COVER

‘WHY ARE THEY BOMBING US?’

REFUGEES FLEE IRAQ AND KUWAIT

February 25 1991
COVER

‘WHY ARE THEY BOMBING US?’

REFUGEES FLEE IRAQ AND KUWAIT

February 25 1991

‘WHY ARE THEY BOMBING US?’

REFUGEES FLEE IRAQ AND KUWAIT

As the U.S.-led coalition continued its daily bombing of Iraq and Kuwait last week, Maclean’s Washington Correspondent Hilary Mackenzie, who has been temporarily based in the Jordanian capital of Amman, went to the Iraqi border and talked to refugees. Her report:

The convoy of three cars and two buses, fleeing besieged Kuwait City for Amman on Feb. 9, had travelled only an hour when, a Jordanian eyewitness said, an allied plane roared out of the northern sky. At the border last week, Mohammad Saeed Salim told how he had watched in horror as the plane dropped a bomb on the two cars leading the convoy. As the bus in which he was riding screeched to a halt, he said, passengers piled out and dove to the ground. Minutes later, the plane returned to strike a bus named the Star of Jerusalem in front of them, creating a fireball that sent a cloud of black smoke into the clear blue sky. Then, said Salim, a third bomb blew off the roof of his bus, shattering the windows, and shards of glass and metal tore into his legs. The 60-year-old surveyor said

that 47 passengers, including children, burned before his eyes. “It is an inhumanity,” declared Salim. “Why are they bombing us? He is criminal who bombs civilians.”

Last week, the allied bombing of a shelter in Baghdad, in which Iraqi officials said at least 300 civilians died, inflamed anti-American sentiment across the Arab world. But there were many other tales of anguish in the devastated war zone, especially among passengers plying the treacherous roads through Iraq from Kuwait City to the Jordanian border town of Ruweished. They were fleeing daily bombing raids that, they said, had cut water, electricity and telephone lines in Kuwait City. Others said that they paid the equivalent of $2,600 for a day-long bus ride to flee the devastation in Baghdad. Thirty days of aerial pounding have severed vital links between the Iraqi capital and the outside world and have reduced life to its basics, witnesses reported. Some of the bedraggled refugees of war entered the crowded transit camps on the pitted road in a no man’s land along the Iraqi-Jordanian border. Others showed their paltry possessions to customs

officials, then continued their drive to Amman.

Despite the dangers, some Jordanian truck drivers continue to travel in and out of Iraq. At the border last week, Abdullah Doghmos, 47, pieced together parts of a missile shell that he said had exploded in front of his container truck on the road from Baghdad. “They don’t bomb the military,” Doghmos said in Arabic through an interpreter. “They only bomb the civilians.” Fellow driver Basil Ganem, 34, said that he had been carrying food, milk and medicine into Kuwait and Iraq, and bringing people out to Jordan. He claimed that allied bombers had struck markets, bridges, milk factories, food warehouses and civilian buses in Iraq. “They are doing this on purpose,” Ganem declared. “They are bombing Arabs and Moslems because they hate Arabs.” Ganem and Doghmos said that they drove by day and sought shelter near Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery batteries at night. And they vowed to continue their work. Declared Ganem: “The United States and the allies are God’s enemy. God willing, we will keep on doing this until victory comes to Iraq.”

'Horrible’: Along their gruelling 48-hour journey from Kuwait City, Reem Ahad, her mother and two younger sisters had passed the charred remains of the Star of Jerusalem bus. At the Jordanian border last week, they settled into a cramped 50-seat bus, which reeked of body odor and decaying food, for the final fourhour drive to Amman. “Kuwait City is horrible,” Ahad said. “There is no electricity, no cars, no telephones, no vegetables and everything is very, very expensive.” She added: “Life was nothing. You can’t work, can’t shop, can’t go to school. And family members fight because they are fed up.” Added her sister, 16year-old Samah Ahad: “I feel worried and sad. I don’t know what will happen.”

Off the road in the no man’s land, 20 Sudanese refugees climbed out of a bus smeared with mud for camouflage. Abdalrhim alGahaer, 32, a carpenter in soiled clothing and a grey hat, said that the bombing of Baghdad had reduced much of the city centre to rubble. Missiles had flattened the bus station and shopping centres. “The main areas hit were civilian,” al-Gahaer insisted.

Last fall, there had been a flood of Asian guest workers into the unsanitary and overcrowded emergency camps on the Jordanian border. But by last week, that movement had been reduced to a trickle, because most of those who planned to leave had already done so. The Azraq Emergency Tent Camps 1 and 2, with a capacity for 55,000, housed 646 Yemenis, Somalians, Indians, Iranians and Sudanese. Army-issue wool blankets lined their tents, while kerosene heaters threw off warm glows in the otherwise darkened interiors. Abdul Kadir, 40, said that he fled Baghdad with his wife and one-year-old son last September but, along with 159 other Somali refugees, cannot return home because of fears about the civil war. “It’s like we are in jail here,” said Kadir, crouching on a mattress. “I don’t know anything about my family—if they are even alive in Somalia.” All he knew was that he was alive in a tent camp in the middle of another war. □