80 American Hostages Fly Out of Iraq : Families: Hundreds of Western women depart with their children. Husbands are left behind. Baghdad calls it a humanitarian airlift.


Amid the tears of families torn in half and the memories of a month in Iraqi captivity, hundreds of Western women and children, including at least 80 Americans, flew to freedom today in what was billed as a massive humanitarian airlift by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The hostage release came after midnight and after a maddening series of delays, agonizing farewells and intensive international diplomacy, but it left behind thousands of American, European and Japanese men who are either held under military guard at strategic installations or simply barred from leaving Iraqi territory.

In a few cases, Western women who were told to report with their husbands to pick up their exit visas had to watch their men taken away by security officials, presumably adding to President Hussein’s human shield.


“They basically traded the husband for the visa,” said one Western diplomat.

“In actual fact, we’re not free,” said Hillary Westwood, a British hostage who had to leave her husband behind at the strategic Iraqi camp where they were held for 11 of their 30 days under armed guard.

“We’re still going to be hostages in (Britain)--hostage to everything that happens here.”

Standing beside her as she waited in the departure line at Saddam International Airport, fellow Briton Kirsty Norman added, “This isn’t going to be over for us until everybody gets back.”

Dawn Bazner, who was en route to her in-laws’ home in Palm Desert, Calif., in part because her husband, Kevin, had appealed personally to President Hussein for the release of the women and children on an international broadcast by Iraqi Television, said simply that she needs time to think before she speaks.

“For now,” she said, “our main purpose is to get our children to safety.”

There were only a handful of men among the evacuees, most of them among the 26 Americans hiding out in Kuwait whose release was secured by a persistent Jesse Jackson during a Friday night meeting with President Hussein and continuous negotiations in Kuwait throughout Saturday.

Jackson, who visited both Iraq and Kuwait as an official state guest of the Iraqi government, made a second trip to the Iraqi-occupied capital of Kuwait city on Saturday to collect the sick Americans from the besieged U.S. Embassy compound there. His late return to Baghdad delayed all of the hostages’ departure by an additional four hours.

“This is a window of hope, and it must be expanded,” Jackson told a wire service reporter at the airport.

He said he was encouraged by his meetings with Hussein, whom he found ready to talk. “When people are willing to talk, that is a step in the first direction,” Jackson said. “There must be a cooling of the rhetoric in this quest for peace.”

Jackson, who took to Kuwait city several Western journalists from Baghdad and three film crews from his new television program who had accompanied him to Iraq, also flew out of Baghdad with 237 released detainees journeying to Paris, London and Washington aboard a state-owned Iraqi Airways Boeing 747.

In all, there were three evacuation flights Saturday, the principal one being the Iraqi Airways flight that Baghdad had requested as a last-minute negotiating point so it could pick up Iraqis stranded in Paris and London. The Iraqi government did, however, fly all 237 detainees home free of charge.

A chartered Airbus of Lufthansa, West Germany’s flag carrier, took out an additional 260 women and children, among them Americans and Europeans from 10 countries who had not been detained at camps, factories, refineries, power plants and storage depots but were stuck in Baghdad under presidential orders barring most foreigners from leaving the country.

A third Iraqi-financed flight took 68 Japanese women and children detainees on an Iraqi Airways Boeing 727 to a waiting Japan Air Lines flight in Amman, Jordan. According to the Japanese Embassy in Baghdad, an additional 143 Japanese men remain in detention at installations throughout Iraq.

U.S. and West German officials said that the flights carried up to 22 American women and children who had been locked up in camps and at other sites in Iraq, in addition to 58 American wives and children who were leaving their husbands and fathers behind at the families’ homes in Iraq and Kuwait.

An estimated 600 Americans were in Iraq and 2,500 more in Kuwait at the time of the Aug. 2 invasion that touched off the military crisis in the Persian Gulf and the hostage drama in Iraq.

President Hussein, who met twice in internationally telecast sessions with the detained hostages--”guests” who he said were recipients of “forced hospitality”--has publicly announced that they are needed as a shield to prevent an American air strike and a prolonged bloody conflict. His advisers also say that the hostages are key pressure points on American allies participating in the Western military buildup in the gulf region.

“They are Saddam’s insurance against an attack,” a European military expert in Baghdad said of the husbands and fathers whom the released hostages were leaving behind on Saturday night. “Militarily, he cannot afford to let these people go now--not until most of the American forces are out of the area.”

A Western diplomat, noting that the release was clearly timed to coincide with talks between U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tarik Aziz in Jordan, added, “It’s definitely a peace signal--a peace offensive, but the West will not look at it that way.

Indeed, at Saddam International Airport on Saturday night, there was ample evidence of the human cost of the Iraqi president’s insurance policy.

Women quietly commiserated with each other over the fate of their husbands. Single women wept over the men friends they had taken along to protect them as they were moved in detention from installation to installation. A child cried for her father.

Most of the released American hostages refused to speak for the record.

“They’ve fooled us so many times,” one middle-aged American said of the mixed bag of messages they have received from their captors during the past month. “And then, there’s our men. I don’t think we’ll talk much even after we get out of here.”

The Britons, by far the largest group of women and children with about 200 evacuees, were far more open, though just as concerned about their husbands and fathers. Most asked that their husbands’ names not be used, nor would most specify where they had been held, although all insisted that they had been well treated and cared for by their guards.

“They were extremely pleasant to us, but it was bizarre,” said Hillary Westwood, who was captured along with her friend, Caroline Johnson, and their husbands on Aug. 18 while trying to escape from Kuwait through the desert.

In explaining their decision to make a run for it after 16 days of hiding at various places in Kuwait city, Westwood said, “In fact, we’d given up hope of ever getting out of there.”

But they gave up on their journey, as well, after encountering a desert horizon virtually covered with Iraqi tanks and troops, and it was on their return to Kuwait city that they were caught by an army patrol and taken to an Iraqi military camp.

“We didn’t want to split up,” she added of the decision she and her husband were given 45 minutes to make. “But I’ve got two kids in the U.K. So what decision do you make? Someone’s got to take care of the kids.”

Apparently disclosing that some Western women and children remain hostage in Iraq, Westwood added that seven British women and two children in their group chose to stay behind with their husbands and fathers at the strategic sites.

There were some lighter moments. Arti Lakhani, a Canadian, was en route to be married in the south Indian city of Madras when she became a hostage along with most of her 368 fellow passengers on British Airways Flight 149 when it was stranded in Kuwait during the invasion.

“He better still want to get married,” she said with a laugh, as she sent her bags through the airport metal detector.

But even Lakhani’s eyes began to water when she spoke of “the three guys we dragged along to look after us,” three men who remain under detention somewhere in Iraq.

“I’m really happy to be getting out, of course,” the 28-year-old British-born woman said. “But it’s such a downside, the guys we left. You live 11 days with someone, and, well, you really start to care. You get close. And it’s very difficult to let them go.”

For American attorney Debbie Willis, a 32-year-old native of Portland, Me., it was her husband, Jerry, she had to leave behind. And, after 3 1/2 years of working for a law firm in Kuwait city, it was the Kuwaiti people, too, she said she will miss.

“It just looked like no one was going anywhere, and we were afraid for the Kuwaiti friends who were hiding us,” she said in explaining their decision to load up their four-wheel-drive vehicle and make a dash across the desert to Saudi Arabia after days in hiding. Like Westwood and many other detainees, they were caught trying.

“I’m happy to be going home,” she said. “I’m happy to be alive. But I’m leaving my husband behind, and I’m sad about it. What more can I say?”

In other even more extraordinary cases, though, the evacuation literally tore entire families apart.

Nidhal Anaim, an Iraqi-born mother of three who now lives in Los Angeles as an American citizen, wept uncontrollably as she hugged, kissed and caressed her Iraqi relatives, bidding goodby Saturday afternoon outside the U.S. Embassy, which served as a staging area for the American women and children going home.

Like many Iraqi-Americans, Anaim has one foot in each of the two nations that are now staring each other down in a potentially explosive war of nerves, and she said she is deeply concerned about the safety of those she is leaving behind in her native Baghdad.

She came to Iraq for a month’s vacation with the relatives on July 4 and was to return to America about the time of the Iraqi invasion, which trapped her between two worlds of love and loyalty.

Asked who had come to send her off on her journey Saturday, Anaim said, “My mother and my father and, well, my family.”

Asked why she is returning to Los Angeles, she said, “My husband is there.”

Asked how she feels now that her nation of birth and her nation of residence seem poised on the brink of hostilities, she shook her head.

“I cannot think about such things right now,” she said as she dried her eyes and hurried off to check in with embassy authorities.

“But it is sad. It is all just very, very sad.”