'How Many Bullets Do You Want In Your Head?' War In The Gulf

March 01, 1991|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Sun Staff Correspondent

KUWAIT CITY -- Basem al Darweesh was having a pleasant afternoon standing under a palm tree chatting to a couple of Americans about the good old days when he lived in Rockville.

Like just about anyone in this city who still has some gasoline, Mr. Darweesh had been cruising all morning, blowing his horn in jubilation. His hand-painted T-shirt said, "Worry no more. Coalition forces are here."

Then, as casually as if he were recalling some minor mishap at the office, he dropped this line into the patter: "I was tortured for two days at Kuwait University."

That's the way conversations go these days in Kuwait City. Virtually everyone says he either knows someone who was shot or abducted by Iraqi occupation troops, or can describe his own experience as a victim. As a result, such accounts have begun to meld into a huge, numbing chronicle of shootings, beatings, rapes and torture.

For Mr. Darweesh, an electrical engineer, the near-fatal mistake in his life was deciding to take some photographs on Aug. 20 of buildings that had been damaged by Iraqi soldiers. That's when he was arrested.

The soldiers walked him to his car, took his camera and cellular phone, and marched him to the university.

First, he said, they blindfolded him. Then they tied his hands behind his back and lashed his feet together. Then he was beaten with fists, truncheons, rifle butts.

"After two or three hours, they said, OK, we are finished with you. How many bullets do you want in your head? But then another one said, 'No, wait! I have some more I want to do.' "

So they took him to a room at the Iraqi Embassy where they attached wires to his ears, arms and the backs of his shoulders, shocking him and beating him sporadically for the next day and a half.

Today, more than six months later, he favors one leg, and an eardrum remains ruptured.

A few days after his own ordeal, he said, he saw a compact car smash into a wall as it was pursued by a large American-made car.

Out of the smaller car jumped four Kuwaiti men. Iraqi soldiers popped out of the second car and shot one of the Kuwaitis, Mr. Darweesh said.

He also told of a 13-year-old boy in his neighborhood whose body he saw hanging from a street lamp one morning. The boy had been spray-painting anti-Iraq slogans when caught by soldiers. The soldiers, he said, wouldn't allow anyone to go near the body. "They wouldn't let his parents take him down for three days."

A similar motif showed up in an account from Hussein Ayae, an engineer for the Kuwait Oil Co.

Mr. Ayae sat at a friend's house sipping orange juice as he told the story in the even, matter-of-fact tone that prevails among the Kuwaitis.

"My brother's nephew is 17 years old," Mr. Ayae said. "They accused him of writing things about Saddam in the street. He was shot and thrown in the street in front of his house. Summarily executed. And when his family went to move his body, the Iraqis said they were still conducting an investigation, and they left the body in the sun another six hours."

Mr. Ayae had several other stories to tell. He said that a manager of the Kuwaiti Food Cooperative Society, Barrak al-Oonot, was taken to police headquarters after he refused to put up a poster of Saddam Hussein at the co-op's headquarters. "Four days later, they brought him back to the door of the co-op society. He had been shot in the head."

Then there was Dr. Hashim al Obeidan, a maternity doctor who was arrested "without any reason we could see or hear," Mr. Ayae said. "They took him away from his children -- seven girls and a very young boy. They called his family to say he would be home soon. Then they shot him in the back of the head with two bullets, and left him in front of his house."

It didn't take much to provoke an arrest, witnesses said. "If they caught a Kuwaiti flag with you, or if you were singing Kuwaiti national songs, you were taken," said Nasser Bastaki, 30. "Most of our friends who were taken, they have not come back."

This may explain the joy with which many people proclaimed their nationality the past two days. No one seemed to be without a flag, and in one procession of cars full of flag-waving people, a woman leaned out of an open sunroof and shouted long and loud, "I am a Kuwaiti."

Although abductions and arrests occurred steadily throughout the occupation, their pace intensified dramatically in the final LTC days before liberation, many people said.

"The last four days, there was a very strict curfew," Mr. Ayae said. "They would arrest anyone if they found you outside -- and take away your car."

Najeeb Bastaki, 24, an accounting student at Philadelphia's Temple University who was visiting home when the invasion struck, said, "Some friends, four of them, were

picked up by an Iraqi patrol [last] Friday. I've seen it happen so many times. So many people detained."

As the roundups increased, the methods used to lure young men into the open became more sophisticated, he said. "They would send people to the door who were not in uniform. Sometimes they would send pretty girls."

Ali Kouhari, 24, an accountant said: "In the last three days they would come to the home, and if they see any young people, they take them. My father is old man. He would go to the door. I would hide. I didn't drive my car for a month. Six of my friends, they take them to Baghdad."

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