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Witnesses Tell of Iraqi Atrocities in Kuwait : Congress: Members are shaken by what they hear. Kuwait’s ambassador warns that ‘time is running out.’

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Speaking softly in a voice that often broke, an American-born woman who fled Kuwait after the Aug. 2 Iraqi invasion told members of Congress about the scene at a hospital there:

“We took our cousin, who was in labor, to Sabah Maternity Hospital. Upon our arrival, we saw a Kuwaiti woman at the front door--in hysterics, because she was in labor and they (Iraqi troops) would not allow her to enter,” said Deborah Hadi, pausing to fight back a sob. “When she continued to scream, they put a bayonet through her stomach, pinning her to the wall. We left the hospital immediately and delivered my cousin’s baby at home.”

Hadi, who recently left her Kuwaiti husband behind and escaped to the United States, described to the congressional Human Rights Caucus “images of death, destruction, brutality and helplessness” imprinted in her mind by the actions of Saddam Hussein’s military forces.

Her account was echoed by five other witnesses, some of whom said that they fear for the safety of relatives left behind. They spoke in voices trembling with anger and loathing.

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It was the first public accounting in Washington of extensive first-hand descriptions of such events from Kuwait, and it left a visible impression on the lawmakers, who are pondering whether the United States should mount a military offensive against Iraq and, if so, when.

“In the eight-year history of the congressional Human Rights Caucus, we have never had the degree of ghoulish and nightmarish horror stories coming from totally credible eyewitnesses that we have had this time,” said a shaken California Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo), co-chairman of the panel, which has heard testimony in the past about torture and abuses in Latin America and Africa.

The witnesses told of mass executions, rapes and torture. They described the looting of food, equipment and supplies from schools, businesses, stores and hospitals. They recounted the seizure of men between the ages of 15 and 40 for the Iraqi military, the lack of medical care for Kuwait’s ill and wounded, the arbitrary arrest and murder of Kuwaitis.

One witness, a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl, testified under an assumed name to protect family members remaining in her country, as did a man who called himself “Abdulal” for fear of “compromising the ongoing efforts of the resistance.”

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Their testimony came a day after President Bush warned that his patience is “wearing very thin” with reported Iraqi atrocities in Kuwait. White House officials said the apparent Iraqi campaign to crush the Kuwaiti citizenry and gradually replace it with loyal immigrants was accelerating the Administration’s timetable for deciding on possible action in the crisis.

Congress is scheduled to adjourn on Oct. 19, and members have expressed eagerness to be fully apprised of possible Iraqi provocations and potential U.S. options before they leave Washington.

Kuwaiti Ambassador Sheik Saud al Nasir al Sabah, who also testified at the hearing, warned the lawmakers that “time is running out” for Kuwait.

“I hope we can find a quick and prompt solution to rescue my people,” he said. “I don’t believe that Iraq, in the short run or the long run, will be adversely affected by sanctions.”

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He added that the people of Iraq can “sustain themselves indefinitely” because the border between Iraq and Jordan remains open and supplies are being transported in regularly.

Rep. Donald M. Payne (D-N.J.) said that the “firsthand stories of what did occur give a clearer picture of the situation and its gravity.”

Rep. Ronald K. Machtley (R-R.I.) said the testimony was “some of the most emotional, hard-hitting and difficult” that he had ever heard. “I left the hearing with tears in my eyes,” he said.

One witness, Dr. Khaled al Nassar, escaped from Kuwait on the morning of Aug. 14 with his family in a car caravan across the desert to Saudi Arabia. Before he left, Nassar said, a physician friend at Mubarek El Kabeer Hospital described to him how the Iraqis had converted his hospital into military barracks.

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“They installed snipers in the roof . . . and took all the patients, most of them very sick or very old, and forced them at gunpoint into the hospital corridors,” he said his friend told him.

Nassar said many patients were removed from life-support systems or prevented from receiving needed blood transfusions. “Half the patients in the hospital died,” he said.

The 15-year-old refugee, who identified herself as Nayirah, recalled how her sister had risked her life to escape through the desert with her 5-day-old son because she could obtain no milk for the baby in Kuwait.

Nayirah also described a friend whom she encountered after he was tortured by the Iraqis. “He is 22, but he looked as though he could be an old man,” she said. “The Iraqis dunked his head into a swimming pool until he almost drowned. They pulled out his fingernails and applied electric shock to his body.”

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Ruth Schaeffer al Qallaf, originally from Memphis, Tenn., flew to the United States with her three children on the first U.S.-sponsored airlift on Sept. 7, leaving her husband behind in Kuwait. She described how Kuwaitis whose family members are missing go to an ice-skating rink near Kuwait city, where the Iraqi soldiers dump bodies.

A friend of her sister was stopped at the border by an Iraqi soldier when she was leaving the country with her family, including her 6-week-old son.

"(The) soldier asked her if the baby was a boy or a girl. She said it was her son,” Qallaf said. “The soldier insisted that she give him the baby, because they were under orders to kill all male children.”

Qallaf, her voice choked with emotion, continued: “She replied, ‘Then kill us all.’ The Iraqi soldier, miraculously, let them go.”

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