In Britain, war fans hopes of Iraqis, Kuwaitis, Kurds WAR IN THE GULF

January 20, 1991|By Judy Anderson | Judy Anderson,London Bureau of The Sun

LONDON -- The war against Iraq has brought new hope to the three exiled communities who have suffered most at the hands of Saddam Hussein.

All have made London a center of their anti-Hussein activities. They now have the most to gain from his downfall.

They are:

* The Iraqi dissidents, whose dream of returning to a peaceful homeland has suddenly become more real.

* The Kuwaitis, who stand to get their country back.

* The Kurds, who now see the prospect of an end to the destruction of their villages and people by the Iraqi dictator.

The Iraqi exiles -- an estimated 5,000 live in Britain -- range from Communists to Kurds, from Islamic fundamentalists to small-group revolutionaries.

For the fragmented opposition, the war has produced at least temporary unity. Leaders of a half-dozen groups agreed on a common political platform at a conference in Damascus, Syria, in December.

"The opposition can fill any vacuum that would be created by the fall of Saddam -- and we hope the war will end by toppling him," Sami Rahman of the Kurdistan Front said at a news conference last week.

The opposition parties would form a joint provisional government, he added, and would guarantee to call elections within two years.

None of the anti-Hussein leaders at the news conference would condemn Iraq's missile attack on Israel early Friday.

"We condemn Saddam . . . but as far as Israel is concerned, it remains the enemy," said Aziz al-Hakim of the Tehran-based Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution.

After marathon viewing of the developing story on television, Kuwaitis tried last week to describe their feelings on hearing the news.

"I felt elation -- elation that the final hour of liberation was upon us," said Dr. Yousef, a 49-year-old engineering consultant who declined to give his full name. "But also great feelings of anxiety. I feel very anxious that losses are kept to a minimum."

Muna Ibrahim, 27, an investment analyst for an oil company, watched the news of the U.S. attack with him at the Free Kuwait Campaign headquarters in a well-guarded brick house in Porchester Terrace in West London. She felt a similar mixture of emotions.

"I came here straight away when I heard the news and stayed all night," Ms. Ibrahim said. "I am very tired, confused about what I am feeling. I should be happy, but it's difficult to be happy about war. But I am happy that there is a glimmer of hope of going back [to Kuwait], seeing friends, resuming life as it was."

Across the Thames River in South London, Sarbast Aram was following developments in the Kurdish Cultural Center, where he is coordinator for the 20,000 Kurdish refugees living in London.

"Nobody slept the first night," he said with a smile. "Everyone is excited. I have a mixture of feeling -- glad that we might get rid of Saddam Hussein, but then I think of the horror of war, of innocents getting killed.

"Nobody has better reason than us to hate Saddam. We have suffered from his chemical weapons."

In 1988, 5,000 people in the Kurdish town of Halabja were wiped out in an Iraqi chemical attack.

The chemical weapons, Mr. Aram noted, were provided by Western technology. "Saddam Hussein is a monster of the West's own making. It would have been much easier to stop him some time ago."

Today, according to Mr. Rahman, who served with Mr. Hussein in the Iraqi Cabinet until 1975, 50,000 Kurds are missing after chemical attacks, mass deportations and the destruction of their northern villages carried out by Iraq since 1983.

"To see Saddam Hussein removed will be the most important news for me for years," he said. "Nothing good will come to my people while he is in power."

Kuwaiti exiles echoed that sentiment.

"I would like to see him brought down," said Dr. Yousef. "And if he is captured, he should and must stand trial for the atrocities he has committed."

For the 6,000 Kuwaitis still exiled in London, the war brings closer the possibility of returning to their homeland. Some dread what they will find.

"When the allied troops march in, they will find a devastated, ruined country," said Dr. Yousef.

"My house has been looted. My office has been cleaned out -- all the computers, equipment, telephone system -- gone. We will be rebuilding from zero."

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