In Kuwait, impatience, then cheers

Reaction: After days of small strikes, Kuwaitis finally get what they have been waiting for - a huge assault on Iraq.

War In Iraq

March 22, 2003|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

KUWAIT CITY - For nights, Amal Jasifar had sat on the edge of the couch in her home in this wealthy city's wealthiest neighborhood watching the news as intently as if her life depended on it. Until last night, she had gone to bed almost disappointed.

She would lean forward as she watched the screen, elbows on knees, puffing a cigarette, but the big play she was hoping for never materialized. She had not been particularly impressed by the U.S.-led bombings of Iraq. Truth be told, she said, she thought Iraq had inflicted more damage on her country during the 1990 invasion than Iraq was getting this time around.

That is, until last night. Last night, she was going to bed somewhat satisfied.

As the 52-inch television in front of her showed pictures of the bombardment of Iraq - 320 Tomahawk missiles from ships and more from the air - her faith in her heroes, the American military, was vindicated.

"This," she said, lighting just one more cigarette, "is a lot more like it."

Like many Kuwaitis, Jasifar had been puzzled but not worried by the relatively light air assault that the United States and Britain inflicted on Iraq before last night. There is a level of respect for the U.S. military here made reasonable by the liberation of Kuwait and now reinforced by the television pictures like those in Jasifar's living room, showing Baghdad glowing in orange and pink and red and green, behind plumes of dark smoke, the sound of large explosions crashing through the speakers.

The entire family was in front of the television when the first bombs landed, at about 9 p.m. here. They flipped the channel from one news station to the next, trying to see as many angles of the show as possible. The entire family said they were gratified by the attacks, and quite impressed.

"It was the awe we were waiting for," said one of Jasifar's daughters, Kholoud Al-Feeli, adopting the jargon of the "shock and awe" campaign the U.S. Department of Defense had promised. "If they couldn't get Saddam on those first nights, and make the war short and sweet, this is what they were going to have to do."

No second-guessing

Even among those in the military, who thought they had an inkling of how the United States and Britain would - or should - wage this war, there was surprise at the delay in bombing. But not second-guessing.

Said Col. Yousef A. Al-Mulla, chief spokesman for the Kuwaiti military: "The U.S. military is the best military in the world. They were not going into this war without a plan. I think people maybe expected something different at the beginning because they were told they would get something different. But only someone stupid tells what their real plans are."

Confusing Hussein, he said, must have been the underlying strategy.

"He is not an ordinary person," Al-Mulla said. "He is filled with evil."

That is what Jasifar knows first-hand about him and why she was so pleased with last night's assault. She admits not the slightest bitterness toward the Iraqi people. At 58, though, she well remembers the invasion of her country, how her husband had to flee the house because, as a government worker, he was likely to be killed if Iraqi soldiers found him. He hid in Kuwait for a month before somebody from the Bahrain Embassy sneaked him forged papers, and then he was smuggled to Saudi Arabia until his country was liberated.

She remembers that she would likely to have been killed, and maybe her children, too, had the Iraqis found photographs of them with the ruling family. That is why she wrapped the pictures in plastic and buried them in her garden, then sprinkled seeds over top, parsley seeds, because they thrive in August heat and so would quickly cover the newly turned ground.

Hatred for Hussein

So, no, she has no bitterness for the Iraqi people but great hatred for Hussein and a greater conviction that only overpowering force can remove him from power.

"I don't want a single Iraqi civilian to be killed, not even hurt," Jasifar said. "Saddam? I want him to be captured and tortured. I want him to taste a little bit of his own medicine. He could not even take a little bit of what he handed out or he would die."

Her husband, Rida Al-Feeli, was closely watching television as well. He knew last night the bombings would be more severe, he said, because he had seen news reports of American B-52 bombers departing bases in Britain.

He remembered crossing the desert in a two-car convoy, seeking his refuge in Saudi Arabia and how one man in the second car was wounded by gunfire that pierced a door. So he was far from saddened by last night's attack.

"You get paid back by what you do in life," he said. "If it is good, you get back goodness. If it's bad, you'll get back what you did bad. Saddam has to pay now. His country needs to be cleaned of him."

As 11 p.m. neared, two hours after the pictures of the bombing flickered in his living room, he picked up his 8-month-old grandson from in front of the television to see him off to bed.

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