COVER

JOY AMONG THE RUINS

LIBERATED KUWAITIS FACE THE FUTURE

BRUCE WALLACE March 11 1991
COVER

JOY AMONG THE RUINS

LIBERATED KUWAITIS FACE THE FUTURE

BRUCE WALLACE March 11 1991

JOY AMONG THE RUINS

COVER

LIBERATED KUWAITIS FACE THE FUTURE

In a quiet, shaded quarter of Kuwait City, the centre of Emir Sheik Jaber alAhmed al-Sabah’s royal regime lay in filth-stained ruin. Before his exile, Dasman Palace had been his residence, a deliberately modest compound of graceful one-storey buildings and tree-lined drives. The grounds were home for his family and their pets, as well as a place where Kuwaitis could petition the emir for favors. But like Kuwait itself, Dasman Palace has been ravaged by Iraq’s 208-day occupation. A telephone directory and tattered family photos were all that remained in al-Sabah’s library last week. The palace had been stripped of jewels, silver and furnishings. Passageways between rooms that reeked of urine were filled with shin-deep garbage made potentially lethal by the occasional protruding land mine. The body of the emir’s Persian cat lay crushed against a wall. Surveying the scene, guide Basem alDarweesh, 31, told Maclean ’s: “This is the evil of Iraqis. They are rats.”

Blaring: In the streets of Kuwait City two days after allied troops plunged triumphantly into the liberated capital, exuberant Kuwaitis continued to celebrate by blaring car horns and firing automatic weapons into the air. The sounds of joy mixed with explosions as soldiers detonated some of the countless mines and munitions littering the city. In their first hours of freedom, Kuwaitis had emerged from hiding with the guarded, uncertain air of prisoners squinting into unaccustomed daylight. They found that in the final week of occupation, Iraqi soldiers had attempted to torch the city. Government buildings, including the Sief Palace, and international hotels showed signs of damage from fire and grenades. Flames from hundreds of oil wells lit the nights, while their billowing smoke blackened the days.

But the war’s main legacy may ultimately be the tortured soul of this tiny coastal country, whose people must now deal with hatreds and divisions heightened during the occupation. Many Kuwaitis also have desperate, unanswered questions about the fate of friends and family. They say that as the allied armies closed in on the city, Iraqi soldiers rounded up Kuwaiti men. Many disappeared on Feb. 22, following religious services at mosques. Some Kuwaitis maintain that the Iraqis took them as hostages during their flight. And almost all residents of the capital were eager to describe the “unspeakable acts” referred to by Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf. They told eerily similar

tales of atrocities suffered by friends or family. “We have lived seven months in a very great terror,” said Ahmed Sader, a 53-year-old Kuwaiti of Lebanese origin. “Many families are living in sorrow for sons and daughters lost.” To those touched directly by Iraqi terror, there was little consolation in the liberation of Kuwait. Mohammed Habib, 54, wept as he described how Iraqi soldiers returned his 20year-old son, Abdul Aziz, after a two-week

interrogation, only to shoot him in the back of the head on the doorstep of his home. “I love George Bush,” his father said quietly. “But he should kill all Iraqis.” Other Kuwaitis opened morgues to reporters to show evidence of the invaders’ brutality: bodies of Kuwaiti men and women with burned or severed limbs, slashed throats and gouged-out eyes.

The extent of the violence is still unknown. Some Kuwaitis said that allied forces had exaggerated atrocities in order to demonize the Iraqi armed forces. But descriptions of the Iraqis’ campaign of terror all bore the same imprint. Kuwaitis said that many of the executions and beatings were carried out under the orders of secret police within the Iraqi military. Although regular soldiers in the so-called pub-

lie army were often polite and sympathetic, said the Kuwaitis, the secret police conducted a continual, vicious campaign to root out resistance fighters. They repeatedly searched houses for hidden weapons. They also targeted Kuwaitis who possessed cameras, photocopiers and fax machines, items that could be used to get information out of the country.

According to witnesses, the Iraqis treated captives ruthlessly, often shooting them in

front of their families or dumping their bodies on doorsteps as a graphic warning. Ebraheem Boukhumssen said that he had buried a 25year-old neighbor who had been shot in the head after four months of detention. “He had blood coming out of his ears,” said Boukhumssen, his lower lip quivering. “The punishment had changed the shape of his face.”

Other Kuwaitis told stories of more indiscriminate violence. They said that soldiers had killed young boys for simply spraying antiSaddam Hussein slogans on buildings. Guards at checkpoints watched for violators of martial laws requiring residents to tum in their Kuwaiti passports and change car licence plates to Iraqi registration. Some Kuwaitis said that they stayed off the streets for fear that the Iraqis would trump up charges against them. Said Hamed al-Jaber, 24, as he drove four friends along a downtown boulevard to join a celebratory parade: “Just last week, driving here could have been suicide.”

have been suicide.” After the liberation, some Kuwaitis admitted that the terror had stifled opposition in the final months. “The resistance was successful to a certain level,” said Khalid alSader, 34, a burly Kuwaiti air force major who joined a wide network of underground groups. “But there were problems between the groups, and the governmentin-exile did little for the resistance.” And al-Sader acknowledged that some Kuwaitis had collaborated with the Iraqis. “Kuwait is for the honest, and it must be said that there were good people and bad people on both

The legacy of those divi-

sions is a deep bitterness and mistrust among Kuwaitis themselves. No ethnic group greeted the liberation with more uncertainty than Kuwait’s Palestinian population. PLO chairman Yasser Arafat’s support for Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait brought a flood of Palestinian radicals into the emirate. And since last August, the only students allowed to attend school were Iraqis and Palestinians. As a result, many Palestinians said that they fear retribution from Kuwaitis now that the war has ended. “Most Palestinians liked Saddam because they believed his lies that he would bring back Palestine,” said Bassam Mohammed, 29, as he strolled along a ransacked commercial street in a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood of Kuwait City. “But Arafat should have stayed outside this game.”

at least until basic services are restored later this month. Even then, the journey home will be difficult. Roads into Kuwait last week were clogged with convoys bringing food, water and medicine from Saudi Arabia. Traffic flowed slowly along a coastal highway that Iraqi troops had dug up and lined with mines as a defensive tactic. Elsewhere, all movement was slowed by

Some Kuwaitis said that many Palestinians had used their immunity from suspicion to smuggle food, money and mail to them during the occupation. But, said Boukhumssen, “Many Kuwaitis think the Palestinians were not loyal to us and they are bashing them.” That violence has already surfaced. Said Kuwaiti air force Maj. al-Sader: “I am sorry to say this, but I saw a Kuwaiti grab a Palestinian kid and shoot him right in front of his mother.”

Those tensions may worsen once world attention shifts from Kuwait and thousands of exiles return home. For now, Kuwaiti officials have asked their citizens abroad not to return,

Dthe destruction on Kuwait’s killing fields. “The battlefield is a mess, just a heap of tanks and guns,” said U.S. air force Maj. James McClain after flying over Kuwait in an F-18 last week.

Nor did the halt in fighting bring relief from the charcoal skies created by the oil fires. On the afternoon of the ceasefire, the sun disappeared behind a curtain of acidic smoke, casting the country into an ominous darkness. By night, even when the smoke cleared, Kuwait was in total darkness because of the lack of power, with oil-well fires providing the only

light. Looking over the pitch-black skyline from the rooftop of a hotel where Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery emplacements once stood, a visitor counted 75 fires.

Only a few American troops were visible in Kuwait City, most of whom were seen standing in front of the newly reoccupied U.S. Embassy. Not far away, a small team of Canadian forces guarded the reopened Canadian Embassy. By design, Arab troops had led the way into Kuwait City on Feb. 27, followed by U.S. marines. Two days later, long convoys of marines were withdrawing to Saudi Arabia, leaving the Arab forces to keep the peace—and soak up the adulation of grateful Kuwaitis.

Slow: But the country’s devastated infastructure will make recovery a slow process. More vitally, the Iraqis may have left a formula for I internecine violence in their ü wake: an angry and abused I population, seeking retribu0 tion and casting about for culprits. A Canadian walking the lightless streets of the capital alone late one night last week got a menacing taste of those tensions. Three Kuwaiti men in a car screeched up beside him and demanded to know if he was a Palestinian. Their mood changed when the visitor insisted that he was a Canadian. “Sorry,” one of them said. “We are looking for Palestinians and Iraqis.” It was a portent of the anger and violence that is competing with joy in the wake of war.

BRUCE WALLACE