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SPECIAL REPORT: WITNESS TO WAR : Memoirs From the Battle Front, the Diplomatic Front and the Home Front : Prelude to War : 'To All the People of Kuwait, Please Stay Together' : The tiny emirate's people, reeling from the shock of Iraq's August invasion, never gave up hope. Through the autumn, they prayed for the war that most of the world dreaded.

March 12, 1991

KUWAIT CITY

The night was clear and sultry, the birds still stirring in the emir's splendid Johara gardens, the wind moving through the date palms behind the palace, when the sound of rocket fire and machine guns shattered the silence.

As the sons of Ayed Khamis Anazy tell it today, their father, household staff supervisor at Dasman Palace for 38 years, first made sure the emir had safely sped away in his Mercedes. Then he packed his own belongings, hurried his wife and sons into the car on the palace grounds and, as Iraqi troops bore down on Kuwait city, bundled the last of the luggage into the trunk.

For some reason, his sons say, Anazy's hands lingered on the trunk. He stared for a few minutes out the front gate of the palace grounds, then suddenly opened the trunk again and pulled out his gun.

Anazy sent his family on, then pulled up and tied his long, white dishdasha high on his legs and wrapped his red-and-white kaffiyeh around his head in the fashion of a Bedouin warrior. He grabbed a second gun. And then the household staff supervisor joined hundreds of Kuwaiti national guardsmen, fighting for as long as they could to hold off advancing Iraqi paratroopers and tanks. Finally, the invaders flooded the palace grounds, and Anazy died about 100 yards inside that front gate, a crescent of bullet wounds stretching from his heart to his stomach.

Seven months later, Anazy's sons entered the palace again. At their father's desk, they found a hastily scribbled note that he apparently left when he rushed in for more ammunition during the August battle.

"The war has begun," Anazy wrote in the stately phrasing of desert poetry. "We are not going to move from this place. I can hear the sound of the guns and the bullets. We are trying our best to fight back . . . but those people who believe in Allah and who have done good in their life should not be worried about death.

"To all the people of Kuwait," he wrote, "please stay together. Because that is the way it should be."

In some ways, this last plea of a palace worker was heeded. From the night that Iraqi troops stormed across the border, barreled through the desert and made their way into the center of Kuwait city, until the capital's liberation--through a crisis that bitterly divided the Arab world and plunged 28 nations into war--the Kuwaitis themselves formed deeper bonds, steeling themselves against fear and praying for the conflict most of the world dreaded.

The war, of course, was largely over by the time journalists pulled into Kuwait city two weeks ago, and Dasman Palace, like much of the rest of the once-gleaming Gulf capital, was in ruins.

Meeting the Kuwaitis--on street corners, where they stood for hours at a time waving flags, or in their homes, where they pulled out their last stocks of food for visiting reporters--it was clear that the line of tanks that stormed into Kuwait that day in August would never go entirely away. Even in liberation, the images of war were in these people's eyes, in the way they might sob unexpectedly while putting a teacup down on a coffee table, in the look of grim approval they had when they talk of the Iraqi dead.

They were a nation of innocents that morning when the sweat-faced, war-practiced Iraqis came to town. The Kuwaitis, accustomed to spending their weekends jet skiing at the marina, barbecuing at the beach, sipping tea on brocaded cushions or listening to English poetry recitals, were understandably alarmed when they learned at the end of the second day that their entire army and air force, to say nothing of the emir, Sheik Jabbar al Ahmed al Sabah, the crown prince and the Cabinet of ministers, had headed south for Saudi Arabia, where they set up a government-in-exile.

Othman Othman drove to work at Kuwait TV the morning of the invasion, as he always did, and he was stunned when a man with an Iraqi accent pointed a machine gun at his white BMW. "Go home to your mama," the soldier grunted.

Panicked Kuwaiti refugees in polished luxury sedans--VCRs and stereos in the trunk, Sri Lankan and Pakistani maids in tow--streamed sand-covered and frightened into Saudi Arabia for days, until Iraqi soldiers closed the border and unleashed a seven-month campaign of terror against the Kuwaitis remaining inside.

Behind a virtual wall of silence, imposed by sealed borders and a blackout of international telephone communications, the Iraqis began a systematic campaign to break the national will of a country that never really knew it had one.

In a region of tribal and family loyalties where national boundaries had often been drawn out of convenience by colonial powers, identifying just what this small place, Kuwait, really was, and why it was worth saving, was something even Kuwaitis had trouble explaining.

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