'Inside-outside' rift divides Kuwaitis WAR IN THE GULF

March 10, 1991|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,Sun Staff Correspondent

KUWAIT CITY -- He had survived the Iraqis only to have his fellow Kuwaitis shoot up his car, try to kill him and hold him to the ground with a gun barrel in his ear, the outraged young man said.

"I can't believe it. These guys are worse than Saddam's," said the man, who had had too much trouble with the Kuwaiti army to give his name.

His rough treatment, at the hands of young soldiers who mistook the Kuwaiti vegetable merchant for an Iraqi resister, is an extreme example of the friction between returning authorities and Kuwaitis who stayed during the Iraqi occupation.

It shows in little ways every day.

The Kuwaitis manning the burgeoning roadblocks change almost daily the forms they require of residents. A businessman who stayed grumbles, "The Iraqis ran these checkpoints a lot more efficiently."

One older man who had remained in the country said of the Kuwaiti soldiers who fired their rifles in celebration after the war: "If they had fired so many bullets at the Iraqis we wouldn't have suffered."

The emir of Kuwait, meeting yesterday with Secretary of State James A. Baker III, promised to return from his haven in Saudi Arabia within a week. There will be a pro forma celebration on Sheik Jabir al-Ahmad al-Sabah's return, but many of those who could not flee, or chose not to, say they will be waving Kuwaiti flags with a half-hearted cheer.

"When these Kuwaitis stay in first-class hotels in Switzerland andFrance and America and Britain and the United Arab Emirates, and then come back and say, 'I know what's best for Kuwait,' it doesn't sound right," said Saud Al-Farhan, 37, a Kuwaiti journalist.

"You couldn't find one star [of military rank] in Kuwait the day after the invasion," agreed Dahir Al-Fardhli, a student. "All the doctors ran away; all the people who ran Kuwait ran away."

And there is bitterness about the quick collapse of Kuwait's defenses, the lack of civil preparation for such an event and the failure of the nation's rulers to take seriously the Iraqi threat.

Kuwaitis who watched the Iraqis leave also are wondering just what the government-in-exile did to prepare for the restoration of essential services. Almost two weeks after its liberation, Kuwait City is still without power, water, food or basic services.

"We stand in line for three hours, and still no bread," an angry father of seven said yesterday, as he stormed away from a bread-distribution point with his hands empty.

"We did expect food before now," said Medad Yousef, the general manager of the Salmiya Co-Operative. He showed off a huge grocery store whose shelves were bare. There has been no restocking. "We heard they had trouble on the border," he said.

The government not only failed to arrange smooth passage for trucks carrying supplies but also loaded them with the wrong items. The first shipments to leave Saudi Arabia reportedly carried such foodstuffs as rice and flour, staples the cautious Kuwaitis had stockpiled in their own kitchens. What they desperately lacked were perishables like milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables.

Other businesses have not reopened in part because the government still is weeks away from selecting a new currency, as it promised to do.

And instead of assistance, the most obvious effect of the Kuwaiti government's return has been new restrictions. Following martial law came the declaration of a curfew after 10 p.m., new roadblocks and checkpoints, and an edict banning newspapers other than one published by the government.

"We feel like we are moving from one cell to another," said Abdul Al-Farhan, a 47-year-old businessman who stayed in Kuwait during the occupation.

Said one Western diplomat: "You knew there was going to be an attitude problem between those on the inside and those on the outside.

"The insiders felt like they stayed and suffered and fought, and those on the outside feel like they continued to represent the government and encourage the international coalition," he said. "And the truth is, they're both right."

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