Life for Press in Kuwait Unlike Last War

Life for the international press corps descending upon Kuwait to cover a potential war in neighboring Iraq is more than a little different this time around.

Twelve years ago last week, journalists from around the world followed coalition forces into a newly liberated but devastated nation.

In February 1991, Kuwait was a burning shell. Hotels, homes and government buildings were ruined by the Iraqi occupation.

Oil-well fires ignited by retreating Iraqi troops at the order of Saddam Hussein released thick dark smoke that made the midday Kuwait City sky as black as night. Those entering Kuwait found their clothes stained by black droplets of oil fallout within minutes.

This oil-rich emirate worked quickly to erase all signs of the destruction left behind by the Iraqi occupation. In less than a year, the oil well fires were extinguished and a major rebuilding effort was well under way.

Now, both the troops and journalists gathering here find a nation that is much like it was before the Iraqi invasion.

Larger Obstacle Now Is Far Cry From Last War

The Kuwait City Sheraton has again become a temporary home for members of the news media.

Last time journalists checked into a smoldering ruin that offered little more than singed walls and a questionable roof. A shower meant splashing yourself with bottled water, and room service consisted of unpacking what food you had carried in.

But soon after what is now being called the "first" Gulf War, the Sheraton Hotel, like much of Kuwait, was returned to world-class form.

Once again the roof of the Sheraton has been made into a satellite-dish city, covered in transmission equipment and newly constructed platforms, where network correspondents deliver live reports in front of an illuminated Kuwait City skyline.

But now to make it to their live positions, reporters must weave their way through the busy kitchen of an Indian restaurant. An obstacle, but a far cry from the difficulties overcome by journalists who covered the liberation of Kuwait.

But the larger challenge in covering this potential war from Kuwait is not in navigating through day-to-day operations, but in preparing for a myriad of potential worst-case scenarios.

Several media outlets have hired outside safety consultants to teach their journalists how to avoid being targeted by terrorists. Newly arrived reporters in Kuwait may spend as much time training to respond to a chemical or biological attack as they do covering stories.

Threat of Terror, Iraq Attack Calls for Security Measures

The threat of terrorism or a strike from Iraq has effected the military's press operation as well.

The American and British military have chosen a chic Hilton resort nestled on a picturesque beach as the headquarters for their press information center in Kuwait.

The Coalition Press Information Center (CPIC) is located in a sparsely populated area 20 miles south of downtown Kuwait City. Aside from its luxuries, the location offers a remote and more secure base of operation.

In just the last few days, this Hilton resort has undergone a transformation that is a metaphor for how the arrival of coalition forces has affected this gulf nation.

Half of the Hilton — like the northern half of Kuwait — is occupied by coalition forces, making this sweeping beachfront resort at once a paradise and a fortress.

Recently installed metal detectors, barricades, bomb-sniffing dogs, and Kuwaiti soldiers brandishing assault weapons greet visitors thousands of feet from the hotel's entrance. Other hotels and government facilities in Kuwait City have taken similar precautions.

Caged love birds bought at local markets have also been added to the offices of some news outlets here.

Named and cared for as pets, the birds also serve as early warning detectors of a chemical attack — canaries in a journalist coal mine.

The question of whether or not all this careful planning and caution is too much or not enough can only be answered by each day's quiet passing. And that, most everyone here believes, won't last long now.