Kuwaiti resistance showed extraordinary bravery, cunning Men, women, children who stayed behind helped foil Iraqi occupation.

March 19, 1991|By Chicago Tribune

KUWAIT CITY -- Abbas Malik was a marked man. How he escaped a kidnap team sent from Baghdad is one of countless bits in a mosaic, just now fully emerging, of extraordinary bravery and cunning by Kuwaitis under Iraqi occupation.

The resistance movement involved men, women and children. It ranged from little kids serving as couriers to sophisticated money managers shifting and smuggling billions of dollars. It went on day and night for almost eight months.

The Kuwaiti royal family, many of them living in relative luxury and safety in neighboring Saudi Arabia, played a role. But, for the most part, the resistance inside Kuwait was marked by individual courage and cleverness.

As deputy managing director of the Kuwait Oil Co., Abbas Malik knew he faced relentless demands to collaborate -- and death if he didn't -- when the Iraqi army invaded last August and took over the nation's vast oil fields.

The suave, highly educated executive disappeared, but he didn't go far. For months, he escaped detection by working as an orderly in the hospital at Ahmadi, the center of Kuwait's oil industry.

He helped bury incubators, X-ray machines and other medical equipment to prevent the Iraqis from stealing or destroying it. He helped hide drug supplies in the local mosque. He was a cog in a plan organized by the hospital staff to dispatch food to the safe houses where resistance workers found respite for a few hours.

When the grateful resistance sent word that his ruse finally had been penetrated and that the Baghdad kidnap team sent for him was only five minutes away, Malik was ready to disappear again even deeper inside Kuwait. His new location was never disclosed.

"I lay down in an ambulance and was covered with a sheet, with only my beard showing," he said, smiling broadly at the memory.

"A doctor and two nurses got in. They strapped wires to my arm and 'hooked me up' to a respirator that was, of course, not turned on. It looked as if I was nearly dead, and we sped out of there."

The plan succeeded because of careful organization, good communication and inspired sneakiness. Some 400,000 Kuwaitis fled the country. The 200,000 who stayed behind -- working in many cases with servants and other foreign-born workers who also had been unable to get away -- learned almost immediately that overt resistance brought swift, brutal reprisals.

In the first days of the occupation, semi-spontaneous demonstrations sprang up in several neighborhoods of Kuwait City.

"We felt we had to challenge them," recalled Amani Ali, a 21-year-old philosophy student at Kuwait University. "We went out into the streets and demonstrated, and some girls were shot. We understood we couldn't face them in the streets because they would kill us, so we started working in our neighborhoods."

But some armed resistance continued. Several Kuwaitis told of targeting for execution some high-ranking Iraqi officers who had overseen the torture of civilians.

"We wanted to keep them afraid, nervous -- to put pressure on them," said Huda Saleh, 26, another Kuwait University student.

Leaders of Murabitoun, the Kuwaiti Popular Resistance Movement, described a system of neighborhood co-ops that served as "minor governments" to provide food, medical care and financial support, especially for those whose family members had been imprisoned.

The movement falsified identification cards for people sought by the Iraqi secret police. It was relatively easy, they said, to bribe some poorly paid Iraqi troops for intelligence information. More intelligence was provided by Kurdish soldiers, members of a long-suppressed minority who'd been forced into the Iraqi army and viewed Baghdad as the "mutual enemy."

Using a portable fax machine, the resistance sent daily reports to the allied military command in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. "We used to follow their troop movements, where they assembled, what kind of weapons they had," one leader said.

Much of this was coordinated by young men in their teens and early 20s. Women and children provided crucial assistance by carrying messages and, in some instances, transporting weapons rescued from pre-war police arsenals.

Fareed Mohammed, a graduate of Central Michigan University and mother of four, described one trick the women used to get through the military checkpoints that dotted the capital city.

"We pinched the children to make them cry," she said. "By the time we reached the checkpoints, they were screaming, and the Iraqis would say 'Go on, go on.'"

"I told the children I had to do this, and they understood. They hated the Iraqis soldiers from the first day. They heard bombs and saw someone beating up their fathers, so you didn't have to tell them."

Some boys and girls took a more active part in the resistance, thrusting anti-war pamphlets -- "Why are you doing this? You are our Arab brothers" -- into the hands of Iraqi soldiers and scampering away.

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