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Conditions Go From Bad to Worse in Kuwait City

March 12, 1991|KIM MURPHY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

KUWAIT CITY — The line for lentils, sugar, cooking oil and flour begins at a small co-op in the Jabriyah neighborhood, winds down the block and trickles around the corner. The water line begins about two miles up the road, where three dozen men stand quietly waiting to fill 10-gallon jugs from a trickling pipe. Gas lines last week stretched upwards of a mile. There is no more rice. There are no vegetables, no fruit, no meat, no batteries, no milk, no cooking or heating gas.

Most Kuwaitis haven't had a hot bath in two weeks. There is no water for laundry or washing dishes or flushing toilets. There are few telephones and no television. Families huddle together in their living rooms at night over homemade candles, or venture outside into an intimidating landscape of utter darkness.

Kuwait, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, has become a land of urban refugees, and conditions have never been worse than during the two weeks since the country was liberated from its Iraqi occupiers.

"Seven months the Iraqis were here, and we find anything we want. Now, the government comes back and we have nothing," fumed Haladi Ibrahim Manaai, who spent most of the last two days waiting in various lines without finding milk for her 3 1/2-month-old baby. "When everything is finished, I will give the Kuwaitis this ID card and I will leave the country."

"My wife just now is pregnant," said Khalid Saffar, a 28-year-old police officer. "I can't find for her any food. Just she eats biscuit in the morning, biscuit in the afternoon, biscuit for dinner. Before, we had the bad man Saddam (Hussein), but at least we had food."

Kuwait's exiled government and its allied advisers had anticipated they would be able to restore many basic services to the 350,000 people still living in the capital with relative speed. But now, two weeks after the invaders were driven out, officials have only just begun to realize the massive scope of the damage done by Iraqi troops as they fled the city.

"From what we've learned, it appears that the Iraqis when they left had plans to demolish the city in a manner like Warsaw in 1944," said Col. Randall Elliott, head of the Kuwait Task Force, a U.S. group assigned to aid the Kuwaiti government resurrect and reconstruct the country. "They were vandals with military equipment, and the destruction has been enough to seriously impair the functioning of this city."

Power lines between Kuwait city and the closest fully functioning generating plant, 43 miles south at Ras al Zour, are broken in 93 places. Sewage treatment plants are not functioning, dumping raw sewage into the Persian Gulf, and 55-gallon barrels of toxic chemicals were placed in locations that military officials say indicate an attempt was made to poison the water supply.

Many telephone and electrical substations and switching stations were blown up, as were portions of the two major power-generating and desalination plants in Kuwait city. More than 530 oil wells are on fire, burning 5 million barrels of oil a day and sending plumes of foul smoke into the air, which has already lowered the temperature in Kuwait an average of 10 degrees. Hospitals have been stripped, television and radio facilities looted, hotels set afire. Wild cats and dogs poke through mounds of rotting garbage. Areas of southern Kuwait have been sown so heavily with land mines that it will take years to make them safe.

U.S. military officials have uncovered evidence that Iraqi forces developed plans for the systematic destruction of Kuwait city, laying huge quantities of explosives in virtually every major segment of Kuwait's infrastructure, but they were apparently prevented from fully carrying out the plans when allied bombing raids cut communication links between Kuwait city and Baghdad.

Detailed engineering documents left by fleeing Iraqi forces indicate that field commanders were preparing plans for the systematic destruction of important facilities in virtually every section of the city, moving from east to west and destroying the city as they retreated, according to allied military officials.

"Individual Iraqi officers were told to prepare to destroy their block," said one U.S. official familiar with the plans.

Inspectors have hauled out tens of thousands of pounds of explosives from Kuwait city, and at one point they ran out of detonators for blowing up the Iraqi explosives. About 350 pounds of plastic explosives were found on each of the main control valves at the city's main reservoir, which, if detonated, would have left the city entirely without water for months.

Crude, napalm-like fuel bombs lined the entire road south out of Kuwait city. A huge propane tank farm southeast of the capital was rigged with enough explosives to set off an explosion half the size of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, said Sgt. Tony Paolini, a ballistics expert working with the Kuwait Task Force.

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