Personal experience before the Gulf war

Personal experience before the Gulf war

Jalīb aš Šuyūẖ : Kuwait | Dec 06, 2011 at 10:30 AM PST
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Highway 40 (2): 1st Ring Road to the Mosque in the Roundabout

They found me

I went to join my new work in Kuwait in April 1990. The process of getting started was very elongated and exhausting. As part of the process, there was some military clearance to be processed. The bus took us from the main office and we've been dropped at the investigation building. We were 9. We started to enter one by one and then we were facing a Kuwaiti dressed officer of the military investigation office who looked in our faces and at our hands and said:

- "where are your passports?

- "They are supposed to be with you" we answered.

- "No they are not, you need to bring them"

- "They are with you, with the Ministry".

- "Ah, we are not the Ministry". You need to bring them, only on next Saturday, and only then we can start the process".

We argued with him but he insisted.

We started to leave the room when he said

- "who is Mr. ...." it was my name.

- "It is me". !!!

- "You may stay here, have a seat".

I sat in front of him extremely astonished. And I then demanded: "What is the matter?"

- "Just wait".

Another person entered the office wearing European clothes ... the seated man told him:

- "This is him".

- "Are you Mr. ...." he asked.

- "Yes".

- "Please come with me".

I followed him and then I asked him: "May I know what is this about?"

- "I will tell you just follow me". Then he said: "where have you been all of this time, your family in Kuwait were trying to reach you to spend the holiday with them but you disappeared."

- "Oh that's what is all about?" I said, smiling.

- - "Yes, my wife works with one of your relatives who requested her to ask me to find you and I failed to".

- "Oh you are a military investigation officer I suppose, and you couldn't find me in the Ministry of defense?".

- "!!! and I am the one who is going to do the interrogation with you". "I am from Gaza."

The shock

It was Thursday morning, the day we usually leave office early, around 11 am, and get together with some friends at Al Shi’b beach for swimming. I was just done with my hot shower- it was 2nd of August, when water used to get very hot without heating for the sun radiation stores huge heat that remains in water pipes till next morning. I then turned the radio on at 5:30 am and it was the daily morning Qur’an citing. At the night before, I was watching Kuwait TV news bulletin, while it was way from being informative, but I could see that tough times are yet to come. I had some guests playing cards in my small place who made some kind of careless comments on my worries on the news.

I started preparing my breakfast and myself for a new day, as I have to walk to the new driver’s place which is nearby. The new driver was working in the Maintenance Department, just next to my office at the Research and large Projects Unit. While I was busy in the kitchenette, the Qur’an stopped suddenly at around 5:50 and a military announcement was made by the Kuwaiti Army, I guessed it might have been the 1st official declaration:

The Iraqi Army has attacked Kuwait. The Iraqi troops have encroached into the Kuwaiti northern boarders. We call for the Iraqis to use wisdom and to call off their invasion and pull back their troops. We urge all Kuwaiti citizens to defend their home country, and expatriates who drank Kuwaiti water and lived with us to defend Kuwait….”

The announcement went on into emotional and patriotic calling.

While I was swallowing the news with my meal, and while my ears were searching for some far away sounds, my room mate was just leaving the bath room with horror and fear in his eyes just when he picked some of the news. The artillery and explosions sounds started to be audible from a long distance, very low but continuously increasing. I made my way out of the building while the radio speaker was still charging people to defend Kuwait and to head on to the front lines.

Few days earlier, I was very worried on my books; those were counting more than 1,000. At the end of June, I managed to hand them over to the Kuwaiti Military Attaché in Amman in order to be shipped to Kuwait by a military air craft. My books arrived on 31st of July; this is why I have only opened one box. Should the flight have taken place two days later; I could have lost them all among all of the confiscated things in Kuwaiti airports and air basis. My fear was related to the expected events that seemed to start to gain more momentum during the last days of July, mainly with rapidly increasing Iraqi threatening tone on Kuwait. During these days, my books were traveling in the skies that were clouded with smokes of instability and threats.

I left my home with my head stuffed with hundreds of pictures of what could the reality be about… projects, numbers, family, wife, children, Palestine, tears and pain, parties, governments… the world was shaking under the sounds of the artillery shelling in pale yellow skies. The heat was filling my ears and nose and eyes, and the sun was burning and burning … non stop. I met with the new road mate; his face was featureless, pale, devastated and full of sorrow. He looked withered under the shook that thrown him unto a new day. We talked a bit and he … cried or so … and we took our way to work.

On arrival, I figured out that no one yet has a clue on what is happening. I met with some Egyptian colleagues who couldn’t believe what I was bringing up. They were thinking it was just a bad joke, when I said, don’t you hear the shelling? Someone said that might be a thunder sound, oh yes in Kuwait and in August. Followed by some moments of silence, I awaked them up demanding: why don’t you just turn your car radios on, right now? The shivering fingers started to search for Kuwait radio station, this is it, it was patriotic and national songs, few of them being repeated again and again, and then the announcement came again. It was real. Some circles were formulated filled with political analysis and conspiracy theories. Few steps away, the Sri Lankan office boy was watching, he felt that something unusual is happening, he looked into my eyes demanding explanations. I used some English, took his hand and went outside, pointed in different directions, asking him to listen to the far away bombing sounds… he screamed... WAR. One year before, he escaped from Sri Lanka, his home country, because of the Tamil war. He came to Kuwait and accepted a very basic package just to stay away of the war zone, but the war has just followed him to his hiding corner. It was the second time for me to see a crying man that day. He explained that if he was to go back to his country he would be probably killed because his home is at the northern-eastern part of Sri Lanka. I could offer no help. I went away with a small rub at his shoulder, thinking, as if sharing with him: “let us hope it would not be that bad”.

Larger crowds are now circling the radios, with cursing, comments, expectations, analysis… and the fingers are still searching for more news…

- Hold on a second, they are saying it is just a Kuwaiti coup.

- And you believe this sh.. be serious, it is an invasion

- Can’t be a revolution

- Whatever, there are Iraqi troops breaking through the borders

- They are lying to…

- It is a coup, I think it is

- You think you know anything? How long have you been here?

- Rubbish, there is no even one Kuwaiti who would accept to replace his regime with the Iraqi Ba’ath Party’s.

26 days only have passed since my return to Kuwait from Jordan, where I spent Eid Al Adha holiday, and, less than 4 months passed since my first arrival to Kuwait. Everyone started to review his trip from where he came from, his hesitation to leave his job and how the decision was made on such a bad time to meet our destiny that has put us here, in the Southern Command of the Kuwaiti Army near Mushref, where the tanks forces, ammunition and the central military hospital, as I understood.

Once again I left the office and saw some are still surrounding their cars listening to the radio. It was a kind of outdoor War Room. While trying to listen to some news, two air fighters came on a very low altitude over the area and filled the skies with a huge noise, then threw something tens of meters away, and then a smoke was seen from a distance. I ran away to the maintenance unit and talked to the people there. We made our decision to leave the place that suddenly turned to be very dangerous. Our office head, who was Kuwaiti, hasn’t shown up that day, and the communication with the Military Engineering Department was ineffective.

I brought some plastic bags and started to gather my personal things. I looked at the new furniture that was installed yesterday night. Some accessories and extended pieces are not yet in place, it was my new office that I haven’t used yet, was still incomplete. Will I be able to come back and put my things again on this disk? I filled the bags with my books and pencils and took them to the car. I returned back to say good bye to the place, I was wondering weather they will be bringing the new office chairs. They said they were the best. There was no time to wait for the chairs anymore.

On our way home we saw some Kuwaiti armored vehicles heading towards the sixth ring road. They looked very new, their dark blue metal shield was shining under the sun. We had to change our route several times due to detours that were enforced by what looked like Kuwaiti secret police. We arrived, one bag was ripped up and I had to carry the books in my hands, under my armpit, and embraced the rest at my chest and walked with them hunchbacked. A little later, we decided to head to the bank to withdraw our money, what a brilliant idea! Just on time. Some smoke clouds were formulating at the horizon ahead of us and some bombing sounds were also audible. After few minutes, the sky was covered with a large flock of choppers stuffed with four to six missiles each. The vast noise made it impossible for us to hear each other.

We seized the opportunity to watch them flying on a low altitude. Filling the yellowish sky with grey bodies and huge noise. They were 30 to 40 helicopters. There was some flag at the side. We couldn’t tell if it was Kuwaiti or Iraqi, but of course I had my own assumption without the need to see the flag. The choppers were flying heading north towards the Kuwaiti-Iraqi borders. It has just passed 10 am. Someone affirmed that he saw the three stars, it was Iraqi. Afterward, we saw something falling down on the third ring road area. Eventually we reached to the bank on Tunis Street, and it was of course, closed. We went back home.

On our way back, different images started to shape up in my head. So the choppers were Iraqis, flying north, so, they have completed their task, crossed the skies above us, with almost no ground resistance. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? Was it a complete and full assault? Did they take over the country? I think they did. I hope I am wrong. Oh, may be the choppers were not Iraqis. Well, what to do now then? What is the priority list and action plan? I remembered that I was supposed to go to “Salwa” district to have lunch with some siblings as the old lady was heading to Jordan on Saturday, today is Thursday, and I was supposed to say good bye to her. I left my home and went down to use the telephone at the grocery shop. While descending at the stair, I heard some noise at the main entrance, I was thinking to myself, this is impossible, he was an Egyptian chap, surrounded by a group of the residents:

- Yes, I swear, I just came from the airport, I was supposed to fly to Egypt, and this is my flight time. The airport is under Iraqi control; all Kuwaiti officers there have been captured.

- And where is the Iraqi army now? I exclaimed from behind the crowd.

- I saw them moving at the sixth ring road. They might be at the fifth now, where Bayan palace is. (And where my hostess house is, I said to myself).

I went and dialed the numbers. It was their daughter who replied. I was trying to apologize for being unable to come today, I mentioned the situation and … she said

- But how is this stopping you from coming?

- Well, it is just not appropriate, you know it is kind of war.

- No, come on, it is just some clashes on the borders. It will be fine.

- I am afraid it is much more than that. Have a lock from the window and you might be lucky to see some Iraqi tanks and helmets.

- What? NO, can’t be

- I learned that they are moving from the airport area, from the sixth ring road towards the fifth.

- What? No, and she screamed.

- I am really sorry; it is just sad, say hello to your family. Good bye.

It was just a short time since my first and last visit to this family. The lady was my mother’s cousin, and she was the one who opened the door for me, and she noticed the confusion look in my eyes when I saw the extra warm welcome she was about to offer. She felled into a loud laugh and explained; I am your aunt (we call it aunt – in breastfeeding. This is how we acquire extra relatives if they share milk from the same mother in our culture). I enjoyed their company, and I think they did to me too. I noticed the pleased look in her eyes while looking at her children, full of satisfaction. I felt that I haven’t disappointed her by being a tactful speaker and a friendly and funny person, and perhaps well educated.

I went back home. The atmosphere became stuffed with political analysis and a diversity of expectations.

The bold and the beautiful

I visited Bayan Palace just few weeks before the Iraqi invasion. It was one of the finest buildings I have ever seen. The palace was for official use by the Kuwaiti senior officials and was also used for conferences. My visit was made mainly focusing on the landscape work especially for the purpose of climatic adaptation. The palace was full of intricate details and art works that looked like a bride. As expected the security measures were very strict and took me days to wait for the permission to visit it.

On one day when I was with one of my friends driving in the area, at the 5th ring road, I saw the palace, the fine and pretty building. There was a big hole probably of a rocket or artillery shell. the place is now looking completely different. Black traces of smoke on the facade and bullets and rockets perforated the walls. I don't know why I imagined the Pastel prison during the French revolution when the crowds attacked the place.

You are not in Kuwait

I started to chaise the news on every possible channel. Scheduling channels into groups of news timings for the whole day. The different governments and their opposition parties started to declare their stances. Two camps have been established: the first declared alliance with the western countries to force Iraq to withdraw forces from Kuwait by all means including military actions, and on the other hand, the second camp was on Iraq side, or, rejected the use of force and preferred to first exhaust all peaceful possibilities to resolve the conflict. I could see that my time in Kuwait is about to end. Weather I like it or not, I am listed already within a camp according to my passport. And to make it crystal clear, the two official entities that make my identity: Jordan and Palestine, have had a similar stance. Probably for the first time ever. I was listening to the Jordanian opposition leaders who were much more radical emphasizing their support to Iraq. This again, clearly ensured that naturalizing the relationship between Kuwait and Jordan is getting longer and narrower, probably with no end.

For me, it was next day when I first saw Iraqi soldiers. I went to serve Juma’a prayer at Muzaini mosque at Salimiya cornice. Columns of Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles, in pale yellow and dark green, were cued at the road with the troops sitting there watching people. The soldiers have been very friendly and no sign of friction was noticed. I don’t remember seeing Kuwaitis in the mosque. Anyway, it was a holiday season, besides, Salimiya was a predominantly expatriates district. Such observation would have been probably changed should it be noted few days later.

Long cues started to take place for bread and other consumables, especially food. It was my first experience with corn bread. Wheat seemed to have disappeared or … taken? I never believed that this can happen to Kuwait. The cooperative societies that used to be full of products are absolutely empty. In the cues, you meet with every nationality and political view. Some are angry of what Iraq did, some others are completely confused, and debates go on and on in the cue that converts into a political forum, where origins or ethnicities play almost no role.

Sometimes, there were some vehicles coming from Jordan with frozen or cooled food. I bought some from them. I was preparing that long waited meal when huge sounds of explosions filled the air. The building was shaking and I could hear the residents fleeing in the corridors and the stairs. I haven’t moved; I was very confused and hungry. I put another tender in my stomach. But the situation became too dangerous. I opened the door and started to run.

The building was entirely empty, I went down to the ground floor and went backward following some voices, someone pointed at the boundary wall, asking me to climb it and jump to the building behind. I hurried up to that direction, the sounds of explosions were increasing more and more, I climbed the wall and jumped, he was waiting for me and pointed to follow him. The place was a basement under the building. Looked like it was used as fabrics storage. I could see a third wave of refugees in the pale faces. The place was full of silent clutter and noise. All ages of males and females were together. I was standing with my back to a column, it was the only place left for me. I was feeling the explosions when the column shakes before the sound. Some said that might be some kind of shelling from the US navy.

This was another tough day. At the evening we realized that the explosions were out of rockets and shells exploded from a burned Iraqi military trailer, which took place at the fourth ring road, few hundreds of meters away from where I was living. We went to see the place, the vehicle’s body has melted and we could find some of the fragmented pieces some kilometers away. It seemed to be an act of the newly born “Kuwaiti Resistance”; later on I started to see wall writings such as: “Kuwaitis and Palestinians hand in hand against the occupation”. Some friends could see the explosions and projected shells from Salmiya buildings roofs’ tops.

More days are passing and life in Kuwait has increasingly become more difficult. Lack of food on one hand and the stoppage of all municipal civil services. The streets were full of burned garbage. Kuwait, the fine city, I said to myself, oh my God, how can such things happen? No pedestrians are visible any more on the roads, the atmosphere is charged with fear and different expectations. Someday I have decided to visit some coworkers who used to live close by near the traffic court. To my surprise, one of them has not yet left the apartment since the invasion. He asked me to let him join me when I leave as I was trying to see if a hair dresser is possibly operating. I advised him not to come, he seemed to be a uniquely week person. He insisted. When we moved out of the building main door, and could see the smoke and smell of the burned garbage, empty roads with no pedestrians or vehicles passing, the smoke is covering the sunlight and made it much darker, he started to cry and I had to calm him down then I walked him back to his apartment.

Refugees again and again

The worst of the worst happened to the Palestinian residents of Kuwait who had Egyptian and Iraqi travel documents. They have been denied entry from every country including Egypt. They were lost everywhere. Some were gathered in camps at the Jordanian boarders. They have been seized between the occupation on their home land who denies even their existence and their “brother” countries who are worried about their inhabitants ethnic and sectarian balance among many other reasons that till now I failed to understand. Refugees of refugees, children of refugees who are seeking refuge from their refuge place. Some immigrated to USA and Canada who offered them some kind of life basics. Some others went into every possible and not possible way, including Brazil and other South and Latin American countries, and even Indonesia and Pakistan.

The surprise that couldn't

My friend and me were watching the news, from the Iraqi TV of course, when they announced that, there will be an announcement today, a reward surprise, to the Iraqi people, to the patient and patriotic Iraqis. I looked at my friend's face who was not sure what was that about and gave him a smile, he said:

- “What do you think?"

- "I think I can guess what this surprise will be about".

- "What do you mean? how do you know"

- "There is only one choice here. I believe Saddam will announce the annexation of Kuwait to Iraq".

- "NO, my friend exclaimed. He would be crazy, they will not let him do that".

- "Exactly, he is going to do what they have planned for him".

- "No, no, I don't believe so, I disagree with you."

The TV was still presenting national songs and programs on Iraqi military forces, then suddenly, there was a screen with the following writing: "Iraq TV from Zakho to Nida'a". I said to my friend:

- "you see? it is happening, this is already announced as I've just told you">

- "???"

- "Well, Zakho is the northest Kurdish City in Iraq and Nidaa, is the Iraqi name of the port of Ahmedi in the very south of Kuwait, so, they are saying, it is one country, isn't it?".

And unfortunately what I have guessed did happen. The annexation was announced later on that day. The announcement was saying: "Today, the leader of the Kuwaiti revolution, colonel Ala'a visited the Leader Saddam Hussein and requested the annexation of the branch to the trunk, and the leader accepted and we are pleased to say that to all Iraqi nationals that their patience is now rewarded".

I think the announcement meant that the rich Kuwait is ours now, all of the wealth of this oil country is belonging to Iraq. This revolution story was what the Iraqi media was making as a propaganda to justify the occupation of Kuwait. But in fact, there were no Kuwaiti collaborators. As a witness, I didn't see a Kuwaiti who was on the screen pretending supporting Saddam. The Iraqis tried to bring some TV presenters to pretend to be Kuwaitis but they even failed to wear their head cover properly.

In Tunis street, I was once walking to by some goods when I saw a small lorry with men inside wearing what was supposed to be Kuwaiti national dresses and chanting pro Saddam slogans. They were probably less than 10, but when I went home, the camera was put in the middle of the small crowed to show

that there were many of them. Why would you do that unless you failed to get real support?


The situation in Kuwait started to get worse, finding food was a challenge, and for some bread, you need to stand in a queue for hours in 50 degrees centigrade temperature. I talked to my friend about leaving to Jordan, the majority of the people I knew have been thinking the same. My friend was worried about the road safety and accessibility. Roomers increasingly talking about people being waiting at the borders for days, now we are talking about two weeks. With my friend having very young children, it was a serious issue. The other issue was the change of attitude of the Iraqi soldiers. After being very friendly with Jordanians at the beginning, they became more of hostile behavior later on. Some referred this change to that some Palestinians (always regarded as Jordanians and vise versa) have joined the Kuwaiti resistance movement against the Iraqis. Other reasons also can be considered such as changing the regular soldiers with "People Militias or semi-militias", who had some loyalty to Iran.

He once told me that a caravan of 11 cars are moving together, what do you think about joining them, he asked? Of course we should, it is a good chance to be in a group. We gathered after two days in the morning and started to move. I was accompanying my friend who had his wife and two children with him. The group were slow and have stopped more and more on the road, so we decided to move on our own. The road to Basra from Kuwait was busy with Iraqi military vehicles. And of course it is one country now and there was no border police on any side. Kuwait is not existing on the Iraqi maps anymore. In few hours we reached Basra, it felt like a big hot city. I remember reading a big sign board on the city entrance with Saddam Hussein's poster, reading something like: "How can Basra be occupied when it has 1 million Iraqis?". Many check points with tanks and soldiers were on the way, with not too long waiting. We moved on passing through many towns and cities, Kout, Amara, Nasiriya and others. Eventually we reached Baghdad. It was the first time my eyes could see this old capital.

After Baghdad we stopped in Ramadi to fill the car tank, I was approached by a teenager who asked for my watch. My friend told me that an Iraqi soldier in Kuwait asked him for his glasses, he told him they were medical, the soldier said no problem, anything, just give it to me. We left Ramadi heading to Ratba, the last urban place before the Jordanian borders. The road stopped suddenly on a military checkpoint. The soldier directed us to go left. We stopped the car and asked him why not to let us go on the highway, he said it was closed. He started to look into the car then asked if we have electronics, we gave him something, I can't remember, then he let us use the highway.

We've been delighted to have this privilege. The road was completely empty, the darkness was getting down slowly on us and it was then completely dark, there was no moon on that day of August 21st 1990. The road had no street lighting or side markings, just a straight black line in the darkness of the desert. No houses or buildings for hundreds of miles. It was my turn to drive and it was getting worse and worse to the extent that I couldn't tell whether I was driving along or across the road. This horror continued and I was expecting to hit something on any moment. For that I just tried to make the car straight as much as I could feel. Human senses gain more power on these moments, that was what I learned and not what I was feeling.

It was really a strange feeling, it was like flying in the vacuum. The only light was the car light. Now I know that the time passed was probably hours not more, but for me it was days or more. The emptiness, the complete darkness around that there was absolutely nothing around. We were in the only car on the road. So my brain was considering, what if and what if not. What if we were attacked, probably no one would know about it for days.

The other passengers have been mostly sleeping during this time, but, I decided to share my friend the new challenge. The tank has to be filled again soon. It was the most horrible thing to happen here in such an empty road to loose all fuel. He panicked first and we started to think about options including going back to the same check point and using the other road, but it was way too late. We also were thinking why the soldier on the check point did this to us. Why hasn't he insisted on us going to the permissible road. We thought he was giving us a privilege, we thought it was the easier and faster road.

We continued moving and the tank indicator was torturing us and getting down more and more. Eventually the yellow blinking added more visual alarms. The options started to be limited and we were running out of ideas. The whole world was dark, only one color was overwhelming the picture. I guessed all what was around us was sand, but who knows, there might be some palm grooves or small forests. Who cares, but no single light whatsoever, no life, no stars or moon. Just the darkness and us with the car engine spoiling this eternal silence.

Suddenly, we started to see what looked like people sleeping at the road side behind some cars. Apparently, these people have left before the road closure. Our morals started to get back a bit. after a while and closer to the first glimpses of dawn, we started to see people awaking up. We started to ask for fuel and no one was willing to reply. We lost hope, still moving, then I asked my friend who was driving to stop when I saw some Afghanis, he said come on, do you think these guys have anything, you never know I said, we stopped.

- “Assalamu Alaikum" I said, "would you give us some fuel for the car?".

- "Wa Alaikum assalam, yes brother I will give you", and he said he will put fuel in a 3 liter can.

- "3 Liters? this is too little for the road, we will pay for it, please give us more".

- "I am sorry, it is not about money, but we have three vehicles here and I can't give you more now. Listen, you move on now and we will move shortly, if we find you stopped on the way we will give you more."

- "That's all right", thank you".

We continued moving and we found ourselves at the borders area. The worst was still to come. The line of cars was drawing the frame of the entire seen of the area, extending endlessly. the line was going to the infinity. Crowds of people were sleeping in the valleys and on the plains all over the area. I couldn't estimate the number of people there, the number suggested that they are there for weeks! can't be accumulated within days, they must have been hundreds of thousands or more. The fear of waiting there for the next ... days or weeks stopped us of talking or even looking at each other. The car was happy as we filled the tank and we moved the car slowly to what looked like the borders gate. An Iraqi soldier approached us and asked for the passports. We handed them to him. Big smile and welcoming words, for, Jordanians. Ah, so those millions we have just left were the non-Jordanians.

The procedure wasn't that bad and we found ourselves within an hour on the Jordanian side. I looked at my passport, there was a Kuwaiti entry stamp and no exit one, and I got an Iraqi exit stamp with no entry one!

I met my family and I remember that my beard hasn't been shaved for almost three weeks. Every one was asking the same question: "What are you going to do?" The entire status for me was a kind of temporary. On an adverse to most Jordanians at that time, I believed that Iraqis will soon leave Kuwait. The way the Iraqis behaved in Kuwait didn't indicate their stay. They were uninstalling and shifting, I told some friends, looks like some day they will take off roads' tarmac.

Back to Kuwait

In October 1990, we travelled again, my friend and me to Kuwait again to try to get our belongings shipped to Jordan from Kuwait. The plan went on passing now through the Iraqi borders from Jordan all throughout Iraq to Kuwait. Approximately 2,000 Km. Of course, there were no Iraqi-Kuwaiti borders, it was just one political entity. We eventually arrived and his father was waiting for us at his home. The first surprise was to find out that my home has been stolen. It was completely empty with no broken door or window. Someone later asked me, how come you were stolen, I know many who got things back (he meant bonus), and my reply was, where did they get them from? stolen, OK yes, I was on the other side, apparently you can't steel without someone else stolen.

I decided to call my Kuwaiti colleague at work, who was actually behind my coming to Kuwait to start with. I offered him any help he might need. He was so delighted by the call and asked me about my friend's house address from where I was calling, then he came after 45 minutes. We started to talk about all matters, he was looking forward to his country's liberation, and said:

- “I am confident our country will be back safe for us".

- "How sure are you? these guys (the Iraqis) seem to be planning to stay".

- "I am confident that they will be forced to leave".

- "what makes you confident".

- "The Western countries will not leave them doing what they have done, soon you will see what I mean".

- "Oh, you mean you know something solid?"

- "No"

- "Then?"

- "Man I have to keep the hope. It is our only way". "Man I really appreciate your call, it is great, I am so happy that you wanted to meet me in such risky time. Thank you."

- "Come on, we are friends".

- "Look, when things are back to normal, you will be the first person to join his work"

- "Thank you for the offer, but, I don't think so".

- "Oh, why not?"

- "Don't you follow up the news? both of my identity sides are considered pro Saddam, I don't believe that I can get even a visa to enter to your country when it is back".

- "No I will work on it, leave it to me". He left, and we decided to stay in touch.

The Iraqis

I had the chance to speak to some Iraqi soldiers when I went with my friend to his office at Beirut street. The office was in a large mixed use complex including retail and residential. My friend went upstairs and I decided to talk to the Iraqi soldiers who looked like resting in the lobby or something like that. I looked into their featureless exhausted dusty faces. Even when one looked at me, I couldn't get the feel that he is really seeing me or his eyes are just scrolling in a dead head. I spoke out and asked them about what they think. To my shock all of them replied with news coming from BBC only. "So you don't listen to Iraqi media?" some of them murmured with words, apparently they don't. I asked them about their feeling about Iraq launching missiles on Israel, again, another shock, they knew nothing about it. I was thinking and looking at their boots, I wasn't sure if the mud and dust on their were Kuwaiti or left from Iran war.

The complex was completely robbed, or, some shop owners might have evacuated their shops to protect their goods.

We then moved to my office where I tried to get my personal stuff and again, some were already taken including books.

During our stay we went to Fahd Al Salem Street in the down town of Kuwait which is a kind of cornice road overlooking Kuwait bay. The place was as if part of Dresden in World War II. A huge number of damaged or shelled cars were accumulated along the entire road length. I started to imagine what has happened exactly to these cars. I believed that drivers going to their work on the morning of the second day of August were completely taken when encountering Iraqi tanks approaching from tankers at the sea side and directing their guns to the street, and probably bombing Dasman Palace area. The surprise would have caused huge number of car accidents by the scary drivers who would have just wanted to escape.

After months, I was looking at the National Geographic Magazine, covering Kuwait after war, I was looking specifically at a similar picture with many differences. It was the picture of the Iraqi military vehicles going north to Iraq during the American attacks. The vehicles were destroyed, burned and fragmented along the road from North of Kuwait to the Iraqi borders in what looked like a big escape. They looked like deer and buffalos were trying to escape from lions, but the difference was that the picture was still, the herds were all dead.

Dry with two rivers

In Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, which sits between the two main rivers of all West Asia: Euphrates and Tigris, it was the second day morning when we went looking to have something to drink or to eat. Eventually we cancelled the option of breakfast and decided to have just a cup of tea. The surprise was no restaurant had tea, neither water. That was something beyond imagination, not even a drop of water. But we kept looking then we noticed some cups inside a restaurant that have tea labels on the counter. We asked the man behind the counter for some tea and his answer was:

- “but we don't have, because we don't even have water".

- "But these are tea cups aren't they?"

- "Well, these are milk cups with tea labels, it is fresh milk". "Sorry there is no water to make tea without milk for you".

War on the door

My other and perhaps last personal connection with the Iraqi-Kuwaiti conflict was coming. After coming back from Iraq during the last two months of 1990, I was in my last days as a reserved soldier in the Jordan Armed Forces, as I was about the complete the stipulated 5 years. However, Jordan was the crossing land of the Iraqi missiles on Israel. Jordan was passing a very patriotic and nationalist period mainly supporting Iraq especially after rockets launched on Israel on one hand and on the other hand, it was resonating Saddam's threatening to Israel prior to the invasion.

Saying that, I was under the feeling that it might be inappropriate to request to free myself of the military reserve status when the government announced "General Mobilization" status to include reserved soldiers. I wasn't even sure if that was applicable on me. What made it more worse, that I lost my military documents just days before the assumed completion date.

Eventually, I thought that I had to do it. I started to prepare myself and choose Thursday the 17th. of January 1991. I went to the Recruitment and Mobilization Centre somewhere north of Amman. There was something different. Soldiers have were everywhere, lots of them organized in columns outside the centre. I made my way to the small information desk. I noticed a surprise look in the man's eyes and I then told him about the purpose of my coming. He opened his mouth and said:

- "You don't know what is happening?"

- "What do you mean?"

- "There is no one inside, it is general mobilization". The U.S.A. raided Baghdad today early morning. No one can help you today.

- "Do you know what should I do with my reserve status was finished last month"?

- "I am sorry I can't help".

What a luck.

The TV stations were full of news about shelling Baghdad with the U.S. B52 and atrocities started to be broadcasted on killing civilians and then it was the Amriya shelter when hundreds of civilians including women and children have been killed by cruise missiles. War just started. It was just the beginning of the air strikes followed by land attack the ended with the Iraqi army forced to leave Kuwait in late February 1991.

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Kuwait - just taken off and looking at 6th Ring Road
Kuwait - just taken off and looking at 6th Ring Road
From: Ken Doerr
imadkayyali is based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, and is a Reporter on Allvoices.
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