The general charged with keeping the peace says "not one inch of Iraqi soil is going to be given up until the cease-fire agreement has been signed."
"The last thing that I want to see is the United States Army go on the offense again," said Maj. Gen. Thomas G. Rhame, commander of the 1st Infantry Division. "If we're required to do that, absolutely we'll do that. But I don't think the Iraqi army wants to start a war with us."The 17,000-member 1st Infantry Division is spreading out 90 miles west into allied-occupied southern Iraq to occupy positions along a buffer zone separating the two forces.
The demarcation line was agreed on by the two sides March 3 pending the signing of a permanent cease-fire.
Rhame said the 1st Division's move was not intended to put pressure on Baghdad to sign the cease-fire.
"It has nothing to do with the cease-fire agreement," he said. "It's an arrangement of the forces to allow the elements which came before us to extract and begin the deployment home. It has absolutely no bearing in my mind on the resumption of an offense. It has no bearing on the peace accords at all. It's simply a realignment of the forces across the theater."
Rhame stood on a highway near the Kuwait-Iraq border watching the 1st Division convoys roll by scores of burning oil fires. The fires were set by retreating Iraqi forces who were cut off by the 1st Division at the very same spot Rhame stood Wednesday.
"What this guy (Saddam Hussein) has done over here is devastated this country," Rhame said. "They verge on being thugs."
Every now and then, explosions thundered across the desert, but they were not the sounds of war again. Division engineers were simply destroying tanks, artillery and other weapons that had been knocked out of service during the war.
In their spare time, when not fixing and cleaning their tanks and guns or performing training exercises, the men play Nintendo Game Boy video games or cards and wash up in makeshift showers from the windswept sands that stick to the body.
Watching their comrades go home to loved ones and heroes' welcomes makes them wish that they could, too. But they will have to wait a while longer.
"It's frustrating to still be here," said Capt. James Fain, 30, of St. Albans, W. Va., an artillery officer. "I guess we still have a job to do. I had a child born March 4. It's hard being away at the time."
Under Pentagon policy, the first troops in are the first to leave. Many of the American units arrived last summer and fall. The 1st Infantry Division didn't arrive from Fort Riley, Kan., until December.
"We absolutely understand they go before we do," said Rhame. "If you ask every soldier in the division is he ready to go home, certainly he's ready to go, but our turn will come."