Angry Kuwaitis await Saddam’s fall

WHAT SADDAM DID TO KUWAIT

Killed thousands of its people.
Took thousands as prisoners, hundreds of whom are missing.
Torched oilfields.
Stole billions of dollars.

TWELVE years after a sudden and brutal occupation by Iraq, Kuwait appears to have returned to normal. There are gleaming shopping malls, Starbucks outlets, new five-star hotels and Porsches, BMWs and Land Cruisers zipping down four-lane highways.

Yet, a deep-seated insecurity remains in this tiny oil-rich country.

The anxiety is not assuaged by the fences, trenches and fortifications that line its northern border, silent reminders of the trauma suffered in August 1990 when Iraqi tanks rolled in.

Most Kuwaitis The Straits Times interviewed believe that Saddam Hussein has not changed one jot and openly back his removal – as a last resort – through American military action.

The United States might be unpopular in the Arab world, but in Kuwait Uncle Sam’s presence is a welcome relief. In Old Kuwait Cafe by the sea – a legendary hangout where men gather every night to smoke their favourite apple-flavoured tobacco from water pipes – a portrait of Mr George Bush senior is placed next to that of Kuwait’s revered Crown Prince.

It is a telling sign of the gratitude people here feel for the man who led the charge against Iraq back then.

Computer programmer Anwar Mohammed Ali Saad, 30, sips Turkish coffee and says: ‘Saddam Hussein is the cancer of the Arab world and must be removed. The US is the only power in the world that can do that.

‘Kuwait, the Middle East and the world will be a much safer place without him.’

Kuwaitis view Mr Saddam as the man who killed thousands, torched their oil fields and stole billions during a seven-month occupation.

There is also the gnawing issue of more than 600 Kuwaitis still missing, their names listed, their faces displayed on posters.

Political commentator and writer Aid Al-Manan believes the impending war will prove cathartic for most Kuwaitis – except a minority of Muslim radicals who see it as a US conspiracy to control the region’s oil supply.

He said: ‘This war will sort out what the world failed to do in 1990 – get rid of Saddam.’ But he noted concerns over what war might mean.

‘Kuwaitis are against Saddam, not against Iraq where many people here have close friends and family links.

‘They are also worried over how Baghdad will react under attack.’

The fear is that Mr Saddam may fire rockets tipped with chemical or biological warheads towards them.

Throughout the city, signs point people to the nearest air raid shelters. There are several underground bunkers, and stockpiles of gas masks.

Czech and German troops specialising in nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare are training civil defence teams to cope with the aftermath of an attack.

Nervous Kuwaitis are also buying US$12,000 (S$21,000) pressurised tents which promise up to six people 500 hours of filtered air, as well as protection from nuclear fallout and 220 chemical and biological agents.

But they are also getting weary of living on edge and the periodic jolts that come with Washington’s war talk. Months have passed, along with several predicted start dates.

Given the uncertainty, people are spending less and hoarding their cash. For many, business has plummetted over the last three months.

Iranian immigrant Sayed Hakeem Abdul Azim, a carpet trader in the old Mubarakiyah bazaar, suffered a 50 per cent drop in sales.

He said: ‘I blame Saddam for all our problems. Nobody loves Saddam. We don’t want war but if there is war we want to know when.

‘George Bush talks about war, war, war but nothing happens. My business is collapsing because of Bush and Saddam.’ In recent weeks, immigrant workers from India and the Philippines have also been rushing to wire money back home. And Kuwaitis, worried that the local currency will collapse if there is a war, are changing their dinars into dollars.

It is the Gulf War revisited in Kuwait.

Our man in the Gulf

STRAITS Times Correspondent Derwin Pereira, 36, will be bringing you the latest news from the Gulf front from today. A journalist for more than 10 years, he has spent the last five as Indonesia Correspondent and covered key events there, including the fall of President Suharto and last year’s Bali bomb blasts. Earlier this year he won an award for an investigative report on the Al-Qaeda terrorist network’s links in Indonesia. He will file from Kuwait, Qatar, Jordan and Iraq, in the run-up and during a possible Gulf war.

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