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Kuwait: Jubilation On 12th Anniversary Of Liberation From Iraqi Occupation

Kuwaitis today are celebrating the 12th anniversary of their liberation from Iraqi troops in the 1991 Gulf War. RFE/RL reports that the mood in the capital resembles celebrations after a World Cup soccer victory rather than reflecting a nation that may be weeks away from becoming the launching pad for a U.S.-led war against Iraq.

Kuwait City, 26 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Kuwaitis today are celebrating the 12th anniversary of their liberation from invading Iraqi troops by a U.S.-led military coalition.

Liberation Day is now a national holiday in Kuwait. By a twist of fate, the holiday comes one day after the National Day holiday, which marks the founding of Kuwait as an independent state in 1961. For many Kuwaitis, the back-to-back holidays are now considered cause for one large celebration.

As midnight approached last night, young Kuwaitis raced around the streets of the capital in flag-draped cars, shouting victory chants and honking their horns.

A passenger in one car, a teenage Kuwaiti girl, shouted welcome greetings to a group of Western journalists walking in the city center. She laughed as she sprayed a string of white foam in their direction.

Nearby, dance music blared from two large tents that had been erected for parties inside. A crowd of young Kuwaitis thronged around the tents.

The mood in the capital this week resembles more a country that has just won a World Cup soccer match rather than a place that may soon become the main deployment point for a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Ahmad al-Jarallah, the editor in chief of the English-language "Arab Times" newspaper in Kuwait, says the majority of Kuwaitis are happy about the prospects of a war to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein from power -- and the chance to renew friendships and business ties with the Iraqi people. "We feel that there is a danger we have been living under these [past] 30 years [because of the Iraqi regime], and now it is about to vanish. [So] we feel that this year, [National Day and Liberation Day] has a special taste," al-Jarallah said.

Many of the large buildings in Kuwait City have been lit in green, red, and white lights patterned after the Kuwaiti flag. The headquarters of a Kuwaiti oil firm also has the numbers 25 and 26 emblazoned on its facade -- commemorating National Day on 25 February and Liberation Day on 26 February.

Other buildings are decorated with yellow lights in the shape of massive ribbons -- a reference to a U.S. domestic campaign launched by relatives of American soldiers during the 1991 Gulf War, symbolizing support for U.S. troops.

The largest yellow ribbon of all is on a massive communications tower in Kuwait City that had been under construction when Iraqi troops invaded in August 1990. That structure was completed after a U.S.-led international coalition forced Iraqi troops out of Kuwait 12 years ago and has been named Liberation Tower.

But the celebrations by Kuwaitis haven't been confined to the prosperous and well-lit streets of the capital. Near the UN-monitored demilitarized zone that forms the official border between Kuwait and Iraq, a group of Kuwaiti Bedouin shepherds marked the dual holiday yesterday by performing a war dance called the Al-Ardha.

The Al-Ardha is a traditional dance of Arab Bedouins in the Persian Gulf region. Two lines of Bedouin singers face each other on massive red carpets that have been spread out on the desert sand. The singers hold gleaming sabers, which they raise in unison. Between them, a group of percussionists dance and keep rhythm on wooden drums covered with animal skins.

Yesterday's performance took place at a desert outpost in the Al-Abraq region of western Kuwait -- within view of Iraq across an electrified barbed-wire fence marking the UN-monitored demilitarized zone.

A helicopter of the UN monitoring team flew overhead as the Bedouins sang about the independence of their country and how they will never allow their territory to be taken by a foreign invader.

Meanwhile, in a nearby tent, Interior Minister Shaykh Muhammad Khaled al-Sabah praised his border guards as he remarked on the significance of National Day and Liberation Day for Kuwaitis. "First and foremost, I am happy and proud to be present among the Kuwaiti border guards and security services on an occasion that is very dear and precious for us. It is the celebration of the National Day -- the 42nd anniversary of the birth of independent Kuwait, and [the 12th] anniversary of our liberation [from the occupying forces of Iraq]. The officers and the staff of Kuwait's border police and security are the front line of defending the borders of Kuwait," he said.

Al-Sabah concluded by saying that he is confident Kuwaiti security forces will bravely conduct their duties along the border that separates Kuwait from Iraq.

More than 70,000 U.S. soldiers and 13,000 British troops are now deployed in the Kuwaiti desert in preparation for a possible invasion of Iraq.

U.S. President George W. Bush has threatened to use force to disarm Iraq of its alleged weapons of mass destruction if it does not do so voluntary, in compliance with Baghdad's obligations under UN Security Council resolutions. Iraq denies it has such weapons.

Back in Kuwait City, a large billboard has been erected by local businesses at a major intersection to thank the United States and Britain for their efforts in the 1991 Gulf War, as well as for the current military buildup in Kuwait. The billboard, with its message in English, concludes, "We Are Much Obliged."