Iraqis burning 150 Kuwaiti oil wells


RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Iraq began what President Bush called a 'scorched earth policy' by setting ablaze more than 150 of Kuwait's 950 oil wells, providing a thick blanket of smoke over large portions of the country, U.S. military officials said Friday.

In addition, Pentagon officials acknowledged for the first time that U.S. forces have used the highly flammable substance napalm during the Persian Gulf War. And they say the Iraqis have relocated some Scud missile launchers inside of civilian areas of Baghdad, apparently to exploit the stated allied policy of sparing civilian areas from bombing attacks.


Rear Adm. Mike McConnell, director of intelligence for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said 'in excess of 150' oil wells, some located near the northern border with Iraq and others in the southeastern part of the country, were spewing smoke that reached as far away as the Saudi capital of Riyadh, about 300 miles away. About 100 of the wells, already wired for explosives, had been ignited in the past '24 to 36 hours,' McConnell said.


U.S. military officials said the smoke could be intended to provide a mammoth smokescreen to impede allied air attacks and a possible full- scale ground assault, while burning the wells could be part of an effort to destroy the remaining wealth of Kuwait. Marine Brig. Gen. Richard Neal, speaking earlier in Riyadh, said oil facilities associated with the wells 'are being systematically destroyed.'

'He's carrying out his policy of destroying Kuwait,' Neal said of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. He called it 'an orchestrated, systematic destruction of the oil-producing capability of Kuwait.'

The details of Iraqi action against Kuwaiti oil installations were revealed after Bush charged Friday that Saddam had begun a 'scorched earth policy' -- a tactic of burning everything in its path that is sometimes used by retreating or defeated troops.

'They (Iraq) are destroying the entire oil production system of Kuwait,' Bush said, adding that oil wells, tanks and export facilities were targeted.

Bush gave Saddam an ultimatum that Iraq has until noon eastern time Saturday to begin withdrawing from Kuwait and must complete the retreat within one week if he wants to avoid a land war.

McConnell said the Iraqis' action against the oil wells also has released an undetermined amount of highly toxic hydrogen sulfide, contained in the oil coming out of the ground.


The smoke 'would make it more difficult' for allied pilots to find bombing targets, McConnell said. 'Perhaps this an objective on the part of Saddam Hussein.'

Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Kelly, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs, acknowledged some allied warplanes might have to fly under the smoke to properly target bombing raids, but sought to minimize the effect of the smoke.

'We don't see anything that we don't think we'll be able to work through,' Kelly said.

Neal said '25 percent of Kuwait is covered with black smoke,' but diagrams unveiled at the Pentagon indicated even more of the country was covered.

Neal said allied planes flew 2,700 sorties Friday, bringing the total to about 91,000.

The Pentagon, in a statement, said napalm, a jellylike high-flammable substance used in flame throwers and bombs, had been used 'recently' by the Marines 'for the purpose of igniting fires in oil-filled trenches that the Iraqis dug as barriers.' The statement did not say whether the napalm had hit any Iraqi soldiers. The military was criticized during the Vietnam War after napalm killed Vietnamese civilians.

Neal said one U.S. Marine was killed by incoming Iraqi artillery fire and five more U.S. troops were injured in what he termed an ongoing battle near the Saudi border.


Two other skirmishes between U.S. and Iraqi forces resulted in 18 Iraqi tanks and 15 vehicles destroyed, over 100 more enemy prisoners taken but no reported U.S. casualties, Neal said.

A Saudi military official said a Saudi armored reconnaissance, supported by U.S. Marine gunships, engaged an Iraqi armored unit, inflicting casualties and destroying two tanks and an armored vehicle. There were no Saudi casualties.

Col. Ahmed Al-Robayan, spokesman for the Arab forces, said a Saudi reconnaissance patrol swept through an Iraqi minefield about six miles over the border and cleared a path about 60 yards wide -- a possible opening for troop movement trough the area. The Saudis defused and removed 75 Iraqi landmines, he said.

Earlier, allied forces captured 70 Iraqi prisoners of war in a border clash Friday that injured two U.S. troops as both sides continued fighting despite diplomatic moves to end the war, a senior military source said.

Saudi officials and the U.S. Central Command said Iraq fired four Scud missiles at Saudi Arabia Thursday night and Friday, but all were either shot down by U.S. Patriot missiles or landed harmlessly in the desert. Kelly said the Scud launches all came from Baghdad.


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