jerusalem Post's exclusive coverage of this development, US Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, Deputy Commander of Central Command, told reporters: "I'm not going to confirm that report, but we have one or two generals officers who are providing us with information."

One soldier was lightly wounded when a booby-trapped explosive went off as he was clearing the sheet metal-lined chemical weapons production facility.

The huge 100-acre complex, which is surrounded by a electrical fence, is perhaps the first illegal chemical plant to be uncovered by US troops in their current mission in Iraq. The surrounding barracks resemble an abandoned slum.

It wasn't immediately clear exactly which chemicals were being produced here, but clearly the Iraqis tried to camouflage the facility so it could not be photographed aerially, by swathing it in sand-cast walls to make it look like the surrounding desert.

Within minutes of our entry into the camp on Sunday afternoon, at least 30 Iraqi soldiers and their commanding officer of the rank of General, obeyed the instructions of US soldiers who called out from our jeep in loudspeakers for them to lie down on the ground, and put their hands above their heads to surrender.


How Caroline got embedded

I do not recall ever considering the country of Kuwait or the Kuwaiti people for that matter with any particular emotion. To the best of my knowledge, Kuwaiti forces never participated in the Arab world's wars against Israel, nor have the Kuwaitis overtly funded terrorism against us like the Saudis and the Iraqis.

If I had any feeling at all it came from the American in me. As an American I felt satisfied that after the US-led forces liberated Kuwait twelve years, the Kuwaitis retained the awareness of their vulnerability and have therefore permitted, and even welcomed, the US to base their forces in this country.

I never felt any strong emotion towards Kuwait or towards the Kuwaiti people until I arrived in the country on Sunday, March 9, only to be greeted by blistering, virulent hatred accompanied by a reign of quiet, relentless discrimination. From the moment I arrived, the Kuwaiti government sought to silence me as a writer, a journalist and an Israeli even as I was traveling as a US citizen on a valid visa.

A few hours before I was set to depart for Kuwait on a flight from Washington, DC, I began to realize that I would be in for a rough ride. I read on the Internet that the Kuwaitis issued a statement telling the international press corps in Kuwait that anyone transmitting reports to the Israeli media would face criminal prosecution.

I began to panic. I was about to board a flight to Kuwait where my primary objective would be to transmit reports of the war to the Israeli media.

In a telephone conversation a half an hour later with F. David Radler, the co-owner of Hollinger Corp. which owns The Jerusalem Post, Radler assured me that the company would back me. At any rate, Radler explained, I would be covering the war for the Chicago Sun-Times, a sister paper to the Post also owned by Hollinger.

Most importantly, Radler pointed out that I didn't need to go if I didn't want to. Hearing that made me think about why I was going in the first place. Two images entered my mind - Israeli children in gas masks and an image of the Kuwaiti bureaucrat who wrote that directive. I was going.

On the face of it, the Kuwaitis could have easily passed over my name and not bothered with me. I am an American citizen. I applied for my Kuwaiti visa with a letter of accreditation from the Chicago Sun-Times. For the Kuwaitis to go after me they would have to really want to.

On Monday, after the cab ride from the Crowne Plaza where I was staying by the airport, to the Kuwait Hilton on the seacoast, I realized just how determined the Kuwaitis were.

The drive from hotel to hotel lasted 25 minutes during which the taxi traversed Kuwait City. The most remarkable aspect of Kuwait City is the absence of Kuwaitis. They leave the work of running their kingdom to foreigners - Filipinos, Indians, Pakistanis, Egyptians and Bangladeshis mainly. You can't find any Palestinians in Kuwait anymore. All 250,000 of them were deported in 1991 after the coalition forces liberated Kuwait.

Kuwait City looks like a run-down version of Afula or Beersheba with one primary difference. There is nothing going on. No one is going anywhere or doing anything in Kuwait City. Whereas Israeli cities teem with life and energy, Kuwait City is lethargic, bereft of human vitality.

The opulence of the beach front suburb was an indication that Kuwaitis actually live there. But its wealth made it no more appealing than the dead cityscape. At first glance, the villas recalled Herzliya Pituah, but upon closer examination, they lack character. The palaces stand like algae in a motionless pool.

My cab ride to the Hilton showed me that the Kuwaitis care little about cultivating their own country. My experience after arriving at the Hilton showed me that the Kuwaitis care very much about hating Israel.

The US army's public affairs officers were told by the Kuwaitis ahead of my arrival that they would not accredit me to work in the country. The State Department's agreement with Kuwait stipulates that the US army will not accredit journalists not already accredited by the Kuwaitis. For the rest of the international press corps, Kuwaiti accreditation was a formality. The information office had a table right across from the army's public affairs counter. But for me, it was an insurmountable hurdle. And non-accreditation meant that I was stuck, prevented from doing my job.

I phoned Bret Stephens, the Post's editor-in-chief and apprised him of the situation. He in turn spoke with a number of key Pentagon officials. Radler, true to his word, worked together with Chicago Sun-Times editor Michael Cooke calling US congressmen and senators.

For their part, the Kuwaitis were moving as well, but so was I. In the late afternoon hours I sat down at a table in the Hilton lobby waiting to phone a helpful foreign service officer at the US Embassy named Jim Moran. A stranger sat down at my table and said, 'You're Caroline Glick from the Chicago Jerusalem Post Sun-Times.'

'Who are you?' I asked.

'I'm Yigal, Hungarian from Peruvian television.'

So I met Yigal Zur, another hounded Israeli. Yigal introduced me to an army officer who had been helping him. The officer told me to pack my bags and move out of my hotel room immediately. 'If you stay there on your own the Kuwaitis can escort you to the airport, no problem,' he said. 'And I know that is what they want to do.'

What followed was like a movie scene. Yigal and I got into a cab and drove to my hotel. He waited in the cab while I ran up and packed my gear and checked out. We then returned to the Hilton, paid in cash for a room under his name so no one would know where to find me.

In the meantime, I received a call from Jim Moran at the US embassy. The State Department had worked out a compromise. The Kuwaitis would accredit me if I signed a paper promising not to report for any Israeli media outlet while in Kuwait. I thought immediately of the negative implications. I would sign away my freedom of expression. This made me extremely angry. For the first time in my life I began to see what it is like to live in a society without basic freedoms.

I called Bret in Jerusalem and asked for his thoughts. He saw the positive implications.

'Caroline, you'll be in Iraq soon with the greatest offensive force ever amassed. Covering that war and that force is why you are there. Sign the statement.'

The next morning, before they gave me the statement, a Kuwaiti official (born and raised in Virginia) began interrogating me. He wanted me to agree not to write for the Israeli media not only in Kuwait, but in Iraq as well. I couldn't believe his nerve. I replied politely that I could only discuss with the Kuwaiti government my plans for while in Kuwait and that a decision where to place my articles was made by my company, not by me.

After signing the statement, I was immediately loaded on a bus with other journalists. Yigal from Peruvian television spent the next two nights in a room registered under my name waiting to go himself. I was sent to the Army's 3rd infantry division's first combat brigade.

I looked at the other journalists on my bus and wondered about them. Would they be angry if they knew what I had to go through in order to join them on this bus? Did they care when they saw that the Kuwaitis had put a notice on the bulletin board of the Hilton's media center prohibiting all news organizations from publishing their reports in the Israeli media? Would it bother them if they knew that I had just spent the last night in hiding?

Not knowing the answers to any of these questions, I kept my own counsel on the bus, introducing myself as a Sun-Times reporter only.

For me, the main lesson from this odyssey is that to refer to the Middle East conflict as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is to ignore the truth.

The truth is that at its root the conflict is about the Arab world's obsession with rejecting Israel. Kuwait hates the Palestinians. The Kuwaitis kicked the Palestinians out of their country.

The way I was treated had nothing to do with Beit El or Netzarim. It has to do with Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem and the Bible.

As I joined the 2-7 mechanized infantry battalion on Tuesday night, I realized that it was the first time I had felt safe in 48 hours.

On Sunday afternoon, as I felt my body melting in the oppressive desert heat and its odor - borne of five days in the heat and dust and wind without a shower - wafted into my nostrils and shocked me, I understood how I would know when peace has come. Peace will be upon us when I can feel as safe and welcome at a five-star Kuwaiti hotel as I felt in the Kuwaiti desert with the US army.

(Originally published in the Friday, March 21, 2003 edition)