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Refugees Cite Iraqis' Brutality : Kuwait: Friends disappear and are returned dead. A family is locked inside a house and burned to death.

February 26, 1991|MARK FINEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AMMAN, Jordan — In the final days and hours before the massive allied ground assault began on occupied Kuwait, Youssef Douba watched helplessly as some of his best friends simply disappeared. A few showed up a short while later, dumped at their doorsteps--with bullet holes in their head.

"It was getting worse in the final days. The Iraqis were taking everyone and everything," said the 21-year-old ethnic Syrian, who left his native Kuwait just two hours before the land war began.

Douba arrived Monday at the Jordanian border post of Ruweished before reports circulated of a possible Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, among the handful of other refugees who had pushed their luck until the last minute.

"Nobody can get out of Kuwait anymore," Douba said on his arrival, adding that he had stockpiled gasoline for weeks in preparation for the trip and had decided to leave only after "the last glimmer of hope was gone," the moment when he realized the land war was just hours or minutes away.

For Douba, the decision to leave was not easy. He was born and raised in Kuwait and had a fine house on the seacoast overlooking the harbor. Also he had maintained friendships with both the Kuwaitis and their Iraqi occupiers. But Douba had been working up to leaving for weeks, as he watched the brutality of Kuwait's occupiers intensify by the day.

"My heart is so full of these stories now, all I can feel is pain," Douba said, as his and other accounts of Kuwait's final days under Iraqi occupation began trickling across the border here.

The eyewitness reports formed a human mosaic of brutality, panic, desperation and sheer terror in the land the allies are going to great lengths to liberate.

On Monday, Lt. Gen. Prince Khalid ibn Sultan, commander of the Arab and Muslim forces in Saudi Arabia, said that thousands of Kuwaitis have been tortured or killed by Iraqi forces in recent days.

Douba confirmed accounts of Iraqi torture and summary execution. Iraqi forces in Kuwait engaged in a crackdown that claimed some of his friends. "I personally know of 12 people, friends of mine, who disappeared--taken by the Iraqi soldiers," he said. "There was an 18-year-old boy, Mohammed. He was standing at the door when they took him. Two days later, we found him dead, behind the same door. There was a gunshot through his skull.

"Then there was the Busheri family," he said. "One boy was killed, shot by soldiers right there on the spot. They took the father. He just disappeared. No one knows what happened to him.

"Another friend of mine, Sami Raqm," Douba recalled, "he had caught some burglars breaking into a neighbor's house. He chased them away. They went to the Iraqi intelligence people, who came and took Sami away. When they finished with him, he spent two days in the hospital before he died.

"There were four guys from the Salem family," he added. "They're a prominent family living in a luxury villa. The Iraqis took all four and only two came back."

Douba said the situation deteriorated, "especially in these last days. It was getting so much worse. It's the ground war. Right before this land war, the Iraqis became so aggressive. They were putting a lot of pressure on all the civilians. And, my God, the stories."

Pulling through the border post right behind Douba was Salha Hussein Suleiman, an aging mother of four who had more reason than most to give the Iraqi side of the story.

She is Palestinian, among the tens of thousands of stateless, largely pro-Iraqi natives of the Israeli-occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They had welcomed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's Aug. 2 conquest of Kuwait, a nation that had never made the Palestinians feel quite at home.

But Suleiman's tale was not one of Hussein worship and support.

It was one of pain, fear and tragedy that left neither side in the conflict untainted.

In the weeks that led up to her departure, she witnessed death in many forms, Suleiman said in her native Arabic through intermittent tears.

Just a week or so ago, she recalled, a group of Kuwaitis who lived near her in the Khitan section of Kuwait city had invited some Iraqis to their house for a meal. "They poisoned the food and all but one of the Iraqis died," she said. "The one who survived told the Iraqi army about it and the next day the soldiers came and burned the house with everyone locked inside. They burned three houses in all, just on suspicion. I know. I saw it."

Still, the Iraqis had been treating Suleiman and her four children well enough. Then early last week, when the land war appeared all but certain to everyone in Kuwait, she decided to take her two daughters out and resettle them in Jordan.

It wasn't death that she feared--"there is death everywhere in Kuwait now," Suleiman said. Rather, it was the Americans.

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