Nearly 1,000 more weary but grateful foreigners from at least a dozen nations flew out of Iraq on Sunday night as the pace of freedom flights picked up in this capital.
Among them were 75 to 80 Americans--their heads held high--who surfaced for the first time after four months of hiding in war-ravaged Kuwait. They were evacuated by a U.S.-chartered Iraqi Airways jet. In all, about 175 Americans were on the chartered flight to Frankfurt, Germany.
One man said with pride that he was leaving under “honorable conditions.”
But once at the Saddam Hussein International Airport here, Iraqi officials barred Wayne Cox, his wife and three young children, including their 11-month-old, from continuing on to Frankfurt. The apparent reason was that Cox’s wife is a Kuwaiti. The family, from Orlando, Fla., was driven to a hotel in Baghdad.
Also Sunday, an Iraqi jet loaded with former Italian hostages departed Baghdad en route to Rome.
Another U.S. charter is scheduled to fly to Kuwait on Tuesday, an American Embassy official here said. Once all Americans are out of Kuwait, the eight remaining U.S. diplomats in the beleaguered embassy will also leave.
The plane to Frankfurt arrived early today. The former hostages, who were put up at an airport hotel, are expected to leave this afternoon on a Pan Am chartered flight bound for Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington.
In Baghdad on Sunday, many of the refugees from Kuwait gave poignant details of their long, dark days behind closed doors and drawn curtains.
“I just stayed in my apartment. Just didn’t answer the door. Just didn’t answer the phone,” said Peter Dooley of Hopkinsville, Ky.
Asked what he did during all that time, Dooley replied: “Reading. Eating. Sleeping.”
He said it “never entered my mind” to turn himself in, as the Iraqi occupation troops had ordered all foreigners in Kuwait to do after their Aug. 2 invasion. Those who complied were taken hostage, many of them then held as “human shields” at strategic sites in Iraq to deter attack.
“I always knew George would get me out,” Dooley said, referring to President Bush.
Randal Warren, a Missouri man who has lived in Kuwait for 11 years, said he and a companion simply “kept all curtains pulled and the lights dim. We stayed low and kept together. Today’s the first time I’ve had shoes on in four months.”
Thanks to friendly Kuwaitis, Warren said, “We had plenty of food, and we could have survived another six months without any more.”
“We got a lot of help from the Kuwaitis and others,” added Ernest Alexander, another longtime Kuwait resident. “People sort of stuck together.”
Warren said he and many other Americans kept hoping that American forces would liberate Kuwait, “but they didn’t show up.”
“If we don’t do it, it’s not in our long-term strategic interest,” Alexander added. “We’ll lose all respect in the world.”
“I confirm what that gentleman just said,” said Tommy Justus, another longtime Kuwait resident. “I knew someday I’d be out of here.”
Alexander said that the Kuwaitis had mounted a “very active” resistance movement in the first months of the Iraqi occupation. But even now there is “daily gunfire--even this morning before I left,” he said.
Craig Springer, an American Consulate spokesman, said that none of the passengers requested medical attention on arrival in Germany. A doctor had been in the waiting area as they came off the plane, just in case.
One of the passengers, Bruce McKinnon, 44, a computer engineer from Frankfort, Ky., said he was a “human shield” at a strategic site near Baghdad. He came out with his two dogs.
As he emerged from baggage pickup, McKinnon was cradling one of the dogs, which resembled a mop. Its name is Tina, a Lhasa apso. McKinnon was grinning and patted the dog on the head proudly. “This one used to bite the Iraqis,” he said. “They wouldn’t come in my room anymore.”
An angry silver-bearded American man pushing a luggage cart behind McKinnon shouted, “Nuke the clods.” When a reporter called out a question about the Iraqis, he refused to give his name and said the media “screwed me up” so that he couldn’t get out of Kuwait earlier.
Allen Finney, 39, a teacher at the American School in Kuwait city for five years, said he will be going to Indian Rock Beach, Fla. He said he hid in his apartment in Kuwait with his wife and newborn son, Matthew.
“My wife delivered our first baby on July 25,” Finney said. “We brought the baby home on the first (of August), and we woke up on the second to a phone call saying that the Iraqis had invaded.
“My wife and son were able to leave Sept. 9, and her father and I stayed behind in our apartment. For 130 days, we never talked to anyone, we never opened the door for anyone. The windows were covered, and we didn’t use the lights.”
He said that an Indian man he knew from the school helped them and would bring them food. But the Indian left in October, and Finney said he and his father-in-law had only “about a week of food left” when freedom came.
In addition to the Americans, foreigners leaving Baghdad on Sunday included about 450 Vietnamese, more than 150 Italians, more than 90 Britons, 31 Canadians, 12 Irishmen and a number of Greeks, Argentines, Swiss, Danes, Dutch and Austrians.
Even as they were still going through processing at the airport outside of town, hundreds of other foreigners were streaming into a downtown Baghdad hotel from sites throughout Iraq, eager to head for home after months in captivity.
But as they waited for a coveted seat on the growing number of refugee airlifts, many of them were also eager to speak of the small acts of human kindness from their “keepers.”
Edward Smiley, a Los Angeles man, 42, managed one night to persuade his guard to take him out for a couple of beers at a seedy bar with mud walls somewhere on the outskirts of Baghdad.
Tony Campbell, a burly, 6-foot-4 Claremore, Okla., man who had everything stripped from him, managed to get for himself four natty, tailor-made outfits and a sweater because the Iraqis had no ready-made clothes to fit him.
Initially, the guards had brought him a jogging suit that “came down to my knees,” Campbell said with a laugh. He said he “complained and complained until they finally called my bluff--and called in a tailor.”
At another strategic site, a group of Western human shields had a personal computer brought to them, and they spent hours playing video games as their teen-age guards looked on in fascination. But in the wee hours of the morning, some of the men used the computer to write their wills.
John H. Cole, an oil worker from Odessa, Tex., received a birthday cake and a watch from his captors on his 50th birthday last month.
At an artillery plant 40 miles south of here, a dozen hostages each anted up $100 to form a pool, with the money going to the one who accurately picked the date of war or freedom.
Given the happy outcome, Pete Brown, 58, of Sarasota, Fla., said he did not rue his $100 investment.
Instead, he was far more worried about getting the proper papers to be cleared to leave Baghdad.
Most of the foreigners sent to remote strategic sites throughout Baghdad had been in Kuwait at the time of the invasion. But Brown was working in northern Iraq as a civil engineer for an international consortium that was building a massive dam. It appeared at the last minute that the Iraqis might not grant him an exit visa. At the airport, a clearly agitated Brown was finally allowed to board the plane with his wife, Petrica, who had arrived in Baghdad on Wednesday night with a group of American hostage relatives to seek the release of their loved ones.
In a similar predicament was an Irishman who did not want his name used. He was working as a construction estimator helping to build a guest palace for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
The Irishman was taken hostage after his capture on the banks of the Tigris River while trying to flee the country on foot. He said that a companion with a British passport has been sentenced to a year in prison for the offense.
At that prison, the Irishman said, his friend has seen Iraqi army deserters physically abused and hanged.
Hussein, he said, has shown great interest in the progress of the guest palace, often stopping his motorcade to conduct personal inspections.
Since the U.N. trade embargo was imposed against Iraq, the Irishman said, the construction crews have run short of some materials, so that some of the final touches--including electrical wiring for the security system--have been assembled in a slapdash fashion.
Most of the hostages spoke freely Sunday as hundreds of them milled about in the lobby of the Mansour Melia Hotel, a 10-story riverfront facility used by the Iraqis as a point of transit for their hostages.
Also at the hotel on Sunday, about 20 hostages and their wives attended a morning Mass.
It was conducted by Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, who had accompanied 18 hostage relatives to Baghdad on Wednesday.
The Mass initially was to have been celebrated at Our Lady of Fatima Church, about a quarter-mile from the hotel. But Iraqi officials strongly urged the Americans not to wander off the hotel grounds.
So the service was held in the hotel’s tea shop, where the furniture was quickly rearranged into church pews.
Smiley, the Los Angeles man who was helping Kuwait design a computerized security system database, was not quite ready to let go of it all.
When he parted with his “keeper,” the one who probably had taken a big risk by taking Smiley out for a couple of beers on Thanksgiving night, Smiley gave him his Los Angeles address, asking the guard to write.
“He said he would,” Smiley said.
But when Smiley asked the guard, in turn, for his address, the man declined.
He was afraid to do so.
Times staff writer Tamara Jones, in Frankfurt, Germany, contributed to this report.