- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2003

DOHA RIDGE, Kuwait, March 22 (UPI) — To stand on the ride above Doha in northern Kuwait is to see war in three dimensions. The air overhead clatters with the sound of helicopters and warplanes. On land to the north and west, the trucks and reinforcements and fuel tankers roll forward to the Iraqi frontier.

But on the clear blue waters of the Persian Gulf to the east, another war is now under way, a complex and little-noticed conflict that make hold the key to the future of Iraq.

Iraq is almost landlocked and has little navy to speak of, just a handful of patrol boats. But a recent war game at the Pentagon revealed just how crucial the naval war could be. A retired U.S. Marine general, playing the part of the Iraqi command, used venerable wooden dhows, the traditional small cargo boats of the Gulf, to lay minefields in the Gulf that were deemed in the war game to have blocked Kuwait's harbor, blocked the logistics flow and stalled the U.S.-led war effort.

The lesson of the war game has been learned. An Australian barge Tuesday shot and killed one seaman when a dhow failed to obey orders to stop — and 60 mines were found aboard the vessel.

"It would be quite easy to put one or two mines on the back of a dhow and drop them in the waterway, which would cause problems," said Rear Adm. David Snelson, commander of the 29 British naval task force vessels now in the Gulf that are spearheading the anti-mine effort.

"Uppermost in my mind is the memory of the USS Cole," he added, citing the U.S. destroyer that was badly damaged by a small speedboat packed with explosives in a harbor of Yemen in October, 2000.

If the waters of the Gulf were to be closed by mines — even briefly — the endless supply chains bringing fuel and rations, spare parts and ammunition to the British and American forces would be interrupted. The tanks would stall from lack of fuel, and the combat helicopters would be grounded.

For Rear Adm. John Kelly, commander of the American naval task force based on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, keeping the Gulf waters open and the supplies flowing is a central priority of the mission, alongside the air strikes and cruise missile operations. That means a constant watch for the threat of mines and small boat assault.

Five British minesweepers were at work in the approaches to the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr Saturday, even as fighting continued ashore as British and U.S. Marines tackled the last pockets of resistance.

Umm Qasr is vital to the success of the campaign. According to Toni Paradelo, coordinating the United Nations' World Food Program in Kuwait, 60 percent of Iraq's food supply under the U.N.'s Food for Oil program, came through the port of Umm Qasr. And with the port of Kuwait working flat out to feed the enormous logistics chain of the U.S. and British war effort, Umm Qasr is supposed to get back into working order as fast as possible to resume the food supplies and fend off a threatening humanitarian disaster in Iraq.

"There is not much point winning the war if we lose the peace by letting thousands of Iraqis starve," commented one Royal Naval officer attached to the Joint Command staff in Kuwait. "In the end, it is all about liberating them — and that means restoring the food supply chain."

The Royal Navy's Sir Galahad fleet auxiliary vessel, just visible from Kuwait, is loaded with food and medical supplies and waiting for the minesweepers to clear its path into the port of Umm Qasr — even as mortar rounds, grenades and small arms fire still brought the sound of battle from the docks.

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