KUWAIT CITY -- When U.S. Marine commandos and Kuwaiti resistance fighters captured the U.S. Embassy here Tuesday, they inadvertently upset an informal agreement to let Arab coalition forces stage a symbolic liberation of the Kuwaiti capital, military sources said yesterday.
Meanwhile, fears that Iraqis may have planted bombs in the embassy led to postponing the return of the U.S. ambassador yesterday.
The Marines, able to seize the walled compound quickly and without a fight, had agreed to a request by the Kuwaiti resistance for permission to publicize the operation, presumably on the group's shortwave radio channel.
A radio report could have had exposure throughout Kuwait and southern Iraq, where the retaking of the U.S. Embassy would have been valuable propaganda to promote the resistance effort and further weaken any remaining Iraqi will to fight.
But Arab forces apparently were irked over the appearance that the Marines were stealing some of the spotlight in the Arab effort to drive the Iraqi troops from Kuwait City, military sources said.
The Marines, members of a 12-man Special Forces group, were ordered not to remain on the U.S. Embassy grounds but to position themselves in an alley a block away.
Marine field commanders disclosed last week that retaking the city was to be the primary responsibility of Arab armored forces -- mainly from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar -- although some of the fiercest fighting had been expected to be done by Americans.
Reporters at the battle front this week said they saw U.S. military advisers instructing Saudi units on virtually every move while fighting in Kuwait -- not only about which Iraqi targets to strike but also when to move forward and when to stay in place.
Sgt. Scott Dupree, 27, of Canton, Texas, a member of the Marine Special Forces group, said the unit entered Kuwait in the predawn darkness Tuesday and drove straight up the main highway into Kuwait City.
The commandos pushed forward just ahead of Saudi troops; they cleared some mines off the road but met no Iraqi resistance en route to the capital, he said.
Ten miles outside the city, the Marines rendezvoused with members of the Kuwaiti resistance, one of whom had kept careful watch on the embassy ever since U.S. diplomats were withdrawn from their post Dec. 12. There were five to 10 carloads of armed men, Sergeant Dupree said.
"They just came to you," he recalled. "We got a bead on them [with our weapons] and locked on. At first we were leery about who they were."
The Marines thought that the retaking of the embassy "was going to be the hardest part," but in the end "it was more or less the easiest part," the sergeant said.
They took 42 Iraqi prisoners as they moved toward the compound and sustained no casualties, he added.
The capital is without power, its generation sources destroyed.
Scores of major buildings have been gutted by fire and artillery fire during the occupation, including the National Assembly building and three of the city's major hotels.
The first Marine units to enter the embassy grounds found the American flag still flying outside. Nothing appeared to have been touched since the embassy was abandoned.
"There was still gas in the cars. You could see the cigarettes in ashtrays that haven't moved since everyone left," Sergeant Dupree said.
Concern about armed Palestinians is part of the backlash frequently expressed about Kuwait's largest expatriate community.
"They were hoping Kuwait was to be for them," said Imad Ismael, 26, a social worker.
That point of view was not universal, however.
Kandra Ahmed, 29, a Red Crescent worker, said that of 12 people she knew who were executed by Iraqis, four were Palestinians.