SPECIAL REPORT: WITNESS TO WAR :...

KUWAIT CITY

The night was clear and sultry, the birds still stirring in the emir's splendid Johara gardens, the wind moving through the date palms behind the palace, when the sound of rocket fire and machine guns shattered the silence.

As the sons of Ayed Khamis Anazy tell it today, their father, household staff supervisor at Dasman Palace for 38 years, first made sure the emir had safely sped away in his Mercedes. Then he packed his own belongings, hurried his wife and sons into the car on the palace grounds and, as Iraqi troops bore down on Kuwait city, bundled the last of the luggage into the trunk.

For some reason, his sons say, Anazy's hands lingered on the trunk. He stared for a few minutes out the front gate of the palace grounds, then suddenly opened the trunk again and pulled out his gun.

Anazy sent his family on, then pulled up and tied his long, white dishdasha high on his legs and wrapped his red-and-white kaffiyeh around his head in the fashion of a Bedouin warrior. He grabbed a second gun. And then the household staff supervisor joined hundreds of Kuwaiti national guardsmen, fighting for as long as they could to hold off advancing Iraqi paratroopers and tanks. Finally, the invaders flooded the palace grounds, and Anazy died about 100 yards inside that front gate, a crescent of bullet wounds stretching from his heart to his stomach.

Seven months later, Anazy's sons entered the palace again. At their father's desk, they found a hastily scribbled note that he apparently left when he rushed in for more ammunition during the August battle.

"The war has begun," Anazy wrote in the stately phrasing of desert poetry. "We are not going to move from this place. I can hear the sound of the guns and the bullets. We are trying our best to fight back . . . but those people who believe in Allah and who have done good in their life should not be worried about death.

"To all the people of Kuwait," he wrote, "please stay together. Because that is the way it should be."

In some ways, this last plea of a palace worker was heeded. From the night that Iraqi troops stormed across the border, barreled through the desert and made their way into the center of Kuwait city, until the capital's liberation--through a crisis that bitterly divided the Arab world and plunged 28 nations into war--the Kuwaitis themselves formed deeper bonds, steeling themselves against fear and praying for the conflict most of the world dreaded.

The war, of course, was largely over by the time journalists pulled into Kuwait city two weeks ago, and Dasman Palace, like much of the rest of the once-gleaming Gulf capital, was in ruins.

Meeting the Kuwaitis--on street corners, where they stood for hours at a time waving flags, or in their homes, where they pulled out their last stocks of food for visiting reporters--it was clear that the line of tanks that stormed into Kuwait that day in August would never go entirely away. Even in liberation, the images of war were in these people's eyes, in the way they might sob unexpectedly while putting a teacup down on a coffee table, in the look of grim approval they had when they talk of the Iraqi dead.

They were a nation of innocents that morning when the sweat-faced, war-practiced Iraqis came to town. The Kuwaitis, accustomed to spending their weekends jet skiing at the marina, barbecuing at the beach, sipping tea on brocaded cushions or listening to English poetry recitals, were understandably alarmed when they learned at the end of the second day that their entire army and air force, to say nothing of the emir, Sheik Jabbar al Ahmed al Sabah, the crown prince and the Cabinet of ministers, had headed south for Saudi Arabia, where they set up a government-in-exile.

Othman Othman drove to work at Kuwait TV the morning of the invasion, as he always did, and he was stunned when a man with an Iraqi accent pointed a machine gun at his white BMW. "Go home to your mama," the soldier grunted.

Panicked Kuwaiti refugees in polished luxury sedans--VCRs and stereos in the trunk, Sri Lankan and Pakistani maids in tow--streamed sand-covered and frightened into Saudi Arabia for days, until Iraqi soldiers closed the border and unleashed a seven-month campaign of terror against the Kuwaitis remaining inside.

Behind a virtual wall of silence, imposed by sealed borders and a blackout of international telephone communications, the Iraqis began a systematic campaign to break the national will of a country that never really knew it had one.

In a region of tribal and family loyalties where national boundaries had often been drawn out of convenience by colonial powers, identifying just what this small place, Kuwait, really was, and why it was worth saving, was something even Kuwaitis had trouble explaining.

At a solidarity conference of Kuwaiti exiles in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, a month or so after the invasion, a tape of the occupied sheikdom's national anthem was played. Organizers evidently hoped for a rousing, emotional chorus that would propel those present out into the world with an invigorating sense of a single national purpose. Instead, it seemed hardly anyone knew the words. The trumpets on the tape bolted on alone.

Half the Kuwaitis had simply packed up their cars and struck out through the desert for freedom and safety in the face of a rising Iraqi campaign of arrests, beatings, torture and murder. Yet, the half who remained were stubborn in their refusal to accept Kuwait's transformation into a new southern province of Iraq.

Some collected guns, joining bands of young men who formed a resistance against Iraq--shooting soldiers in dark alleyways and driveways, buying guns and in rare instances even tanks from disaffected Iraqi soldiers, blowing up Iraqi meeting places with crude homemade car bombs.

Others resisted more quietly, gathering food to share with other families, painting out the street signs and house numbers to confuse Iraqi agents looking for resistance fighters, refusing to switch over to Iraqi license plates and identification cards. The point was that almost everyone who stayed did something.

A month after the invasion, in the middle of the night, Kuwaitis all over the capital began by secret prearrangement to climb onto their rooftops. Friends phoned friends. "Go up to the roof," they said. People looked out their windows and saw their neighbors on the roof, and climbed up themselves. Then, all at once, they began chanting in the darkness, their voices rising to a chorus the Iraqis could not shut out, the sound rolling down the streets of Kuwait city, through the windows of the police stations and the troop barracks and out into the night: "Long live the emir!" they said, and then: "Allahu akbar! (God is great)."

For all the rhetoric up in Baghdad about Arab nationalism and solidarity, the occupying Iraqis were playing the role of simple street thugs in Kuwait city. Most of the video equipment at Kuwait TV got loaded into the back of trucks and hauled north, as did medical supplies at the hospitals. Premature babies were removed from their incubators so that the equipment could be taken to Iraq. The marble panels from the new Ministry of Communications building were stripped, leaving a bare concrete frame. Gears and motors were pulled off pleasure boats in the marina while others were outfitted with guns and turned into makeshift patrol boats. Hotel room doors were kicked in and television sets carted off. Women's fashion magazines, blouses, trousers and perfume bottles were collected in the backs of trucks. Wheels, batteries, tape decks and anything else removable were stripped from cars, and their ghostly hulks were left sitting in the streets.

Iraqi soldiers appeared constantly at front doors with machine guns, demanding the keys to the cars parked outside. "The son of Saddam came to Kuwait and he saw this car, and he likes it and we must have it," they would say. Then the next day, they'd be back. "Saddam's brother-in-law came to Kuwait. . . . "

Kuwaitis became adept at things like removing the starters or the distributor caps or the batteries from their cars. The Iraqis learned to hot-wire them or simply towed them off.

It was in a mood of near desperation that many Kuwaitis would tune into the BBC or CNN and hear the rest of the world debate whether economic sanctions against Iraq should be given more time to work.

WASHINGTON

U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs Robert M. Kimmitt had an urgent and chilling message when he telephoned from the State Department in Washington to Thomas R. Pickering, the American ambassador to the United Nations in New York. Interrupting the imposing career diplomat in the middle of a dinner party, Kimmitt told him that Iraq had invaded Kuwait.

Pickering excused himself and raced back to the U.S. Mission, directly across First Avenue from U.N. Headquarters. There was a lot of work to do to arrange an emergency session of the Security Council.

Sleepy-eyed staff members in the foreign missions dotting Manhattan's East Side got instructions from their foreign offices deep into the night, and, before dawn the next day, a short, pointed resolution was passed. Iraq, it said, must "immediately and unconditionally" withdraw from Kuwait.

President Bush said the United States would impose an economic embargo against Saddam Hussein. But, as a senior White House official would concede much later, there was little to back up Bush's line in the sand.

Saddam at that point "had 115,000 or 150,000 troops in Kuwait. We had nobody," the aide recalled. "The disparity, the ratio at that point, was 100,000-to-one. In a funny way, if Saddam had been a more confident, decisive adversary, we were at our most vulnerable at that point."

In the end, of course, "we could have introduced more forces and won the day," the aide added. But "we wouldn't have been able to fight this war in a way and at a time of our own choosing."

THE HOME FRONT

U.S. Marines, their faces impossibly young and innocent under severe crew cuts, were mustering at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, a hunk of harsh California outback where Leathernecks go to rehearse desert warfare. It is a military burg, plain and simple. "New Homes! $59,950!" a billboard cries. "Vets! $1 moves you in!"

A day's march to the north is a ghost town called, of all things, Bagdad.

The other Baghdad, the other battles, were miles and months off. Soon, Marines would board the huge troop transports that would wing them to Saudi Arabia.

In the days before then, Marines got hitched by the score in quickie ceremonies at the storefront Alpha Day Wedding Chapel. "This makes me more nervous than any military operation," said Steven Campbell. The 21-year-old corporal wore desert camouflage for his nuptials. The bride was Laura Mizzell, 18, and hugely pregnant. She wore jeans and a sweat shirt.

Their baby was due in a few weeks. Laura trembled, biting her lip nervously. Her new husband would ship out the next day. "It's my job," Steven said.

In Pasadena, Marine reservists training for the Gulf hiked down a traffic median dressed in full chemical warfare gear. The temperature was 95 degrees. Maj. Kim Stalnaker, his voiced muffled by his own gas mask, told them they could remove their headgear if they absolutely feared they would pass out from heat exhaustion.

After 45 minutes, one gasping Marine finally yanked his gear off.

"You're dead," he was told.

SAUDI ARABIA

By October, American troops were in Saudi Arabia in a big way, and Iraq's troops were still in Kuwait in an equally big way.

At a party in Jidda, a young woman tossed her long black robe over a chair, threw her veil on top of it and petulantly plopped down on a footstool.

"I think," she announced, crossing her legs encased in a pair of tight nylon shorts, "that America wanted Iraq to invade Kuwait."

She lit a cigarette with carefully manicured fingers. "Don't you?"

She ticked off the evidence:

Item: The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, in conversation with Saddam Hussein, had remarked that the United States considered Iraq's border dispute with Kuwait an Arab problem.

Item: The United States had wanted a military base in the Gulf for a long time. What better pretext than an invitation that would inevitably follow an invasion that threatened the entire Arabian Peninsula?

Others at the gathering of young Jidda business executives, writers and intellectuals began picking up the theme. Maybe, they theorized, Washington and Baghdad had reached a secret agreement: Iraq agreed to pull back north of Kuwait, keeping the disputed Rumaila oil field, while the United States would be asked to keep a base in Kuwait to police the Iraqis.

A few weeks later at the Foreign Ministry in Riyadh, an official outlined Saudi Arabia's agreement with its American ally that Iraq must be forced to withdraw. He brushed aside questions about how long U.S. troops would remain in the kingdom, and finally lowered his voice.

"I assume you are aware of what the American ambassador said to Saddam," he said in a confidential tone.

You mean, he was asked, you too think the Americans knew Iraq was going to invade Kuwait?

He raised one eyebrow meaningfully and shrugged.

Such was the alternating tone of mistrust and allegiance between America and its primary ally in the Gulf crisis, an alliance that had helped balance the coalition between Western and Arab allies but had also plunged the kingdom into roiling social and political debate.

If America's answer to the Saudi call for help allayed worries about an Iraqi invasion, it floated a host of new concerns that the Saudis had been neither prepared for nor inclined to deal with.

Like democracy, for one, and why Americans should help to free one closely held oil monarchy and to defend another, when virtually no one in either has the right to a meaningful vote. Women's rights. The presence of foreign troops in the land of Islam's holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Hence, while Saudi Arabia stood behind Washington in its push for the U.N. Security Council to set a timely deadline for Iraq to withdraw, it was not without its own angst over questions and conflicts at home.

For one thing, the Saudis, traditionally across the table from the United States on the Arab-Israeli question, suddenly found that Saddam Hussein's insistence on "linkage" was making them swallow their own words. They now had to argue against an international peace conference on the Palestinian question, a conference they had advocated for years.

Lots of Saudis were bothered by that quandary. Why not talk about the Palestinian issue too? Why not hold Israel to the same compliance standards for U.N. resolutions governing the Israeli-occupied territories as Iraq would be held to?

ISRAEL

From the day Iraq invaded Kuwait, the Israelis were skeptical of America's determination to face down Saddam Hussein and, at each step along the way, Gulf events seemed to put additional pressure on the Jewish state.

From Aug. 2 on, government officials, military officers, strategic analysts, and the people on the street worried that the United States would not muster the strength and will to oust Iraqi forces from their southern conquest.

"This man is a great danger to Israel, to the Middle East, and to the world," one high official said the day after the invasion. "We must crush him or we will all pay a high price."

In the cafes of Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Street, in the shops along Jerusalem's Ben Yehuda mall, women and men listened to the radio, read the newspapers and watched TV, and worried. It was all they could do.

Even when the United States decided to dispatch advance elements of the 82nd Airborne Division, Israelis remained skeptical that the Americans were really ready to tangle with Saddam. Washington's declared intention, after all, was merely to prevent an invasion of Saudi Arabia. Nobody said anything about Israel.

They felt cut from the team: George Bush was the coach who did not want to offend the Arabs on the team by letting the Israelis leave the bench.

And so, they could only fret and watch, remembering that this was the same Saddam Hussein who not long before had threatened to destroy half of Israel with long-range missiles tipped with chemical warheads. Now, he seemed poised to do so, having gobbled up his oil-wealthy neighbor and positioned improved Scud-B rockets in western Iraq, within reach of Israeli cities.

Did Saddam have a nuclear weapons capability, and would he use poison gas? No one had any sure answers, but everyone was preparing for the worst.

Israelis at all levels joined in a chorus of "I told you so." The United States had supported Iraq in the past, over Israel's warnings. And now look what had come of it. With rising panic, Israelis felt themselves beset from all sides:

* Saudi Arabia had asked for American weapons--arms that Israelis have always worried might one day be turned against them.

* What would Jordan do? In the Israel Defense Forces headquarters in Tel Aviv, its tall communications tower vivid against the blue Mediterranean, intelligence officers privately got the word to King Hussein not to let Iraqi forces into his kingdom. Jordan's role was to be a buffer, the Israeli military insisted. If Israel saw Iraqi troops enter Jordan, it was war.

* And what about the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip? What would 1.7 million Palestinians do if war came? Most were shrill, even dangerous, in their support of Saddam Hussein. And there was "linkage," Saddam's insistence that any talks about getting out of Kuwait be coupled with Israel's withdrawal from the occupied territories. Linkage, the government said, was not to be--no matter how much pressure might be put on it to one day give up the West Bank and Gaza.

* What about Syria? Israel's mortal enemy would be joining the allied coalition. Did this mean that if push came to shove, Washington would tilt toward Syria instead of Israel?

If all this weren't bad enough, the Israeli economy was in bad shape at the very time that billions of dollars were needed to create homes and jobs for a wave of immigrants arriving virtually around the clock from the Soviet Union.

It was Israel that had coined the phrase "nightmare scenario."

But this "nightmare scenario" didn't mean shattered bodies on a bombed-out desert battlefield. It meant that Saddam might pull out of Kuwait at the last minute--preserving his image as an Arab hero, maintaining his powerful army, and, having taught the Gulf states a lesson, be in a position to blackmail and browbeat them into following his lead on oil policy thereafter.

"This is the worst thing that could happen," said a senior official in an excellent fish restaurant near his office in Jerusalem. "He goes back to Iraq intact, the sanctions are lifted, he pumps and sells oil, builds up his nuclear and chemical weapons capacity, and in a couple of years threatens us all over again. What would the West do then?"

Israel, in short, was drawing its own line in its own sand.

And hunkering down unhappily to wait.

BAGHDAD

In Iraq, truth is as shimmering and elusive a thing as the image of one's own face, reflected in the restlessly moving waters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Less than two years after the end of an exhausting war with Iran, another great national adventure was under way--one that put the country under the threat of a far more devastating conflict. Precious few would question the move, however, in a land where to question too loudly can mean death.

Saddam himself had said that Kuwait was, is, and always will be a part of Iraq. And the Iraqis, who long despised their wealthy and arrogant neighbors to the south, wanted to believe it. And so they said they did--even though in their hearts, they did not. Saddam had said Iraq would fight to keep Kuwait, and the Iraqis wanted to believe they could, so they vowed they would. But few believed in their hearts that they could or would even attempt to succeed.

It took an outsider to question Saddam--an old benefactor who has known him since 1969. Visiting Baghdad last October, Yevgeny M. Primakov, a Soviet Middle East expert and foreign policy adviser to President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, reminded the Iraqi leader of the ancient desert fortress of Masada and of the hundreds of Jews who killed themselves there in AD 73 rather than surrender to the Romans.

"Don't you think that, like Israel, you have developed a Masada complex?" Primakov asked rhetorically. Saddam nodded in agreement.

But did he really understand? Recalling the incident in a serialized account published within the last few days in the Soviet Communist Party newspaper, Pravda, Primakov described Saddam's "psychological peculiarities" and his "denial of reality" that day in Baghdad.

"Saddam Hussein did not fully know what the world would do and what kind of war would come," the Soviet envoy wrote. "He was being told only what would bring positive reactions from him."

And whatever Saddam was doing, his people remained silent.

Few explained it better than an old Iraqi shopkeeper in the heart of downtown Baghdad just two months into the crisis that was to devour his nation. The merchant wasn't really old. He just looked it--a 35-year-old businessman made to appear twice that by the daily pain of Iraq's legendary steadfastness.

"I'll tell you about the Iraqis," he whispered, only after leading an American journalist well out of earshot into his bombproof basement. "We must have two faces in order to survive here. There is the face we have to show if other Iraqis are around. And then, there is our real face, the reflection of what is really in our mind.

"We are just like sheep," he said. "Everything is in the hands of governments, your government and mine. So, for most of us now, it's better that we try not to think at all."

UNITED NATIONS

Time and space and truth being as vast as they are, the Baghdad vendor could not have known, as he whispered to a Westerner, that the world was coming down upon his country's head.

On Nov. 29, for only the second time since its founding, members of the United Nations voted to use military force.

The mood in the Security Council chamber was as gray and grave as the November day. Foreign ministers arrived in closely guarded caravans and went to their stations amid particularly severe security. In Manhattan that month, Meir Kahane, founder of the militant Jewish Defense League, had been slain, shot by one man.

Not a seat was free in the chamber. Reporters jammed the hallways outside, watching the proceedings on television. The importance of the vote was evident, for most nations had sent their foreign ministers for this moment.

For one more day in November, the United States would hold the rotating presidency of the council, and so it was Secretary of State James A. Baker III, fresh from a globe-trotting trip to line up support, who asked members to vote.

It was 5:27 p.m. EST. "Will those in favor of the draft resolution, please raise their hands?" Along the rectangular table, set like a stage within a circle of desks, 12 hands were raised.

"Those opposed or against?" asked the secretary of state. Cuba and Yemen voted no. As expected, China abstained.

It was done. Resolution 678 gave Iraqi troops until Jan. 15 to leave Kuwait. Otherwise, "all necessary means" might be used to dislodge them. The last time such a measure had been adopted was for the Korean War.

"Today's vote," said Baker, "marks a watershed in the history of the United Nations."

"A dangerous man," he said, "has committed a blatant act of aggression in a vital region at a critical moment in history."

"We have been faced with the first extremely grave test of the post-Cold War era," echoed Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, "and we are coping with it."

Yet, before the Nov. 29 vote was cast, Najat Hakim, imprisoned in the occupied capital of Kuwait eight time zones away from New York, heard with agitation and frustration about the U.N. process that so many others praised.

As the world talked, the Iraqis "were squeezing us more and taking out our breath," she would recall. The wife of a wealthy Kuwait city merchant had two sons kidnaped by the Iraqis. "The Soviets were saying 12 days more" for the deadline, to allow more time for economic sanctions to work. "If it had been 12 days more, you would not have found any Kuwaitis here."

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