Kuwaitis quickly found strategies of resistance

March 02, 1991|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Sun Staff Correspondent

KUWAIT CITY -- Lupoua al Ewaied, an attractive, stylish 30-year-old public relations manager, started wearing a veil for the first time in her life to protect herself from Iraqi soldiers.

Ahmad al Shamali, owner of two electrical equipment stores and a factory that makes confections, turned to the black market and surreptitious trips to Baghdad stores to keep his large family stocked with food.

Lt. Col. Ali al Sharaf, chief of police for Kuwait City's eastern precinct, changed his name and identity card and became a fugitive and resistance fighter.

Iraq's seven-month occupation of Kuwait disrupted the lives of roughly 300,000 Kuwaitis and forced them to decide whether to succumb to the Iraqi army or fight with whatever means they could find.

The presence of Iraqi troops in this small, prosperous country ended up galvanizing a civilian and military resistance on a scale few had realized was possible.

It also forced ordinary people to take courage in their hands to defyIraqi authorities or resort to activities that, under normal circumstances, might be considered criminal.

"We boycotted them, we didn't go to work and every Iraqi law we refused to follow," said Miss Ewaied, one of several dozen people interviewed who chose not to flee Kuwait when Iraqi troops stormed across the border Aug. 2.

A majority of Kuwaitis refused orders to put Iraqi license tags on their cars, even after Iraq began to limit gasoline sales to cars with Iraqi registration. While that made gas scarce for most people in this oil-rich country, some families said they had three or four cars with which to consolidate gas supplies.

While the population was forced to accept curfews and the use of Iraqi currency, many Kuwaitis looked for ways to frustrate Iraq's attempt to take control of everyday life.

The Iraqis repeatedly set deadlines for Kuwaitis to change their citizenship, recalled Abdul Aziz al Mullah, 29, an investment banker. "It didn't stick," he said.

Khadra Ahmed, 29, a Red Crescent relief worker at the Mubarak al Kabir Hospital, hid hospital records and computer programs after the Iraqis took over hospital operations. She noted that the records would have revealed the names and addresses of local doctors and of Kuwaiti soldiers and other patients treated by the hospital.

"I was caught and held for 20 days in Al-Jabriya [police] station with other girls because they were trying to get the old programs," she said, adding that she was not physically abused.

"Later, when I got out, I destroyed the programs. Someone else has backup programs and will return them to the hospital administration."

Mr. Ahmad, the owner of the electrical equipment stores, said the looting of food stores, warehouses and homes forced him and many other Kuwaitis to drive to Baghdad to get large supplies of tea, sugar, flour, rice and other staples that could be distributed to relatives and neighbors.

"You were risking your life, because you were not allowed to carry it in containers," he said.

Food prices in both Iraq and occupied Kuwait jumped. Several people said that they paid up to $70 for a carton of cigarettes and 50 times more than usual for a bag of 30 eggs. They had to sell their furniture or television sets to get the cash.

Mr. Ahmad and others said that they regretted pouring money into the Iraqi economy but insisted that there was no alternative. "If you don't buy, you starve," he said.

Some Iraqi soldiers could be bribed to look the other way in order to stockpile food supplies, Mr. Ahmad said. Others recalled paying some Iraqis "protection money" to prevent looting.

"We used to bribe with food to have a good, safe environment," said Mr. Aziz, the investment banker. "We'd give them rice, tea, some bread."

Miss Ewaied said one reason for deciding to defy the Iraqis was disappointment that the Kuwaiti army was unable to defend the country from an aggressor.

"We were really angry because we thought the army could do something," she said.

In addition, most Kuwaitis believed that the occupation would be short-lived, she said, citing one newspaper headline after the invasion that said, "A Summer Cloud That Won't Last Long."

"It was a real shock," she said. "We used to sleep with our doors open. We were really safe, but it all collapsed. Starting to adapt was really hard."

On a personal level, Miss Ewaied was a workaholic who had been living with her mother, two sisters and their children. She traded her 18-hour workdays for helping to buy food in Iraq and staying home. "All of a sudden there was no work . . . and I had fights with everybody else," she said.

She wore a veil early in the occupation to conceal her face, thinking she would be a less inviting target for rape. But she discarded the veil, having become more fatalistic, and more willing to take risks.

"When there's danger, you give yourself up to it. If it happens, it happens," she said.

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