by Paul D Kennedy
© Paul D Kennedy, February 2001
Paul D Kennedy was the Irish government’s liaison officer for the Irish community in Kuwait during the Iraqi occupation.
This article was first published in the Arab Times in the Liberation Day section, to commemorate Kuwait's liberation from Iraq in February 1991.
Pillage, plunder and rapine are three words that probably best describe how Westerners trapped in occupied Kuwait viewed the activities of the Iraqis. The Iraqis didn’t just hold down the country – they gouged into its vitals and tried to suck it dry.
We could see the results on the streets, the rubbly remains of shops and suqs. And we had heard stories of human rights abuses – rapes, tortures and murders. Indeed a few of us had experienced the brutality of the Iraqis personally. And all our senses were fed by the rumour mill of occupied Kuwait.
But beneath our fear and anger – our predominant emotions whether we were in hiding or moving around – we had nagging doubts about some of the stories we were hearing, especially as regards human rights abuses. It did not seem possible that the citizens of a Muslim country, which was fabled as one of the founders of civilization, could act in the bestial manner we had been hearing about.
Thus some big questions about the stories we were hearing begged answering. How much was true? What was false? How much was exaggerated? The answers might help to explain the moral conundrum of Iraq’s participation in grand theft, gross human rights abuses and the attempted destruction of its neighbour’s culture. They might also provide a basis for the prosecution of the individuals responsible if ever that became possible.
In my last few weeks in Kuwait in late 1990 I tried to find answers to some of these questions. When I left for Baghdad on the 18th December I had perhaps been partially successful. The following is a condensed extract from the diary I kept during the invasion in 1990. It describes the collection of some specific and reliable information from a particular source.
I had been invited by Abu Yousef to attend his neighbourhood diwaniya in Bayan before I left Kuwait. The diwaniya was headed by Abu Fahd.
Abu Yousef is a well-known doctor. I had often discussed the atrocities allegedly committed by the Iraqis with him and we both felt that many of the stories were puffed-up a bit. He assured me that the persons attending the diwaniya would all be professionals, trustworthy and level-headed men who would only give me what they knew to be facts.
Abu Yousef arrived to pick me up at about 5:30pm on Sunday, the 16th December 1990. He was driving an old Mercedes. It had seen better days and the tracking felt weird, the steering shimmering as we went along. This was due partly to the condition of the roads, which had been churned up badly by Iraqi tanks. We took a circuitous route and, as luck would have it, or Abu Yousef’s routing skills, we did not meet any check-points on the way.
As we entered Bayan I saw a cluster of Kuwait’s well-known mushroom-shaped water towers.
'I think someone’s up on top of one of those towers.'
'Probably,' said Abu Yousef. He explained that his neighbourhood had a vigilante committee made up of local residents to control security in the area, and to warn of Iraqi incursions. Most Kuwaiti areas had similar vigilante groups.
'Two young men from our area spend each night up on the towers to keep an eye out for the Iraqis.'
'Well, they sure have a good vantage point. They can probably see everything for miles around.'
'You’re right. The Iraqis seem to think so too,' he laughed. 'Sometimes they put two or three of their soldiers on one of the towers. I’m told the two sides wave to each other when they get bored.'
Abu Yousef parked his car in the driveway of his house. We entered through the kitchen, thence into a very large lounge. He sat me down at the far end of the room, in an elegant Louis XIV armchair, with my back to the wall. He started fussing and called in a maid from next door. I was served a large wedge of cake and some tea. Abu Yousef explained that the diwaniya would take place in his house and not in the regular reception hall.
'You see,' he said, 'the Iraqis banned diwaniyahs some time ago. Now we’re allowed to have them again, but only if an Iraqi is present.'
'So we’re into some sort of illegal gathering?'
'I suppose so,' said Abu Yousef. He disappeared to get the other members of the diwaniya.
A short time later I found myself facing five Kuwaiti gentlemen. They were seated in a semi-circle in front of me. I felt as if I was about to be interviewed. However they were very welcoming. But their faces were tense. I realized that I was there on the say-so of Abu Yousef. They had come into the room singly, and not in a bunch, at intervals of a minute or so. They seemed to have come to the house separately, not acknowledging each other until they were safely inside. We would need some getting-to-know-you rituals before they would open up to me.
Abu Yousef made the introductions. To my left was a lithe gentleman who was a committee member of the Kuwait Red Crescent Society. To the right of him, ie on his left hand, was a genial gentleman whom I guessed was, from something he said later, a member of the Kuwaiti military. Next to him, facing me from the centre of the group, was Abu Fahd himself, a portly benevolent looking man. Beside him there was a thickset man, a trader. Finally to my right, at the end of the semi-circle, sat Abu Yousef. Once he had introduced me Abu Fahd asked him a question in Arabic.
Abu Yousef explained his relationship to me. The diwaniya asked a few questions. I described briefly some of the things I had been doing in Kuwait. Abu Yousef corroborated what I said. They relaxed a bit. Then Abu Fahd emphasized that our meeting was highly confidential. I was not to talk about it in Kuwait. I was not to reveal the details of whom I had been speaking to, even after I left Kuwait, unless specifically requested by the meeting. I agreed wholeheartedly, without hesitation.
To emphasize his point Abu Fahd then told a little story in Arabic which Abu Yousef translated. In a way it was almost a funny story.
One of their neighbours, a member of the Al-Wazzan family, sheltered an English man, hiding and feeding him for three and a half months, from the time the Gawad announced in August that Westerners were subject to internment at key installations until early December when the Westerners were allowed to leave. The Englishman was extremely grateful. In fact he was so grateful that as soon as he reached London he sent a message of thanks to his dear Kuwaiti friend on the BBC’s ‘Arab link’. This sentimental message addressed Mr Al-Wazzan by his full name and stated that he lived in Bayan. As soon as he heard about the message Mr Al-Wazzan felt obliged to flee his home and cross the desert to Saudi Arabia.
As Abu Yousef finished his translation of the story, Abu Fahd employed a series of face, arm and leg gestures, like a rotund seated Chaplin, to demonstrate the panic of the fleeing Kuwaiti. I got the message.
I already knew that the committee of the Red Crescent Society in Kuwait had been arrested en masse in mid-September, but not the details. I asked the committee member.
'All we did,' he said, 'was make enquiries about the running of the hospitals. We’d been trying to keep them going but were very short-staffed because many of the staff had fled and the Iraqis would not allow us to use volunteers. So we went to the local command in Jabriya. Just to see if there was some way we could get the service improved. And they arrested us all.'
'Don’t know. Perhaps they felt we were only looking after our own people. I don’t know really. The hospitals were open to the sick and wounded of all nationalities. They claimed later we weren’t treating Iraqi wounded. This wasn’t true. I think it was just an excuse to abolish us and make us a branch of the Iraqi Red Crescent.'
'We were held for 25 days,' he continued. 'All six of us, in a small room in the basement of the Naif Palace. It was only five metres by five metres. It had no furniture. There was very little food and it was bad, very bad. We were also interrogated, nearly every day.'
'Ourselves, our families, who we were, where we worked, where our relative worked, and about the activities of the Kuwait Red Crescent. Everything you could think of, over and over again for days. And then they just let us go.'
'So where are the other committee members now?'
'They’ve gone. Left Kuwait.'
I knew I was in the presence of a very brave man. There was a collective sigh from the others. They relaxed and one of them asked me why I was not taking notes. The answer was that I had no paper. I had run out weeks ago. Abu Yousef brought me an A4 pad and a biro. Abu Fahd started to talk and my pen squeaked.
'So what are the hospitals like now,' I asked.
'Hospital services very poor,' said Abu Fahd in laboured English. 'Two reasons, low staff and few equipments.' He lapsed into Arabic and Abu Yousef translated.
Most of the Philippina, Indian and Egyptian nurses on which the hospitals depended had left the country, I was told. Only the very few whose loyalty to their profession out-weighted their fears remained. They feared rape. Indeed some of the nurses had been raped, and many more had been threatened with rape. Having witnessed the Iraqi penchant for raping women from the third world myself, I did not doubt the truth of this. The members of the diwaniya were very sympathetic to the nurses who had left but their departure had left the hospitals very short-staffed. Some doctors had also left Kuwait, I was told. Others were afraid to go to work. Many patients were afraid to go to the hospitals.
The diwaniya gave me details of the equipment stolen by the Iraqis. This equipment did not include the infamous incubators, rumoured to have been stolen in August. The Iraqis were said to have thrown the babies on the floor where they were left to die. I did not mention the incubators as I expected the men to bring the matter up themselves if it was something they knew about.
Though much surgical and other equipment has been taken, I was told that the most reliable details the men had concerned stolen dental equipment and ambulances. Kuwait, prior to the invasion, had some of the best-equipped public dental clinics in the world. The dental units, combined dental couches and machinery, were state-of-the-art. The Red Crescent committee member had made an inventory of what was missing.
'Twenty-eight dental units have been taken from the Dental Department in Al-Amiri hospital,' he said. 'The Iraqis demanded 40 units but the dentists managed to convince them to take only 28. And 16 dental units have been stolen from the Children’s Dentistry Unit for the schools. And at least 12 other dental units have been taken from other hospitals. That’s a total of 56 units from the public dental clinics, more than fifty percent. The figure could be higher. And we don’t know what has been stolen from the private dentists and clinics.'
'The Amiri had nine ambulances,' the trader said. 'Seven have been taken. The Iraqis said that they were not required by the hospital.'
'In Subhan, in the depot,' said the military man. 'There were 120 ambulances and 100 of those have gone too. These ambulances were the most modern and best-equipped in the world.'
'Other ambulances have been taken,' said the trader, 'but we don’t have the details.'
There was a pause while I checked the figures on my notes. While I was trying to decipher my squiggles, Abu Fahd spoke emphatically in Arabic. Abu Yousef translated.
'The Iraqis, of course, claim they are not stealing. They are merely redistributing publicly owned assets. When they come to take the equipment they show written orders from Baghdad. These always state that surplus equipment found in the ‘19th Province’ is to be transferred to the less well-off parts of Iraq. If Saddam spent his money wisely and peacefully Iraq could have medical equipment that was just as good as Kuwait’s without having to steal from us.'
Abu Fahd watched as I wrote. I think he was trying to make sure that I got it all down. When I paused the military man spoke.
'The Iraqis have also taken the ambulances for the dead and the grave digging tools from the graveyards. I had to take my mother’s body to the cemetery using a jeep.'
Abu Yousef noticed my perplexity.
'Under Islam,' he explained, 'we have to bury the dead as soon as possible after they die, by early the following morning at the latest. To do this we need the hearses.'
'This is very distressing for the relatives,' the trader said. 'Now, when someone dies, the body often has to be kept under refrigeration in a hospital until we can get a death certificate and permission to bury it. This can take up to six weeks, six weeks before they can be buried.'
'The body of Sheikh Fahd Al-Ahmad, who was killed on the day of the invasion, was kept by the Iraqis for more than 4 weeks,' the Red Crescent committee member said. 'Eventually we had to steal the body to bury it in accordance with Islam.'
'And,' said the trader, 'the head stones of the Ruling Family have been destroyed and their graves eradicated.' Abu Fahd nodded.
Before the invasion Kuwait’s sports-mad population enjoyed some of the best-equipped clubs and gymnasia in the world. The diwaniya told me that all the equipment had been stolen from Al-Kuwait, Al-Arabi and Kasma Clubs. Even though much of their funding came from the Ministry of Social Affairs, these were privately owned, and so the Iraqi excuse that they were merely redistributing public assets from a richer province to a poorer province within the same country was entirely spurious.
'Isn’t Al-Arabi being used as an interrogation and torture centre?' I asked.
'Yes,' several of the men said.
'In Iraq torture to obtain information is routine,' said the trader. 'They use it in the police stations everyday.'
'And they don’t mind who knows about it. It’s terror-rule. They let the people know what they do. That way the Iraqis rule by fear.'
'I know,' I said. 'But some of the things we hear are frankly unbelievable, such as babies being thrown out of incubators. Is there any hard evidence of what they’ve done in Kuwait? Like reliable witnesses.'
'We don’t know much about that story of the incubators,' said the trader. 'But we do know that doctor Hisham Al-Obaid was murdered for no real reason at all.'
Dr Hisham, they told me, worked in Al-Sabah Maternity hospital. On leaving work one evening he was arrested. Apparently he had a piece of saline tubing in his pocket which was discovered when he went through an unexpected security check just outside the hospital, but the diwaniya had not been able to confirm this. If the story of the saline tubing was true then this would suggest that he was suspected of taking the tubing to treat a member of the resistance or a Westerner in hiding. What the diwaniya were sure of was that Dr Hisham disappeared for two days after being arrested. He was then shot and his body dumped on the doorstep of his family home. His family had received no explanation as to why he had been killed.
'We all knew Dr Hisham,' said the military man. 'He was a friend. The only reason we can think of for murdering him was to frighten the rest of us. To spread terror.'
Abu Fahd then told the story of the mullah at Al-Bukahari Mosque in Khaitan. I failed to note down the family name as the story was translated but his first name was Mohammad. Mullah Mohammad was shot inside the Al-Bukahari Mosque in Khaitan for refusing to preach in favour of Saddam's regime during Friday prayers.
'In Iraq,' said the trader, 'it’s normal for the mullahs to praise the regime at Friday prayers. There the Islamic leaders serve Saddam. But in Kuwait it has never been like that. Our mullahs are not political.'
'Since they arrived in Kuwait,' the Red Crescent committee member said, 'the Iraqis have made several attempts to get the mullahs to support the regime. Mullah Mohammad was one of those who refused.'
'Islam in Kuwait,' said the trader, 'is the basis of our society and laws. But in practice it’s non-political and has a mainly humanitarian role. One of its activities is the provision of medical supplies. Three days ago the Iraqis started to strip the Islamic Medical Centre.'
'The Islamic Medical Centre is a depot where we store medical equipment and medicines for charities in Kuwait and overseas,' said the Red Crescent committee member.
'They’re using large 32-wheel trucks,' said the trader. 'Two of us have seen it. Soon there’ll be nothing left.'
'The Iraqis cannot claim that these medicines and equipment are government owned,' said Abu Yousef translating for Abu Fahd. 'They were bought from donations and are owned by the Centre. But they have brought down disciplined teams of experts from Baghdad to do this work.'
'One of the Irish wardens saw the looting of KOTC’s offices a few weeks ago,' I said. I remembered how the looting in the City during the early days had seemed unorganized and random as if the soldiers had just been let loose to do what they wanted. Since then the game had changed. 'He told me that the Iraqis had written orders from Baghdad and that they took a full inventory before everything was packed properly into lorries. He said it was all very official.'
'Yes, official looting,' said Abu Fahd through Abu Yousef. 'That’s the word. We have many examples, all witnessed.'
They told me that the entire medical reference library had been stolen from the Kuwait Medical School and that the theft was organized by medical librarians and technicians brought down from Baghdad. The same thing had happened at Kuwait University library. There the electronically stored information, as well as all the books, had been taken under the supervision of Iraqi librarians and EDP experts. All the equipment, research materials and records had also been stolen from KISR, the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research. The theft was organized by teams of scientists who came from Baghdad especially for the purpose. As the trader put it:
'They knew the value of what was in KISR. They did not let the stupid donkeys from their new popular army loose in KISR!'
'It will be possible,' said the Red Crescent committee member, 'after the Iraqis are kicked out, to eventually replace the libraries in Kuwait Medical School and Kuwait University. But I don’t think this will be possible with KISR.'
KISR, he said, was undertaking long-term applied research projects that were specifically related to Kuwait's unique development needs. The destruction or disappearance of the materials and records relating to these projects, especially the stocks of experimental agricultural and marine products, was catastrophic. It will be almost impossible, he said, to replace the results of growing several generations of hybrid animals, fishes and plants.
'KISR was our pride,' said the Red Crescent committee member. 'It makes us angry. We are liberals and we respect science.'
Another confirmed example of officially organized looting, they told me, was the crane at the unfinished communications tower in downtown Kuwait City. I had noticed that this was missing a few days before. The diwaniya pointed out that the crane stretched from the ground to the top of a tower that was only slightly shorter than the London post-office tower. The technical expertise needed to dismantle it could only mean that the effort was officially organized.
'All the fire brigade and other emergency equipment have been taken from the airport,' the Red Crescent committee member said in a matter-of-fact voice. He was an executive in the Civil Aviation Authority. 'All the navigational equipment, including one of the most advanced instruments-only landing systems in the world, all the flight-training and maintenance simulators, and all machine shop equipment and tools, have been stolen. They’ve even taken the trolleys and loaders.'
Indeed I had recently seen some of the trolleys and aircraft escalators from Kuwait in Saddam International airport in Baghdad, with KAC livery still on them.
There was a short pause while our tea-cups were refreshed and I sorted out the hieroglyphics of my note-taking. Something I have written on Mullah Mohammad was not clear and I asked a question. The Red Crescent committee member misunderstood and thought that I was enquiring about another mullah with a similar name. He began telling me the story of Mullah Mahmood Al-Jassim at Salmiya Mosque.
Like Mullah Mohammad, Mullah Mahmood Al-Jassim refused to preach in favour of the Takriti regime. He was taken outside his Mosque in Salmiya. His beard was torn off with a pliers. He was severely beaten and then shot. His body was dumped in a garbage container. The men assured me that there were many eye-witnesses to this atrocity.
'But why dump his body in a skip?' I asked.
'As a mark of disrespect,' said the trader. 'To indicate that the person was rubbish. It’s something the resistance sometimes do also when they kill an Iraqi.'
This story of Mullah Mahmood triggered an avalanche of similar stories. The diwaniya felt strongly that the people of Kuwait were going through hell.
'Two sons of the Darman family in Mishref,' the Red Crescent committee member said, 'were shot dead outside their home in front of their mother. They were the only two boys in the family. We all know the family well.' Mishref is next to Bayan.
'There has been no explanation from the Iraqis for the murder of the two boys. They were not members of the resistance.'
The story of what happened to the Kabarzed family in Bayan was related by the military man.
'The son of this family was shot on the road outside the house in front of his mother,' he said. 'Nobody knows why. Maybe the Iraqis thought he was in the resistance, but he wasn’t. The soldiers told the family not to touch the body. The soldiers left and went around the corner. After some minutes they returned and found the mother wailing over her son’s body and touching it, in the traditional manner. They grabbed the mother by her hair and forced her head down onto her son's face and chest. The soldiers smeared the mother’s face in her son's blood.' The military man became very upset. He lapsed into Arabic. What he said was repeated in English by Abu Yousef.
When he had recovered his composure the military man repeated the end of the story in English. He then posed the rhetorical question:
'Why do these people act like this?'
I could not answer. I doubt if even the Gawad himself could answer that one. But the emotions in the diwaniya were raw and uncontrived and I was convinced that what I had just been told was absolutely true.
The trader then told the story of what had happened to the Al-Autaebi family, another family in Bayan. The only son was shot dead in front of the father. The father was then himself shot and murdered.
'Nobody knows why the father was shot. He was just an ordinary man, not a member of the resistance. But it’s obvious why the son was shot – shot first. To show the father that his line was finished and that there would be no one to carry on his name after he was shot.'
I could not doubt the veracity of the three stories. All the members of Abu Fahd’s diwaniya seemed to know the families. The look on their faces said: don't doubt this, these are our friends, our neighbours, what we have said is the absolute truth, we can swear to it. I knew that either I had heard the stories from first-hand witnesses – which I firmly believed was the case with the Kabarzed story though I was reluctant to reopen the wound by asking – or I had been given a retelling of a tale from a person who was known and trusted.
To ease the tension I diverted the conversation and asked about the commercial goods that had been stolen. Most Westerners had seen the suqs being looted during the first few weeks in the biggest free-for-all since the Goths hit Rome. I had also recently seen the empty warehouses in Shuwaikh, their doors smashed in. I was wondering whether the looting of the major shops and private warehouses had been officially organized.
Abu Fahd began talking in Arabic. I could hear the words As-Sharjiyah and Abu Ghraib. Abu Yousef translated.
Abu Ghraib is an area in Baghdad and, though it is the location of one of Saddam’s infamous prisons, it is essentially a commercial area. It was being used as a central collection point for the vast quantities of food, clothing, and consumer goods and durables being systematically stolen in Kuwait. These were being transported there in containers. The containers were being organized from a nearby area called As-Sharjiyah.
'There can be no doubt,' said the trader. 'This wholesale theft is being officially organized.'
From Abu Ghraib the goods are distributed to Ba'ath party favourites through some sort of auction, but I was unable to get clear details of how this worked. The men in the diwaniya said that several Kuwaiti merchants have been to Baghdad to trace their trading stock and had been successful in doing so, but had been totally unsuccessful in obtaining the return of their goods.
'The Iraqis had always stated that the stocks of private traders have never been confiscated,' said Abu Fahd speaking through Abu Yousef. 'They claim that they have only taken to Baghdad goods which belonged to the ‘cancelled’ Kuwaiti government and which had been inherited by the new Iraqi government in Kuwait. The Iraqis said that they have never opened a private warehouse, only government stores. When they were told that Kuwaiti merchants usually store their goods in government warehouses, they offered compensation for any private goods taken from these warehouses, provided ownership is proved.'
'It wasn’t much of an offer,' the trader said. 'In fact it was worthless.'
'We had to price our goods in US dollars. Then they offered us compensation in Iraqi dinar at the official exchange rate of 3.22 US dollars to the dinar.'
I knew the official exchange rate was a rip-off. The actual market value of the ID was only about ID5 to USD1, the rate you could get on the street both in Kuwait and Iraq.
'So really,' he continued, 'the compensation offered by the Iraqis is only about 1/16th of the dollar value of the goods. And as well as losing 15/16ths of the value of their goods, the merchants have been told that they will have to pay Iraqi taxes, storage and freight costs for their goods. These charges are to be deducted from their compensation.'
'No Kuwaiti trader has pressed a claim to date,' said the military man. 'If he did, he would end up having to pay the Iraqis.'
Abu Yousef got up to make a telephone call. He was supposed to be on duty and had to explain that he would be delayed. The diwaniya realized that it was getting late but they were determined to continue. I could see that there was something in particular they wish to tell me.
'On the 22nd of October the Iraqis swept through Mishref,' said Abu Fahd, Abu Yousef translating. 'They sealed off the area and did a thorough search. This was after some Kuwaiti men escaped from a detention centre. Some of these men were from Mishref and the Iraqis thought perhaps that one or two might head for home or that their families would know of their whereabouts.'
'I know about that sweep,' I said. 'On that day quite a few Westerners were picked up in Mishref.'
'Yes,' he continued. 'Thirty-six men from twenty-seven families in Mishref were arrested and taken away that day. The Iraqis returned three weeks later and took away most of the remaining members of the twenty-seven families, including children and grandparents.'
The men became visibly upset. Again, these were their neighbours and relatives.
'During the second visit in November,' said the trader, 'an Indian maid, who had been with one of the families for more than twenty years was taken to the roof of the family villa and repeated raped by the soldiers. She was old and she had arthritis. This in front of the children who looked upon her as an aunt.'
I didn’t know what to say. There was a spattering of Arabic. The men seemed to come to some sort of decision. Abu Yousef coughed and spoke.
'We are really worried about what happened to the twenty-seven families. The diwaniya are asking you to do them a favour.'
'Of course, anything.'
'We would like you to take the names of the families with you when you leave and make sure they are published. The men feel that this will force the Iraqis to produce the families and return them home.
'Of course I will,' I said. 'But are you sure that publishing the names will actually force the Iraqis into producing these persons again. The pressure might lead to outright denials from which they would be unable to retreat.' It might even lead to the execution of the families, I thought, though I do not say this. 'But of course I will take the names out. Just give me a list.'
The men consulted among themselves in Arabic. Abu Fahd then said that they would still like the names to be published abroad and that Abu Yousef will bring me the list tomorrow.
'The resistance seems fairly quiet these days,' I said.
'In a way,' said the military man. 'The Amir called off overt attacks against the Iraqis in Kuwait in October.'
'It was a wise decision,' said the trader. 'The real resistance now is those who guard our areas and who organize food and medical help for people who are having problems. Resistance activities can sometimes have unforeseen consequences.
'A good example is what happened to Abdullah Ad-Darmi, in Khaldia,' said the military man. 'He wasn’t a member of the resistance but he was found with one of their newsletters.'
I knew that the resistance were producing newsletters on a sporadic basis. I had seen some of these. They were usually distributed by being shoved under the doors of Kuwaiti houses and apartments at night.
'A newsletter was found under Abdullah’s door,' said the military man, 'during a routine search. The Iraqis suspected that he was in the resistance. He was arrested, tortured and shot.'
'After they tortured him,' said the trader, 'they must have known he was not a member of the resistance. But they murdered him anyway.'
'They are ruthless,' I said.
'The Iraqis are totally callous. They have no respect for human life,' the man said. 'A friend of mine told me what happened to him when he was out driving a few days ago. He was stopped at an Iraqi checkpoint.
'When he was showing his ID, the soldier noticed his Rolex. The soldier demanded the watch, and when my friend refused the soldier told him that he would either lose the watch or the car. The soldier took his ID, the car registration book and his watch, and told him to park the car further up the road and then return to the checkpoint. My friend did so. On his way back an officer noticed him and asked him what he was doing. My friend explained that the soldier was trying to steal his watch. The officer didn’t believe him and went to the check-point with him. When he discovered that the soldier actually had my friend’s watch and documents he was convinced that the soldier was guilty. The officer ordered the soldier to give the watch and papers back. My friend thought that this would be the end of the matter, but the officer then offered my friend his pistol and invited him to execute the soldier for the theft. My friend refused. He was horrified. The officer himself then shot the soldier in cold blood.'
Though we started with the hospitals of Kuwait, so far I had heard nothing relating to medical atrocities. This was understandable as none of the men were doctors, except for Abu Yousef. It was in the hospitals that many of the atrocities were said to have happened, and it was rumoured that Iraqi doctors were involved. Abu Yousef had said little up to now other than acting as interpreter and host. I now asked him directly about atrocities in the hospitals. He hesitated and then told us about a badly injured man they had treated a few days previously.
'An Arab man was brought into casualty by Iraqi plain-clothes police,' he began. 'Myself and some others treated him. The police remained with the man all the time he was in the hospital and we couldn’t get his name or even ask him how he had been injured. He wasn’t allowed to speak.'
'What were his injuries?'
'He was badly bruised all over his body and he had several deep marks on his ankles.'
'What do you think caused his injuries?'
'I can’t be sure. We weren’t told,' said Abu Yousef. He knew I wanted only the truth. 'But his overall injuries were consistent with the effects of a severe beating. The marks around his ankles were consistent with the effects of being suspended by the feet using thin rope or wire.' I noticed the cautious use of medical legalese.
'So what happened to the man?'
'We don’t know,' said Abu Yousef. 'We told the police that he needed to stay in the hospital for several days. But the police would only allow us to give the man immediate medical attention. They said that they only required him for a short time longer.'
'After a few hours of treatment the police took the man away again. That was the last we saw of him.'
It was now well after 9pm and curfew would be starting soon. We stood up. Each man embraced me in turn.
'You are going home,' said Abu Fahd. 'We wish you a safe journey.'
'We are staying at home.'
I felt somehow diminished. But I was proud to have met them.
'Thank you for the information.'
'No, we thank you.'
The car shimmered again on the way back to Jabriya. We avoided the main roads. They were well lit. We could see check-points manned by sleepy soldiers curled up in the yellowy light.
'They’re sitting ducks for anyone with a high-powered rifle,' I said.
'Yes, sometimes it’s difficult to hold back the boys. But we have to. From now on we just sit and wait.'
We passed through unmanned road-blocks in the side streets. We stopped near a corner in Jabriya and shook hands.
'Thanks for the ride.'
'It was worth it, wasn’t it?'
'Yes. What the Iraqis are doing might not be as widespread as the rumours suggest, but it’s just as bad as anything we’ve heard. And I don’t think what I was told was exaggerated at all.'
'They’re all professional men. I’ll see you tomorrow.'
The old Merc rattled on idle.
'You guys can now move around pretty well at night?'
'Yes,' said Abu Yousef. 'The Iraqis are afraid of the dark.'
The next day Abu Yousef brought me the list of the abducted families, but with only six names out of the 27. I took the list to London. There, as I expected, the Kuwaiti authorities refused to publish the list on the grounds that it would be more than likely be counter-productive with the Iraqis and could lead to the harming of the families or indeed their permanent disappearance.
© Paul D Kennedy, February 2001