Despite the heavy hand of the Iraqi invaders, Kuwait city is a lawless capital of increasing desperation, according to refugees who have reached the safety of Bahrain.
Only in the past week have Iraqi police officers been deployed on the city's streets, said one refugee who arrived in Bahrain over the weekend.
"Very few people are venturing out of their homes," he said. "The looting continues--some by the Iraqis, some by Arab and Asian workers. They even hit the Pizza Hut."
Food supplies are diminishing although most families stocked up in the first days after the Aug. 2 invasion, according to another refugee. Prices have soared in markets that still have anything to sell, and the price of bottled water is six times what it was before the invasion.
The refugees' reports cannot be independently verified because phone lines to neighboring countries have been cut, and many would not be quoted by name for fear of reprisals against relatives left behind. But the evidence from the thousands who have fled Iraq and occupied Kuwait thus far paints a vivid picture of fear and chaos.
"The street lights are not working," one refugee said in an interview in Bahrain, "and people are tearing around in their cars, making U-turns across traffic. It's mad, and there is no one to control it."
Photographs of the exiled emir of Kuwait are posted on walls and power poles throughout the city, but so far there are none of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the refugee said.
Confirming other reports, he said groups of armed Palestinians have appeared in the streets, threatening the Kuwaitis. More than 400,000 Palestinians live and work in Kuwait, and there has been friction between the two groups for years--a relationship of wealthy bosses and imported labor colored by antagonistic politics.
Kuwaiti resistance, the refugee said, appears to be limited to sniping, "but a Kuwaiti motorist will run down an Iraqi in the street if the opportunity presents itself."
Foreigners trapped in Kuwait, no less than U.S. and other troops on the Saudi front, face the threat of an Iraqi poison-gas attack.
But "if you think the Brits are just sitting around worrying, you're wrong," said Alan Lennox, a Scotsman who fled last week in a daring dash across the desert with 25 other Westerners in a nine-car convoy. "Hidey-holes and bomb shelters are being built with great inventiveness."
Lennox, a professional diver who worked at an experimental fish farm in Kuwait for seven years, knows a bit about keeping things airtight. Bathrooms make the best shelters, he told a reporter, explaining that "there is no air-conditioning in the bathrooms in Kuwait, so that means gas wouldn't be pumped in."
With a roll of sealing tape, the bearded Scotsman began turning his home into a fortress, making windows, fittings and cracks in the bathroom airtight.
"The windows were boarded up with timber and sealed again with plastic bags," he said. "We cut strips of tape to the precise length of the door so we could dash in at a second's notice and seal ourselves in."
Then he went to work on his emergency outfit: a wet suit for protection against chemicals, a face mask to shield the eyes and nose and a makeshift helmet--a kitchen mixing bowl lined with foam padding.
The bath was left half-filled for a quick chemical wash-off, and towels were handy for soaking as a head wrap.
Dr. Arthur White, a British immunologist and transplant surgeon, reached Bahrain with his Korean wife, Son Young Choi, and a tale of terror. The couple lived near the main port of Kuwait, and they said the area soon was thick with Iraqi troops looking for food and water.
"The first time they knocked," said Son Young Choi, a former Kuwait Airways stewardess, "I could see the soldiers' legs and guns through the bottom of the door, so I ran and hid under a mattress."
But they came back, her husband said, this time with a captain, who entered the house.
"He asked me about my wife," White went on, "and said, 'I'll give you whiskey and beer for her.' I told him she was my wife, and he backed off."
The couple tried to slip away one night but were stopped by a curfew officer and his patrol.
"He became very intimidating and tried to drag my wife into a van," White said. "I knew what would happen if I let them take her, so I kept on talking to them, and she slipped away."
Reunited, the couple said they broke into a nearby apartment and saw the Iraqis return, trying again to get into their home.
"We stayed behind an air-conditioning unit in a cupboard for four hours," he said.
"It was like the law of the jungle," she recalled, stroking Nabia, her Siamese cat, who was brought across the desert on a leash so that she wouldn't jump out of the car. "Nabia is very happy to be safe."
Scott White, Dr. White's 22-year-old son, had a tougher time of it than most of the foreigners who have made it across the border. When the Iraqis attacked, Scott White was in a Kuwaiti prison, halfway through a five-year sentence for possession of marijuana.
His fellow prisoners, White said, were terrified at the prospect of being turned over to the Iraqis.
"We were negotiating with a captain to let us go, and the prisoners were going mad," he told a reporter. "There was a full-blown riot, and petrol (gasoline) bombs were being thrown. In the end, the guards couldn't control the prisoners and said we could go."
Dressed in prison denims, his head shaved prison-style, White ran through the streets to the home of a friend.
In many instances, the flight from Kuwait has been characterized by moments of panic and relief. American Martin Lerman, an interior designer, left Kuwait city in a convoy of cars guided by a man with a compass. Others have been led by a Bedouin farmer who knows the desert trails.
"The Iraqis were following us in tanks and armored personnel carriers," Lerman said. "They were watching every single thing we did. But they didn't stop us. It was as if they were trying to intimidate us to turn back. When we reached the border, it was all an anticlimax."
Others told similar stories of high-speed races with Iraqi military vehicles. The soldiers were apparently under orders not to shoot but tried to overtake the convoys and cut them off. The refugees have concluded that a four-wheel-drive vehicle moving at top speed, with some of the air released from its tires for better traction, can outrun an Iraqi armored vehicle.
Still, the desert roads are littered with abandoned cars, overheated or broken down, evidence that not everyone finished the race. And several shootings have been reported, including the documented case of a British citizen killed just north of the Saudi border.
More frequent than the reports of shootings, however, are those of Iraqi troops waving a convoy through after a cursory check. In several incidents, refugees said the Iraqis asked forgiveness for invading Kuwait.