JOHN BIERMAN September 3 1990


JOHN BIERMAN September 3 1990



As tension mounted ever higher in the Persian Gulf and exiled Kuwaiti government ministers warned that war seemed inevitable, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein staged a rivetting television spectacular. Wearing a grey business suit and an avuncular smile, he appeared on videotape talking to a group of British “guests,” as he called them, at one of the undisclosed strategic locations where his regime is holding Westerners to discourage attack. For 40 minutes, he harangued the two dozen Britons. They included a number of children, one of whom, a boy named Stewart, aged about 7, he patted and stroked repeatedly—to the boy’s

evident discomfort. “You are not hostages—your presence here is meant to prevent war,” Hussein told his captive audience. He insisted, “We are truly concerned about your welfare, and this is not propaganda.” But a British Foreign Office statement described Hussein’s performance as a “repulsive charade,” and a U.S. spokesman called it “shameful.”

The Iraqi dictator’s public relations fiasco was quickly followed by a U.S. diplomatic triumph. With only Cuba and Yemen abstaining, the 15member UN Security Council last Saturday authorized by a 13-0 vote the use of force by warships taking part in the U.S-led naval blockade of Iraq. The resolution received crucial Soviet backing after Hussein failed to respond to an urgent personal appeal from his onetime ally, Soviet á President Mikhail Gorbachev, to order an immediate withdrawal from Kuwait, which Iraq invaded on Aug. 2. Passage of the UN resolution and Hussein’s bizarre attempt to present himself to the world as a kindly, compassionate figure were the highlights of a dangerously eventful week. Earlier, President George Bush announced a call-up of nearly 50,000 reservists, warning that Americans must be prepared for war. Around the world, stock market indexes tumbled and oil prices soared (page 30). Iraqi troops surrounded several Western embassies in Kuwait City, including Canada’s, as governments defied orders to close their missions there. In response, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney warned the Iraqi government to “back off on this or recognize that it is well on the way to becoming—to understate the case—a pariah nation.”

As the unprecedented U.S. military buildup continued, bringing to an estimated 100,000 the number of American soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen in the region, U.S. Marine Maj. Jack Carter told Maclean ’s at a desert encampment in Saudi Arabia: “We enjoy deploying if the cause is right” (page 24). Amid all that, Jordan’s King Hussein, embarking on a last-chance diplomatic shuttle, described the situation as “a crisis of a world gone mad.” Meanwhile, three aged Canadian warships sailed from Halifax to join the 10-nation armada in or en route to the region (page 26). And Mulroney planned an Aug. 27 meeting with Bush at the President’s holiday home in Kennebunkport, Me. Officials said that the two leaders would undoubtedly discuss the Gulf crisis in detail.

As the Canadian warships sailed, concern grew that, as a result, the estimated 800 Canadians stranded in Iraq and Kuwait might


join the nearly 300 British, French and U.S. nationals already rounded up by the Baghdad regime. Those Canadians were mainly oil workers and their families, but they also included teachers, technicians and tourists. Among the vacationers were Arti Lakhani, 27, and her sister Swati, 30, of Toronto. They had been on their way to India aboard a British Airways jet that stopped to refuel in Kuwait just as the Iraqis invaded. Their parents last heard that they were in Baghdad, and their mother, Tara Lakhani, said last week, “We haven’t a clue where they are now.”

Kathy-Lynn McGregor, 32, a native of Lethbridge, Alta., who had been living for the past 13 years in Kuwait, was more fortunate. Accompanied by two women friends, and hiding her pet King Charles spaniel, Doggy-Woggy, under a billowing Bedouin dress that she wore as a disguise, she escaped by making a cross-desert dash for the Saudi border

in a Jeep. “We were very scared,” she told Maclean’s from Nottingham, England, last week. “It was hot, nerve-wrenching and tense.”

Although about 3,700 Britons are trapped in Iraq and Kuwait, the British government made it clear that the hostage situation would not affect its policies. Even as the Iraqi dictator’s crude public-relations video sped by satellite around the world, the British sent another squadron of Tornado fighter-bombers to the Gulf to join the two squadrons of jets already there. And, referring to reports that Iraqi troops had taken 10 Britons, including a family with two children, at gunpoint from their homes in Kuwait, Defence Secretary Thomas King commented, “That is barbaric behavior.”

Underscoring Washington’s desire to obtain a UN Security Council resolution permitting the

use of force if necessary to enforce the Iraqi blockade, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater claimed that military supplies, including chemical warfare products, were still getting through. The administration also wanted UN approval of its blockade tactics to reinforce its claim that, as Bush said last Wednesday, “this is not a matter between Iraq and the United States—it is between Iraq and the entire world community.”

In Saudi Arabia and the Gulf sheikdoms, the consensus last week seemed to be that war was unavoidable. Saudi supermarkets carried notices advising their customers what to do in the event of an Iraqi gas attack. In Dubai, leaflets warned the public to shut off their air conditioners, cover up and stay indoors. Despite their fears about an Iraqi gas attack, local officials were privately urging a quick U.S. strike. Said one United Arab Emirates official, on condition of anonymity: “Saddam is not going to do

anything to provoke the Americans, so the problem is how to start it before opinion back home [in America] begins to change.” Added the official: “If you wait, Saddam will have won.”

As U.S. troops dug in, they were bombarded by Iraqi radio propaganda. “Remember the fate of your friends in Vietnam,” exhorted one transmission. “Remember the sand dunes of Arabia can shift and swallow you up. Remember your wives, your children and your lovers and go home.” But there seemed increasingly little chance of either Gis or Iraqi troops seeing their homes again before a disastrous clash of arms.