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Kuwait’s Rebels Vow to Speak Out

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hussein Abdurahman still had his Kalashnikov rifle slung over his shoulder when he strolled into the lobby of a downtown hotel and a government official asked him to put away his gun. “You are embarrassing the government,” the man whispered.

“I said to him, ‘Shut up. You are not able to talk to me. Because you’ve been outside the country, and I’ve been here, keeping the country,’ ” said Abdurahman, a leader of the Kuwaiti resistance.

It was a remarkable exchange in this region of sheikdoms, emirates and monarchies, where the word of the government can normally be accepted as final. But these are not normal times.

For seven months, while Kuwait’s emir, crown prince and Cabinet ministers waited in exile, the Kuwaiti resistance picked away at the Iraqi occupiers, staging small nighttime rifle raids, lobbing Molotov cocktails at supply trucks, setting off car bombs near Iraqi gathering spots--all in the name of reminding the Iraqi occupiers--and the world--that the invisible land behind the intimidating barrier of tanks was still called Kuwait.

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Now, while Kuwait’s official government remains hundreds of miles away in Saudi Arabia, resistance leaders have become folk heroes among a populace that is in many ways bitterly resentful of the Kuwaitis who left. And the resistance, which now controls most of Kuwait city, appears disinclined to remain silent after Sheik Jabbar al Ahmed al Sabah returns to his palace.

“We are here, and they have to listen to us,” Abdurahman said, explaining his clash with the government official. “Someone should tell the government that when the troops came into Paris, the resistance was in charge.”

A Saudi journalist with close connections in the Persian Gulf region warned: “I’m afraid there could be a civil war. The resistance will challenge the emir, and they have the guns.”

The city remains a violent place. A Kuwaiti opposition leader was recently shot by unknown assailants in an apparent assassination attempt, and a large section of central Kuwait city was closed off Friday night when a firefight broke out between Qatari troops and unknown snipers. Resistance leaders continue to round up Palestinians suspected of collaborating with the Iraqi occupiers, and in one central Kuwait police station Friday, a suspected collaborator was led in, screaming and crying, by members of the resistance.

“Ay, Mohammed! Ay, Mohammed!” the man shouted.

“I don’t agree with this kind of thing, but some things you have to do,” a resistance leader murmured. “Remember what the Iraqis did to us.”

Abdurahman said he has had no inclination to sympathize with the Iraqi forces who plundered Kuwait and murdered his 16-year-old niece for ferrying weapons for the underground.

“When I killed them, I killed them as we kill the sheep, with a knife,” he said. “I put his body on the floor, like this,” he said, signaling a place under his foot. “And I pull his head over and I cut it, like that. We burned their bodies with the garbage at Mubarak Hospital.”

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The quiet mountain resort at Taif, Saudi Arabia, where Kuwait’s government leaders have done their business to the quiet tinkling of a fountain in a hotel lobby, is as far from Kuwait city as the moon.

Kuwaiti government leaders apparently know that. Sheik Jabbar has both pledged a return to democracy, something already demanded by resistance leaders, and imposed three months of martial law.

“It has been something incredible. Most of the time, we work without the help of anybody. The only creature with us was God,” said Ahmed Hindi, one of the best known of the resistance leaders.

“Most of the time, I am angry at the people who left,” he said. “Why did they go? They had no reason. What can they say? Because they get hunted? I got hunted. Because they get shot? I got shot. If they have reason, we have more, but we didn’t leave.”

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The resistance was born on the morning of Aug. 2 when Iraqi troops thundered into Kuwait city, resistance leaders say. As the Kuwaiti army eventually fled south to Saudi Arabia, citizens began phoning each other to try to figure out what to do next.

Abdurahman headed over to the hospital and started selecting weapons from the injured and the dead. Others contacted soldiers who hadn’t made it to their base that morning and started a distribution of heavier-duty weapons: hand grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, automatic rifles.

Leaders and members of the resistance gave this account:

The Kuwaiti resistance started as a group of five men in Kuwait city who met and decided to organize to fight the advancing occupiers, according to interviews with a number of resistance leaders. It grew from five to 25. Eventually it numbered more than 1,000.

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At first, resistance fighters launched individual hits against soldiers on the streets, standing in dark corners or driving by in speeding cars and firing as they passed.

“Any soldier we saw, we killed,” Hindi said. “Everybody we see walking on the road, two, three, we hit them. We hit them quick and ran.”

As they grew more sophisticated, the Kuwaitis began targeting senior Iraqi officers and, in one case, an administrator from Iraq’s ruling Baath Socialist Party who was overseeing many operations in Kuwait city.

Because of their close network in Kuwait city, resistance fighters could quickly find out where an Iraqi officer lived, when he usually came home, who accompanied him.

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In the first such operation, directed at an Iraqi colonel, four resistance fighters jumped over the back wall of the colonel’s house and crouched in the garden, Hindi recounted. Three others waited in the darkness out front.

Bodyguards from the first car that arrived walked back to search the garden. The awaiting Kuwaitis opened fire, killing them, then ran out to the driveway, where the colonel was emerging from a second car, and shot him. The three men waiting in front shot several Iraqi intelligence officers in a third car. In all, nine Iraqis were killed.

It was Hindi’s first major operation.

“It looks like I will live this thing all my life,” he said. “My hands didn’t shake. I didn’t make any mistake. When I looked to myself, I was doing a professional job.”

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Hindi’s group next launched an operation against a Baath Party official, breaking into his house, tying up his daughter and her husband and waiting silently for a little less than half an hour until the man arrived. As he pulled into the garage, the Kuwaitis rushed out and began to shoot.

Hindi was rushing down the street when Iraqi soldiers in the house next door opened fire. “I was running, and I feel hit here,” he said, pointing to the back of his calf. “But not a lot of pain. I was even driving until we reached the place we planned to sit in after the operation.”

His friend called a doctor cooperating with the resistance, a pediatrician who said the bullet had come out near Hindi’s foot.

One of the largest operations ever mounted by the resistance occurred in late August when Iraqi troops began moving into Kaifan, a suburb of the capital that they had previously neglected in their rush to secure the city and the borders.

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“They came to surround the area, so all the people start to come out and fight,” Hindi recalled.

“They (resistance fighters) started to telephone everybody in Kuwait, ‘Come and help us, come and help us.’ All the Kuwaitis come, everybody has guns comes. We stopped the attack, the first one, but the biggest one, no, we had to run away. There were a lot of dead people. First one, we burned all the trucks. Then they come back with tanks, goddamn tanks. We start to retreat.”

The Iraqi army, enraged, clamped down on the resistance to a terrifying degree. After the bodies of several Iraqi soldiers were found at a school in the Al Rouda area, Iraqi soldiers set fire to all the houses surrounding the campus, giving residents little warning.

“They entered the house,” recalled one young Kuwaiti, Tarik Mazidi, speaking of the Iraqis. “They say, ‘You have five minutes to leave the house.’ The people say, ‘Please’; they start crying. They (the Iraqis) say, ‘You have four minutes now.’ ”

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Wives, mothers and fathers of resistance leaders were taken into custody, and families were told that they would be exchanged for resistance leaders or else killed. Kuwaiti fighters who were actually captured were reportedly subjected to brutal torture, which began, the resistance leaders said, after Iraqi soldiers had been drinking for several hours. Some Kuwaitis gave in under the torture, disclosing the identities of their companions.

By then, the resistance was no longer operating as a cohesive group but had divided into dozens of small cells that were carrying out independent operations. None knew the identities of fighters outside their own group.

Iraqi authorities had a list of suspected fighters and their addresses, and Kuwaiti citizens went to work, painting out every street sign and house number in Kuwait city in a matter of days, hoping it would make it harder for Iraqi soldiers to track down resistance leaders. Citizens who were asked directions often sent soldiers driving the wrong way.

Hindi got a telephone call one day that a member of his cell had been arrested, and within seconds, he said, the implications began clicking through his brain.

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“Straight, I took my family to the border,” he said. “Straight. I know he’s going to confess. I know how they torture. They (the family) say, ‘Wait. Let’s say goodby to friends, to relatives.’ And I say, ‘No, you have to get out now.’ ”

Hindi drove his wife and daughter through the desert to the Saudi Arabian border and paid several Iraqi soldiers to allow them to pass. He went back to Kuwait city to live a life on the run, moving from house to house, never sleeping in the same place for two nights in a row. He became even more well known for slamming into Iraqi soldiers at checkpoints, and Iraqi troops began circulating his picture in an attempt to find him.

“By now, most of our group got killed or ran away,” he said. “I am not a fighter. I am not the army. But can you sleep with a gun in your hand? I can sleep with a gun in my hand, and never with a safety. Seven months I didn’t go to bed without a grenade.”

When Iraqi soldiers began searching houses for weapons, resistance leaders began hiding their guns in their gardens. Kuwait Radio, in an enthusiastic report on the resistance broadcast from Saudi Arabia, disclosed that guns were being hid in gardens, and Iraqi troops showed up the next day with shovels.

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Soldiers set up checkpoints to look for weapons, and the radio, to the furious consternation of resistance leaders, boasted that fighters had begun to hide guns under their car seats. Soldiers at the checkpoints started looking under the seats.

Citizens stepped up their participation in the resistance because they had to, the leaders recalled. Women started carrying guns in their cars, because their cars weren’t searched. Young children were tabbed to carry money.

Abdurahman’s 16-year-old niece on a single day carried 11 carloads of weapons for the resistance--and became the first Kuwaiti woman to die as part of the resistance, he said. Her bullet-riddled body was found in the downtown area.

Effectively prevented from carrying weapons on the street, resistance fighters turned to car bombs, driving their cars to an area frequented by Iraqi soldiers, setting the timers and leaving. Bomb-splintered apartments and offices are in evidence at several locations around the city.

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For Hindi, it all came down to a rainy night, Jan. 18, the night after allied forces launched the war to drive Iraq out of Kuwait.

By this time, he said, “we can’t stay two hours in the same place. Our family, our friends, all are not safe.”

Hindi, his brother and a colleague were hiding out in an abandoned house and at midafternoon saw a squad of Iraqis surround the residence. As the first troops jumped over the wall and into the yard, Hindi and his associates opened fire, unleashing in return an unholy barrage that peppered the house with fire: grenades, rocket-propelled grenades and .50-cal. machine-gun bullets.

The first floor of the house caught fire, and the three resistance fighters went up to the roof.

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“They come in, but they couldn’t reach us because the fire between us and them. The stairs, all of it, burning,” Hindi recalled.

The Iraqis went to the houses next door and started lobbing hand grenades onto the roof while the three men crouched behind a low wall ringing the top of the house.

“I hear a sound, barroom-pgooom , and I see a grenade. It hit the wall and fall down, maybe six meters (about 20 feet) away,” Hindi said. “I crouched on the ground; it exploded.

“I turned to my brother and he said, ‘It’s OK. It’s nothing.’ Suddenly we see another grenade--they throw it. And another grenade. My brother say, ‘I’m hit.’ ”

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Meanwhile, the two brothers could hear shouts coming from the houses next door.

“They started to kill the people in the houses around us,” Hindi said. “We heard a woman crying, and shooting, and suddenly quiet.”

Hindi waited quietly, nursing his brother in the gently falling rain until night fell. The Iraqi soldiers waited until there was no more noise from the roof, and left. The fire burned out without reaching the roof. The rain kept falling.

As it turned out, Hindi’s brother had been struck with two fragments in the hip but was not seriously injured. Nineteen people from the surrounding houses were later found dead.

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Today, Hindi is hailed as a hero among the hundreds of young resistance leaders who man checkpoints and police stations in a liberated Kuwait city until the former government returns.

“I’m not looking to be leader,” Hindi said. “All I’m looking for is to see my kids, to sit with them, to play with them. That’s all.”

But Abdurahman said most resistance leaders will expect a more responsive government when it returns from Taif.

“We’re not against the emir,” he said. “But we are against many of the policies here, and we have demands.” Among them, he said, is that remaining collaborators be rounded up and tried, that resistance members be allowed to keep their guns and that Kuwait adopt a more democratic government.

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“I’m carrying this gun with me because I keep it for seven months, defending my family and myself, and now they come and say, ‘Put it away,’ ” Abdurahman said. “Our mission is not finished, because we have to tell the government what’s happened in this country, and the government has to listen to us.”


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