While 25 years seems a long time during the span of one human life, my memories of Kuwait and Kuwaitis are so vivid that the events of August 2, 1990 does not seem so long ago. Yet much has happened, to me, to the Middle East, and to the people who call the area home, during this active 25 year post war period.
I was an American living in Saudi Arabia for 12 years previous to that date, and lived very near to Kuwait. When I heard that Kuwait had been invaded by Saddam’s huge army, my mouth went dry and my heart lurched. Who knew what would happen? Would Iraq be allowed to occupy their neighbor? If so, how would the occupation effect the entire region? The horrific war between Iran and Iraq had devastated the lives of so many innocent people. *War does have that effect. Now I worried about Kuwaitis, and Saudis, for news bulletins were excitedly predicting that Saudi Arabia was next on the Iraqi dictator’s occupation list.
As news bulletins told of the ongoing violence, I was greatly worried and touched by the thought of what the Kuwaiti people were enduring. Kuwaitis are known to be a particularly peaceful people and have not created violence with their neighbors.
I became so involved, calling people in the area, and wondering what I might do, I decided to return to the region and meet with the Kuwaitis who were pouring out of the country, protecting their families in the only way they knew, to escape over the desert.
And so it came to pass that armed with a letter of introduction from the Kuwaiti Ambassador to Washington, I traveled to London, Cairo, Riyadh and Taif for the purpose of meeting Kuwaitis and others who had left Kuwait. The letter was simple, telling Kuwaitis that I was a writer and would be interviewing whomever was interested in telling the world their personal experiences. The government letter put no pressure on anyone to speak to me. The decision to speak, or not to speak, was up to the individual.
I first traveled to London where I met various Kuwaitis, some from the royal family, hearing their heart-rending tales of worry for their greatly loved country — worry for members of their families who were still in country. From London I flew to Cairo, where I met with desperate Kuwaitis who were rushing back and forth to the Kuwaiti Embassy in that country, all desperately wanting the latest news. My ex-husband Peter Sasson, and his wife, Julie, met me in Cairo. Peter, who was a talented photographer, graciously agreed to take the photographs for the book I was writing. After leaving Cairo, the three of us traveled to Riyadh, where I was a guest of Peter & Julie in the villa where I was once lived. Once again, I met with Kuwaitis who were temporarily living in Riyadh. The Saudi government and Saudi people had been extremely gracious, welcoming their neighbors with open arms. All the Kuwaitis I met were grateful, yet all wished for one thing only, to be able to return home. Many were separated from family members and feared for their safety.
From Riyadh I was invited to visit the government of Kuwait who had gathered in the Saudi mountain city of Taif, where all were working to bring peace to a peaceful land, and a peaceful people. There I met and interviewed the Emir and the Crown Prince, among others in the royal family, and in the government.
I felt that the Kuwaiti people were in good hands, as it was clear that the only goal the Kuwaiti government had was to ensure the survival of their citizens, and the prompt return of their beloved country. They were particularly concerned for the well-being of Kuwaitis, because horror stories were coming out of the country detailing events of torture and death.
After Riyadh and Taif, I returned to London, where I met more Kuwaitis.
While I will not go into the stories of the individuals I met, let’s just say that all the stories were compelling and heartfelt. (While THE RAPE OF KUWAIT is no longer in print, it can be found in the used book sales divisions of a number of online sites.)
As most of us know who lived through that terrible time, various people and media organizations in America and other countries fought against the plan for other countries to assist the Kuwaitis to regain their home. While Kuwaitis were as brave as a people can be, forming an underground force to fight the occupiers, Kuwait has a very small population and could not compete against the huge numbers in the Iraqi military.
I was all for helping the Kuwaitis. Admittedly, no one in their right mind seeks war without a compelling reason, this was a compelling cause. It would have been a disaster to allow Saddam to continue to occupy Kuwait, and to make the country a province of Iraq, which was his clearly stated goal.
Shockingly, many people wrote fabrications about any one who supported our president in his endeavors to help rid Kuwait of the Iraqi occupying army. Once any lie is told, others repeat it. I read so many false articles and statements about the book I wrote, and how the book came to be, that I shook my head in wonder that anyone would stoop to such a low level. Such lies continue to this day, but none of the ones telling the lies were there, and simply don’t have the facts. I have refused to get down in the dirt with those who lied so easily about something they knew nothing about, but I’ve always felt it important to simply state the facts. Which are:
- The Kuwaiti government did not pay me to write the book. Neither did anyone else. IN FACT, members of the Kuwaiti government never once tried to influence me. I never provided the manuscript I was writing to anyone other than my publisher. The Kuwaitis never read a single word of the book until after the book was published. I personally presented the Ambassador with a copy and that was the first time he knew that I had finished the book and it has been published.
- During that visit to the Kuwaiti Embassy in Washington, the Kuwaiti Ambassador was pleased about the book’s finish, but he seemed very sad, expressing his dismay to me that his country and the innocent Kuwaiti citizens still IN the country were being held hostage while the world squabbled about whether or not Kuwait should be helped! I remember that he listened carefully to me when I mentioned my concern after reading that many soldiers from the west who were on already in Saudi Arabia had expressed misgivings — stating that they were not sure why they were there. I remember brushing my hand against the book cover and saying, “I wish every soldier could read what happened to these innocent people in the book. Then they would know why we are there.”
- Suddenly I noticed a gleam in the Ambassador’s eye. Obviously he had an idea, but I did not know his idea. He asked me for my publisher’s phone number, which I provided. He called my publisher and asked for a meeting.
- Never did I dream that my comment would create such a plan for all soldiers to have a copy of the book. When it was all said and done, the Ambassador paid for 500,000 copies of THE RAPE OF KUWAIT and had arranged to send the copies to the American soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia, there waiting for battle.
- When I went into Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in March 1991, after the war had ended, I met many soldiers, (Americans, British, and others) who had copies of the book with them — all said that nothing had made them feel better about their sacrifices during war than knowing exactly what had happened to the innocent people trapped in war in Kuwait. They were all very pleased that they had fought to free an entire nation of people.
- I am adamant that the Kuwaitis I interviewed told me the truth of their experiences. While I am sad and sorry that many has sought to destroy the true stories of the innocent people who suffered and who shared their experiences with the world, I am not sorry that I traveled, interviewed, researched, and wrote the book. This, regardless of all the lies that have been spread about The Rape of Kuwait. Admittedly, the book is short, and that timing was so brief to write the stories that there was much that was not told.
For those who are interesting, the following is a brief excerpt from the book, telling the story of one Kuwaiti family as it was told to me:
KHALID and WAFA Al-KHAYAT: KUWAITIS
Khalid and his wife, Wafa, were counting the days until September. They had given little thought to the Iraqi dictator or his menacing army for they had their hearts set on a dream shared by many young couples worldwide: A new home. Khalid and Wafa had been married for nine years and during those years had lived with his parents. Finally, after nine long years, they would have a home of their own.
As far as Khalid was concerned, August 2, 1990 was just another day. He worked as an aircraft engineer with Kuwaiti Airlines and generally travelled a great deal. But this was a Thursday and he only had to work a half day.
On the way to work, Khalid thought that the city seemed strange. The streets were busier than usual for a Thursday. Suddenly his automobile began to make strange movements on its own. He stopped the car to check but could find nothing. Then his car started to move again. Suddenly he realized that he was hearing bombing, and that the bombing was shaking up the entire area. He looked about to see Kuwaiti soldiers dashing about. He stopped one of them to ask what was happening and was told that he must report immediately to the air force base.
Since Kuwait had a small population (in 1990: 826,586 Kuwaitis) all males from age 18 to 30 are required to be in the reserves.
At this point, Khalid was confused rather than frightened. But when he arrived at the base, he realized that they were being attacked by the Iraqi military. He rushed inside and listened for a time to the news, which was telling everyone to “Join the call to duty. Your country is calling you! Report to the nearest military unit!”
At home, Wafa and her in-laws were horrified by the attack, but calmed when they heard from Khalid and discovered that he was safe at the military base. Still, Wafa’s younger brother had gone missing, so the family was in turmoil, wondering about his fate.
Meanwhile, the base was surrounded by Iraqi tanks. The Iraqi army had come prepared to a nation that never expected to be invaded.
There was water inside the military camp, but no food. Brave Kuwaiti air force pilots defied the Iraqis and flew the Kuwaiti jets to Saudi Arabia to keep them from being destroyed.
Finally the Iraqis overtook the base. Khalid was convinced that the Iraqis would execute them all, but they did not. In fact, the Iraqis were abrupt and businesslike. They ordered everyone outside. While a few of the men were allowed to leave to go to their families, Khalid was not one of those lucky men.
Finally Kahlid and 799 other men were transported by truck to a fended in fire station. They were kept in the burning sun. They were not fed for two days. Food didn’t matter, but they all desperately needed water, but no water was forthcoming.
By this time Kuwaiti families were hunting their men. Hearing that the Iraqis had imprisoned 800 men at the first station, brave family members came to look. Finding their men, they too, defied the Iraqis by tossing food and bottles of water to the men, who were saved by this intervention.
Some Kuwaiti men, fearing they would be killed, tried to escape, but they were caught, and beaten for attempting to escape.
Kuwaiti families started bribing the Iraqis, paying huge sums to get their men released. In fact, when a wealthy Kuwaiti came to bribe the Iraqis for his relative, he could not find the one he was searching for. Khalid whispered to him that his relative was one of the few who successfully escaped. In gratitude, the man claimed Khalid as his relative, paying a bribe and taking Khalid out with him.
Sadly, some of the men who were unable to escape, or whose families were not in Kuwait to obtain their release, were never heard of again — therefore Khalid barely escaped with his life.
Meanwhile, the clever Kuwaitis had moved into action and were doing everything in their power to confuse the Iraqis. Men gathered at night to slip through the city streets and removed all signs. They stripped all the houses of their house numbers. The Iraqis would have a difficult time locating anyone by an address.
There was yet another blow: For years Khalid and Wafa had been doing without to carefully save their money so that they could furnish their new home. Sadly, the Iraqis raided all the banks and that stash of savings was gone.
Although other family members did not want to leave Kuwait, Khalid was concerned that he had given his name and address to the Iraqis when he was taken prisoner. He felt they would come looking for him again. So Khalid and Wafa left with a relative lucky enough to have a four-wheel drive. The couple felt hopeless when they left the only home they had ever known. While driving out of Kuwait city, the saw enormous damage to homes and businesses. Kuwait had been mainly destroyed.
The were forced to take the desert road due to the large number of Iraqis shooting at moving vehicles. Before they could disappear into the desert, they were stopped, held at gun-point and threatened with death. TKhalid was terrified that he had put his wife in a position that might cost her life. Thankfully their relative had cash and used all he had to bribe the soldier so that they could leave. The Iraqi soldier even gave them directions on how to maneuver over the desert to get to Saudi Arabia. His directions were perfect for only after a few hours they saw Saudi soldiers at a checkpoint. The Saudis were welcoming and kindly, giving them food and water and telling them where to go to find safety and shelter in Saudi Arabia.
Khalid called his family once he was in Saudi Arabia to hear the worst news. Wafa’s younger brother who had been missing since the day of the invasion had joined the resistance. But he was arrested by the Iraqis while defending his country. He was quickly executed. He was only twenty-two years old, a delightful young man who never had a bad thought in his life.
The couple was inconsolable, unable to imagine that Iraq had invaded their land, and now was killing anyone brave enough to defend the country.
Exile was very bitter.
Various photographs of brave Kuwaitis who survived the occupation.
The book, THE RAPE OF KUWAIT.
The Author Jean Sasson meeting the Crown Prince of Kuwait at a happier time. (The first time had been in Taif, Saudi Arabia where the Kuwaiti government was conducting government business during the occupation.) This second meeting was in Kuwait City after Kuwait had been freed.
The Author Jean Sasson holding a Kuwaiti baby who had been born in Saudi Arabia after the parents had escaped the tyranny of the Iraqi military in Kuwait.