In Kuwait: `This is our revenge'

Iraq's neighbor and victim still harbors bitterness

War In Iraq

March 20, 2003|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

KUWAIT CITY - For weeks, Kuwaitis have been asking each other when the war to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would begin. Yesterday, as the first cruise missiles and bombs struck Baghdad and the sun rose over the country Hussein pillaged in 1990, many of them still did not know.

No bombs could be heard here. No streaks of light were visible in the sky.

As President Bush went on television to announce the beginning of the war, streets here were nearly deserted except for the "guest workers" from the Philippines and Egypt, the low-paid employees who sweep Kuwait's streets, clean its houses and wash its cars of the desert dust.

There were few signs anywhere that many Kuwaitis knew their world might be changing dramatically again, this time in a way that they had long hoped.

At daybreak, radio and television broadcasts announced the news of the war, interrupted with emergency instructions on what to do should Iraq aim a missile this way.

Slowly, a dribble of cars appeared on the roads and the markets began to see their first customers as businesses played news reports over loudspeakers.

People stopped and chatted with one another but in hushed tones, not in jubilation, though clearly they were glad to hear that the United States was again working for their good.

"This is our revenge, of course," said Fuad Al-Hageri, 40, an investment broker plucking bread from the aisles of the Dahiat Abdullah Al-Asalem grocery store.

"You do not see many people out, but you will feel a lot of happiness," he said.

Al-Hageri had been in front of his television until 2 a.m. local time, a few hours before the first bombs fell, and then went to bed convinced the war would begin before dawn.

"We thought it would come in the darkness," he explained. "I hope that is what Saddam thought, too."

Thousands of Kuwaitis were killed or are still missing from the 1990 Iraqi invasion, and the bitterness toward Hussein runs as deep as the oil reserves that made this country so wealthy.

Kuwait did not offer troops for the war against Hussein but has been the major staging ground for U.S. and British troops who launched yesterday's attack.

"We have been waiting a long time for this," said Assam Al-Otaibi, 50, who said he could count at least a dozen people who were killed by Hussein's forces, are still missing or were brutalized during the days of occupation.

"The end of Saddam is the end of a lot of worry for us," he said. "Today is the start of his finish and the start of another beginning for us."

If the scene was not of joy or panic, it was at least partly because Kuwaitis have been preparing for this war for weeks, some for months and the truly hopeful for years.

Stores have been doing a brisk business in bottled water and canned goods and, as in Israel, the danger of Iraq's launching missiles this way led many to purchase gas masks.

"Maybe now," said Nassen Al-Snan, 31, "those days are over. Maybe now we can be friends with the Iraqi people."

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