Poor Khaled

Robert Fisk

Prince Khaled bin Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, commander-in-chief of all foreign forces in the Gulf War, nephew of King Fahd, and son of the Saudi Defence Minister, Prince Sultan, used to employ an American public relations company to manage his press conferences. Deep in the high-pile carpeted interior of the Saudi Ministry of Defence, an Irish-American of massive build – a certain Mr Lynch from Chicago – would stand just behind Prince Khaled, choosing which journalists should be permitted to ask questions and suggesting to the rather portly Saudi commander how he should reply.

It was, to put it mildly, an unbecoming performance. Prince Khaled would beam into the television cameras and pour out his effusive thanks to the American people for sending their sons to defend his land while Mr Lynch nodded sagely at his shoulder. The Prince’s presentation was made all the more extraordinary by a hairline so thick and low that he appeared to have recently undergone a hair implant. His thin moustache added an even more surreal touch, making him look unhappily like those bewhiskered gentlemen who in silent movies used to tie ladies to railway lines in front of express trains.

No, he assured us all, Saudi Arabia would never be used as a launching platform for offensive action against Iraq. US forces were arriving solely to defend the Kingdom. King Fahd’s decision to invite American troops to Saudi Arabia had been ‘one of the most courageous of his life’. He himself saw nothing wrong with this invitation to the foreign ‘guests’. America would respect the laws of Saudi Arabia; and Saudi Arabia respected the United States. ‘Respect’ was the word the Saudis always used. The foreigners would respect Islam and would respect the Arabs. And of course, Arabs would respect America. Prince Khaled expressed his ‘respect’ for General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the US commander in the Gulf, and the American general duly pronounced his own ‘respect’ for Prince Khaled’s generalship. It sometimes seemed there was no end to this mutual admiration, even when Saudi troops fled their posts at the Saudi frontier town of Khafji in January 1991 and abandoned the place to invading Iraqis.

After Saudi and Qatari soldiers – most of the latter being Pakistani mercenaries rather than Arabs – eventually fought their way back into Khafji, there was the ever-smiling prince, now sporting a bright blue keflon helmet adorned with transfers of a general’s four stars, declaring his pride in his Army and in their American allies. Little wonder, then, that the very same Prince Khaled, browsing through General Schwarzkopf’s newly published autobiography[1], was somewhat taken aback to find that General Schwarzkopf’s ‘respect’ for him was not quite as deeply held as he apparently thought. Khaled, according to his American counterpart, complained that American troops were wearing T-shirts bearing a map of Saudi Arabia (maps were ‘classified’), that a rabbi had boasted of blowing the Rosh Hashanah ram’s horn on Islamic soil (the rabbi was in America and quoted in an Israeli newspaper), that the Americans were bringing ‘dancing girls’ into Dhahran; Khaled wanted the Americans to launch their ground offensive from Turkey rather than Saudi Arabia and told Schwarzkopf that the Syrians didn’t want to fight. Prince Khaled was chosen for his job, Schwarzkopf wrote, by two American generals.

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[1] It doesn’t take a hero: The Autobiography of General H. Norman Schwarzkopf (Bantam. 530 pp., £17.99, 1 October, 0 593 12593 8).

[2] Storm Command: A Personal Account of the Gulf War by General Sir Peter de la Billière (Harper-Collins. 348 £pp., £18, l4 September, 0 00 255l38 1).

[3] Tornado Down by RAF Flight Lieutenants John Peters and John Nichol (Joseph, 256 pp., £15.99, 10 September, 0 7181 3639 X).