The emir’s palace, a symbol of this wealthy but vulnerable nation, became a brutal battleground Thursday, pounded by Iraqi tanks and artillery and veiled in plumes of black smoke, as the Iraqi invaders overran the city.
From the seventh floor of the Kuwait International Hotel, a few blocks from the palace, the day provided a vivid tableau of destruction.
Through most of the day, the fighting was concentrated around the palace of the emir, Sheik Jabbar al Ahmed al Sabah. The emir himself was said to have left for Saudi Arabia shortly after the Iraqis came across the border.
Kuwaitis reacted to the invasion with shock and dismay. “We are under foreign occupation!” said one. “Everything will be possible now. Who counted on a foreign invasion?”
At one point Thursday morning, as Iraqi tanks were storming into the city, a towering column of smoke could be seen rising almost as high as the decorative water towers across the street from the emir’s palace. Later, Kuwaiti armored personnel carriers retreated from the palace to the streets near this hotel, for what looked briefly like a last stand.
Iraqi air power seemed to be used mainly to intimidate the Kuwaiti defenders. About 8:25 a.m., three Iraqi jets flew over the palace and then headed north. Two hours later, about 15 Iraqi military helicopters flew near the palace.
The battle on the ground was sometimes hard to see from the hotel, because trees blocked a view. But the sounds were unmistakable. Shells exploded regularly around the base of the water towers, some of them igniting new fires. And throughout the day, the sound of machine-gun and mortar fire echoed through the city.
A European ambassador on his way to his embassy said he arrived at the scene of an apparently just-concluded fire fight between Iraqi and Kuwaiti troops. “I could see soldiers being killed 200 yards in front of my car,” he said. “I saw corpses being dragged away by Iraqi soldiers and Kuwaiti soldiers giving up.”
The fighting around the emir’s Dasman Palace started about 6 a.m. and tapered off about 2 p.m. Machine-gun and bazooka fire as well as small artillery could be heard throughout that time, indicating that Kuwaiti forces put up considerable resistance.
Elsewhere in the city, Iraqi troops, tanks and armored personnel carriers were visible everywhere by early afternoon, directing traffic and guarding roadblocks. Western diplomats said they were concentrated at key government installations and ministries and that residential areas were left relatively untouched.
“The streets are in chaos,” a Kuwaiti said Thursday morning.