CAMP RED BALL, Kuwait -- Inside the medical tent at this prisoner of war camp, the doctor treating an Iraqi soldier for a wounded foot says he knows exactly how the soldier feels.
The doctor and his patient are both soldiers in the Iraqi army and prisoners of war held by U.S. forces here. And they and others claim to have been victimized by the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the Persian Gulf war.
"I think everyone's disappointed," the doctor said yesterday. "Getting rid of Saddam Hussein has been a dream of all Iraqis. They pray and hope for changing from Saddam because they've had enough."
At this prison camp, located just down the road from the Iraqi border, some Iraqi soldiers are so eager to get away from their country that they risk injury and disciplinary action by jumping a razor-wire fence to join those first in line for camps farther
south, in Saudi Arabia, said Army Lt. Michele Caram, who runs the camp.
Others trade the latest rumors that feed on their wishful thinking. Sunday, a rumor alleging that the Iraqi president was killed by his son "spread like wildfire," prompting sustained applause and cheering that U.S. soldiers said they could hear from their camp nearby.
Some who came from Basra already have told others about the chaos and anti-government protests there.
One prisoner, Abdullah Kheawy, 22, a Kuwaiti Bedouin whose parents are from Iraq, said he was released from a Basra jail Saturday when "people trying to get Saddam Hussein opened all the jails and freed all the people."
He walked to Kuwait, where U.S. soldiers took him into custody.
During a reporter's unannounced visit to this camp, which was in the process of transferring prisoners south and shutting down for good, Iraqi soldiers and their American keepers spoke of growing discontent in the ranks over the regime in Iraq and the Persian Gulf war.
The Iraqi doctor, 25, a graduate of the University of Baghdad, said his fellow prisoners were thinking of surrendering long before last week's allied ground offensive "because we had no choice."
"A lot of us, we don't believe in the war. It's worthless. What are we fighting for? Nothing," he said.
He was one of three doctors and five medics who asked to stay in the camp to treat other Iraqi soldiers. The roughly 3,000 prisoners here yesterday had been captured over the weekend and were being sent by helicopter and truck to permanent camps in Saudi Arabia.
Lieutenant Caram, 25, of Davis, Okla., said that the flow of prisoners already had peaked and that orders had just arrived to break down Camp Red Ball, the VII Corps' forward POW camp.
"I had been training to handle a hundred [prisoners] at most. My first day here, we had 2,500," said the lieutenant, who was assigned to the camp last Friday.
Razak Salman, 43, an Iraqi farmer, said he was forced to join the army to qualify for food ration coupons.
"I'll be happy, it will make my day when they get him out of the country," Mr. Salman said of President Hussein.
The prisoner registration records here show that soldiers as young as 14 and as old as 62 had been held at this camp. This wide range of ages was described as a recent phenomenon.
"We understand that the Iraqis grabbed them from the street with no experience," said Capt. Hamid Boushehri, a Kuwaiti army officer serving as a translator and cultural adviser to the 793rd Military Police Battalion.
There are other Iraqi soldiers who have compelling reasons to be bitter and critical of the war.
In a basement ward of Mubarak Al Kabir Hospital, 35 seriously injured soldiers are being treated by people whom their government once oppressed. They were left behind by other Iraqi soldiers who made a hasty retreat, Kuwaiti doctors said.
Although some were wounded by Kuwaiti resistance fighters in the last days of the Iraqi occupation, oth
ers were shot by Iraqi troops.
Pvt. Dakhil al Ahass, 23, an infantryman, said he was shot in the leg by an officer when he complained about an order to lay down his weapon and walk from the Wafra oil fields to Basra. The officers were taking all the buses and trucks to head north, he said.
Those like him who refused to walk were shot "to make the others afraid and [make them] start walking," he said from his hospital bed. "I wanted to surrender. But I was afraid they would kill my family."
He already had lost one brother, who was executed for trying to desert the army. He said that another brother had managed to escape but that he was unsure of his whereabouts.
"In the war against Iran, all the Arab countries and the United States stood with us," the private said. "In Kuwait, no one stood with us. In the end, I agreed with the U.N. resolutions."
At his hospital bed, Pvt. Mahtar Khodayi, 32, a Bedouin who fought for more than five years against Iran, said he also was troubled by a war with Kuwait.
"We were defending our land" against Iran, he said. About the invasion of Kuwait, "this was an Arab country and this was a brother. This war was a mistake."