Life under Iraqi occupation: a tale of horror, perseverance WAR IN THE GULF

March 03, 1991|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,Sun Staff Correspondent

KUWAIT CITY -- One is a college student who became **TC resistance fighter. The other is a surgeon.

As their nation awakens from the past seven months, both want the world to know what happened during Kuwait's long, dark night of Iraqi occupation.

From the resistance fighter, Najeeb Bastaki, come tales of perseverance, cunning and, occasionally, rear-guard actions of force against a gathering horror.

From the surgeon, Dr. Abdul Behbehani, come documented results of what happened when the horror began to prevail.

Combined, their recollections offered an inside view of how the people of Kuwait lived and died as their once-pampered nation became a bleeding pauper.

The Aug. 2 invasion began the metamorphosis. The Iraqi army crushed its weak, disorganized opposition quickly. Dr. Behbehani treated the wounded of both sides, while Mr. Bastaki joined in the vocal demonstrations protesting the early days of the occupation.

He also joined his friend in breaking into the Royal Palace, already looted by Iraqi troops for its more obvious riches, to steal away with its stores of weapons.

Although soldiers also looted grocery stores and some homes, life proceeded with a strange normalcy then. But wanton destruction of downtown buildings gave notice of what was soon to follow for humans.

Soldiers set fires to hotels, businesses and national landmarks. At the Kuwaiti Museum, fires gutted three of the five buildings, and soldiers fired anti-tank grenades through the golden dome of the planetarium. All of the 30 or so boats at the commercial fishing marina were sunk or set ablaze, burning to the waterline.

Toward the end of the first week, the violence took an ominous turn.

"They began opening fire on the demonstrators," said Dr. Behbehani, chief of surgery at Mubarek General Hospital, one of the city's largest.

"I had to amputate the leg of a 35-year-old female because of this, and I saw a dead child, and saw other people who were killed because of this."

Mr. Bastaki, meanwhile, was working behind the scenes in the budding efforts of a resistance movement.

In many ways, Kuwait is an unlikely spawning ground for freedom fighters. Other Middle East nations consider its population hopelessly spoiled by the material wealth earned by its oil deposits. Kuwaitis haven't detracted from this image when they've made complaints such as, "The Iraqis stole my Mercedes."

Characteristically, much of Kuwait's resistance movement operated on the principle of supply and demand, rather than on the tenets of guerrilla warfare.

Although one fighter boasted of killing more than 20 Iraqi soldiers in a series of stealthy attacks and a Kuwaiti nurse says she killed 22 soldiers with lethal injections, Mr. Bastaki's tactics were more common.

"The word 'resistance' doesn't mean that I should carry a gun and go and kill," he said. "It meant that we should go and get food and distribute it to people. And also money. The money was important. I myself gave away 3,000 Kuwaiti dinars. Our way is not to say where the money came from; we just slip it under the door."

This role was to become more important as the months rolled by and food supplies dwindled.

Accompanying this determination to beat the system imposed by the Iraqis, Kuwaitis also protested silently with simple stubbornness. "They refused to go to work, they refused to open their shops, they refused to change their identification cards, they refused to do anything," said Dr. Behbehani. "They just sat in their homes or participated in the resistance."

This only infuriated the Iraqis more. One response was to begin penalizing residents who clung to their Kuwaiti nationality. Those who ignored orders to acquire Iraqi license plates for their cars were refused gasoline.

In these cases, their Kuwaiti wealth served them well. Families with three, four and more cars were able for a while to supply all their gasoline needs with a single Iraqi-tagged vehicle.

Defiance also began to show itself in an outbreak of graffiti, but that was answered by a wave of execution-style shootings.

"We started saying our opinions on the walls," Dr. Behbehani said. "Children, of course, were participating in this, and women also. They started shooting people doing this. . . . The only punishment they knew was to kill, and there was no trial."

The Kuwaiti resistance stepped up its own violence, although Mr. Bastaki said he didn't participate.

"I didn't kill," he said. "We would try to capture them and get information from them, where are my friends, things like that. Usually they would say nothing."

The stirrings of armed resistance only increased the violence of the Iraqis, and Dr. Behbehani saw the evidence wheeled into his hospital's emergency room.

"They didn't differentiate between guerrilla groups and civilian groups," he said. "We started seeing males ages 17 to 32. We started receiving them not as patients to treat, but as bodies to bury. About every day for two or three months we were receiv

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