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Kuwaitis Tell of Atrocities During Harsh Iraqi Rule

As Kuwaitis weigh with sadness seven months of Iraqi occupation, Arab countries take the first steps toward confronting the deep regional divisions the Gulf war has created.

`WE are so happy we do not want to go to sleep.'' Capt. Ali, who asked not to be further identified, grinned broadly as he and his Kuwait Army colleagues talked late into Saturday night over endless glasses of sweet tea in the light of a flickering lantern.

But their joy at freedom was tempered by the grim and ugly matters they were discussing, as they recalled the horrors of seven months of Iraqi occupation.

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Every Kuwaiti this reporter has met has had a tale of sorrow to recount: a relative killed by Iraqi soldiers, a neighbor tortured, a home ransacked, a friend disappeared.

Over the weekend, streams of Kuwaitis knocked at the United States Embassy door in search of news of the estimated 8,000 people kidnapped in the last few days of the occupation and allegedly taken to Iraq as hostages by fleeing soldiers.

``My cousin was in his house on Friday. Two Iraqi soldiers called him out onto the pavement and said they wanted to talk to him. He went with them, and he hasn't been seen since,'' says Ali Khaled, a public prosecutor.

Although the fate of the hostages is unknown, they are not believed to be dead, unlike unnumbered thousands of their countrymen.

The occupation forces' brutal lack of respect for life and property is evident throughout Kuwait City, from looted and destroyed homes and accounts of Iraqi occupation policy by Kuwaitis who suffered from it.

Human tragedy struck both in an organized fashion and accidentally.

A great deal of planning, for example, apparently went into the torture inflicted on resistance fighters whose mutilated corpses were photographed by comrades working in the city morgue and graveyard.

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The Iraqis' policy of shooting 10 Kuwaitis for every one soldier killed in the early days of the occupation - which resistance leaders say convinced them to halt sniping attacks on Iraqi troops - was also deliberate.

Retribution was also visited on any house from which shots were thought to have been fired, or which belonged to a member of the Kuwaiti armed forces, as burned or shelled homes attest.

Iraqi military rule was harsh, and harshly enforced. This reporter was shown documents taken from a Security Force office which recorded the execution of three men on Jan. 31. Their crimes, the document read, were to have possessed a car telephone, a photocopier, and two typewriters.

But tragedy also struck almost incidentally. A deaf-and-dumb man was shot dead by Iraqi soldiers furious he had not opened the door at their knocking, neighbors said. A 17-year-old boy's back was broken as he was caught between soldiers seeking to arrest him and relatives trying to keep hold of him, an uncle said.

The city shows signs, and stories abound, of casual brutality. The public graveyard has been defaced, for example; a man said he had been tortured for a week for refusing to give up his car to a soldier who had demanded it.

Thievery on a mass scale has left thousands of shops and homes denuded of everything that was not nailed down, and much that was. Any house left unoccupied or unguarded was likely to be looted, Kuwaitis say.

Doors have been smashed down, and apartments stripped of valuables, throughout the city. Anything left behind has been trashed, torn up, cracked, or simply tossed out of broken windows.

Hospitals were emptied of equipment and medicines, public offices left without a stick of furniture, the university library shelves are bare; only the card index is left, scattered all over the floor.

Those who lived through the occupation, whatever role they played in resisting it, seem to have experienced the same fears and insecurities, to judge by their comments.

``We were dying a little bit each day, step by step,'' says Captain Ali. ``And sometimes we doubted that the allies would really go through with the war.''

For Walid Hasawi, a teacher at the Kuwait Institute of Technology: ``I never felt safe for the whole seven months. When I slept, I was just putting my head on my bed. You never knew if they might come.''

That insecurity affected French professor Muhammad al-Shatti, too. ``You were psychologically tortured all the time. You would go to get gas and not know if you would be dead the next minute. We counted our lives in minutes.''

The buildings damaged in Kuwait City have been burned rather than blown up, and what the capital needs is a massive clean up rather than a reconstruction. But the human effect will be harder to efface.

``Men were shot in front of their families, in front of their little children,'' says Muhammad al-Muttawa, a resistance worker. ``Those children will grow up, but they will never forget what they saw the Iraqis do.''

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