WASHINGTON -- On the eve of Kuwait's national independence day, U.S. troops parachuted into the outskirts of Kuwait City and Iraqi forces blew up the parliament building, royal palaces and luxury hotels, according to U.S. and allied officials and Kuwaitis in the occupied capital.
A top White House official and allied pilots said much of the capital was burning. Iraqi forces were destroying the once-elegant landmarks of Kuwait City in a final act of vengeance, U.S. and Kuwaiti government officers said.
"Large sections of the city are in flames," said Robert Gates, President Bush's deputy national security adviser. "This is sort of a medieval practice."
Iraqi troops were holed up in many of the capital's residences, presaging a house-to-house, block-by-block battle for control of the city, according to a Kuwaiti security source interviewed in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
The allied forces overwhelmed their opponents as they advanced on the capital, said a U.S. fighter pilot returning from a tank-killing mission south of Kuwait City.
"They could certainly be on Main Street in Kuwait City by lunchtime" today, Maj. Keith Coln, 28, an F-16A fighter-bomber pilot from Columbia, S.C., told pool reporters at an air base in Saudi Arabia.
But it appeared that much of Kuwait City would be reduced to vTC smoking rubble before the battle to wrest the capital from the Iraqis can be completed.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "is basically intent on destroying everything and killing everything that has not been destroyed and has not been killed since he invaded on Aug. 2," Mr. Gates told CNN.
According to a Kuwaiti diplomatic source interviewed in Washington and a senior Kuwaiti military officer in Riyadh, key buildings sabotaged by Iraqi forces in the hours after the ground offensive began included the parliament building; the Saif Palace, a royal residence; a palace conference building; and four international hotels: the Sheraton, the Plaza, the Marriott and the Meridian,
Kuwaiti resistance groups, which contacted their offices in Washington and Saudi Arabia in the hours before the ground war began Saturday, reported that the Iraqi siege of Kuwait City had become a reign of terror.
Their reports, generally confirmed by U.S. military intelligence, spoke of torture, kidnappings and hundreds of killings by Iraqi security police and soldiers. They said hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Kuwaitis were being held as human shields at strategic locations in Kuwait and Iraq.