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Notes from correspondents in Iraq

CAMP VIRGINIA, Kuwait—Standing before a tent full of men and women with gas masks on their hips and M-16s at their sides, Chaplain Capt. Randy Thomas said peace is overrated.

Jesus, he told the assembled soldiers at Sunday services, was a force for conflict.

"Whoever said God is peace is wrong," the American Baptist minister said to a chorus of amens.

"God is love. Peace can be manipulated. To reach peace with everybody means that at some time down the road you're going to have to comply with someone's immoral demands."

While many churches in the United States have found President Bush's stance toward the Iraqi regime too hawkish, Thomas maintains that sometimes the abandonment of force is wrong.

He says, for instance, a deal that would disarm Saddam Hussein to avoid war would still leave a despot in place to oppress the Iraqi population.

Meantime, the churchgoers gave testimony to how their faith has helped them understand Army careers that have landed them in the desert within range of Iraqi chemical weapons. One woman said she didn't think she could bear the discomfort and fear of camp life until she stopped into the chapel tent to pray.

Then Chaplain Lt. Col. Hardie Higgins, a United Methodist minister, noted the "great sandstorm of ༿" a few nights before and how it had toppled two dining tents that had better windbreaks than the chapel.

"The tent of the Lord survived," Higgins said. "Lord, no one prays like a soldier or a soldier's family, but no one's so ready to be in the Lord's army."

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U.S. BASES IN KUWAIT—The joke among U.S. forces here is: This war would have started already, if they would have had the media in place.

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KUWAIT CITY—The residents here are amazingly nonchalant about the fact that a quarter-million troops are assembling outside their city. They welcome American and British visitors to the city, not only because those countries led the emancipation of Kuwait a decade ago, but also because their private sector appendages sprout up everywhere, including the McDonald's signs advertising a new grilled chicken pita: the "McArabia."

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KUWAIT CITY—With triple-digit temperatures edging closer, Maj. Gen. Buford Blount, commander of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division said fighting in hot, bulky bio-chemical gear will require soldiers to have more water and rest as the desert grows hotter.

"It's tough on them. It's tough on equipment," said Blount, whose troops are expected to join a Marine division as the first forces into Iraq if war comes.

The average high for March in the Kuwaiti desert is 78. The average high increases to 88 in April and 101 in May. June's average high is 110 degrees. Blount added daytime heat can be countered by fighting at night when U.S. forces can capitalize on their overwhelming advantage in night vision and thermal-imaging technology.

He said night attacks are best conducted under a waxing or waning moon. A full moon can provide the enemy with some visibility, while moonless—or new moon—nights reduce the light capabilities of U.S. night vision equipment.

The next waning moon occurs March 26-27.

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KUWAIT CITY—The government of Kuwait Monday showcased plans to open a humanitarian center to aid displaced Iraqis in the event war breaks out, but said it would not open its borders to refugees.

"They will be in a better environment in their own homes," said retired Kuwaiti Lt. Gen. Ali al Mumin, who is heading up the Humanitarian Operations Center. "We prefer they stay where they are and we reach them."

Al Mumin said the office will serve as headquarters to coordinate relief efforts with the United Nations. In the event of war, an estimated 1.8 million Iraqis are expected to need immediate food, shelter and medical help.

Under the Geneva Conventions, the U.S. military would have primary responsibility for the Iraqi civilians if it invades.

Al Mumin was flanked at the packed news conference—held inside the Coral Ballroom at the Sheraton Hotel—by HOC military advisers U.S. Col. James Brown and Alistair Mack of Britain.

"We all know the size of the potential crisis," Brown said. "We are trying to steer away from actual numbers—it's more important right now to come up with scenarios."

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(Knight Ridder Newspapers correspondents Scott Canon, Jeff Seidel, Mark Johnson, S. Thorne Harper and Sara Olkon contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

Iraq

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