My Experience during the Iraqi Invasion of Kuwait

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By Rahul Gladwin | September, 1999.

Explosions shook the ground and gunshots rattled in the vicinity of our neighborhood on one morning of August 1990. Thinking it must be a problem with the air-conditioner, my dad was the first to wake up due to the noise. It was early dawn; he glanced through the window and saw a sight that puzzled him: armed soldiers standing on guard, and some nearby buildings enveloped in thick black smoke. He quickly woke up the whole family. We heard loud bombs, gunfire, and saw more military vehicles patrolling the streets. We did not know what was going on; we didn't even know the nationality of these soldiers. Cautiously, my dad sneaked up the terrace to have a better look, only to be signaled by a soldier to get down and stay in. It was evening when a message was broadcast on local radio: Today, 2nd August 1990, Kuwait has become a territory of Iraq. The day of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait took us by sheer surprise. We were expecting it to be another summer day, having no idea that this day would mark our lives forever. I was ten years old at that time, and can clearly remember that harrowing experience. In a matter of hours, our dreams and ambitions came to a standstill as the future suddenly became very bleak. Our home city - Al-Jahra - was the first to be attacked as it lay very close to the Kuwait-Iraq border. We were shocked!

Later during the evening, my parents received a phone call from a Pakistani friend who said that things weren't as bad for the expatriates - the Iraqis were targeting only the Kuwaitis. My dad drove out the next day and came across many Iraqi checkpoints throughout Al-Jahra city. There was widespread looting in the malls and convenience stores. People were trying to buy and store large quantities of food and fuel. Some of the restaurants and bakeries, however, were officially re-opened under the occupation, and food supplies were distributed in limited quantities. The amount of food offered per person was so little, that we had to return two or three times a day. How long would this last? Everyone was in a state of utter disbelief. One week ago, we were living a normal healthy life in Kuwait, yet today, we were yearning for basic necessitates - queued under the hot sun, waiting for food. The old saying, "No one has seen tomorrow" came true. No one has seen the future indeed!

Furthermore, looters were plundering abandoned apartments and homes. The country descended into chaos, as lawlessness and crime became rampant. With two young children, my parents felt very frightened. Fortunately, we had a circle of good friends who would sleep over at our apartment during night. Most of the Kuwaitis, including The Amir and The Crown Prince, escaped to Saudi Arabia. The ones left behind were either killed or taken to Iraq as prisoners. After a month, Kuwait City was left devastated: buildings were tattered with bullet holes, burnt vehicles littered the streets, a few scattered gunshots echoed occasionally, and streaks of smoke arose from the ruins. Most of the airport was also looted, burnt or torn down, and all flights grounded. Heavy military vehicles damaged the highways, rendering them unsafe for travel. The dignity and affluence of one of the richest countries on the world were reduced to a pile of ashes and rubble in a matter of days. Civilians were rarely in sight - a lot of people had taken refuge in nearby countries. Many of these expatriates escaped by weeklong bus journeys, despite the risks involved. We heard horror stories about soldiers looting busses, and people getting lost in the desert. On the contrary, we found some Iraqi soldiers friendlier than expected. Soldiers at checkpoints recognized we were Indians, and mentioned their admiration for Indian movies; some also recalled the name of actor Amitabh Bachchan. It was odd when they asked us for food; they said Saddam Hussein wasn't feeding them well!

Meanwhile, our family and friends back in India were worried sick; many had lost hope of seeing us alive ever again. By the end of October, there were rumors that Iraq would launch a biological/chemical attack against Kuwait, if Kuwait got military aid from the United States. Everyone was desperate to leave the country, as gas masks were distributed at all public hospitals. My dad made inquires and was informed that India would send ships to pick refugees at a port in Iraq; the journey would be fully paid by the Indian government - something we are very thankful for. The plan was to go to Iraq by bus, then sail to Bombay (now Mumbai) port. My parents decided this was the best time to leave Kuwait, as the opportunity would never come again. We packed necessary things and locked our apartment, having no idea whether we would see it again. The ten-hour trip from Kuwait to Iraq was relatively safe; our bus bypassed various Iraqi checkpoints without much hassle. Upon reaching the port in Iraq, we boarded the Indian ocean-liner Akber, and began a quiet and disheartened journey that would last eight days and nights. We safely reached our hometown in India by the end of November 1990. The Iraqi occupation dragged on for almost a year, followed by the Gulf War and the liberation of Kuwait.

Today, we continue on with our lives in the United States. The whereabouts of our household items is unknown; perhaps, everything was stolen. All we have with us are our faded memories of a distant lifetime – and these memories may stay with us forever. This experience has had a huge impact on my life. War is no longer a video game to me. People lose everything, including their lives. Kuwait is a much safer place now, but the current Iraqi situation has instilled fear among the locals, and has taken away the spunk and energy from life in Kuwait. Everyone is worrying about war; no one knows what tomorrow has in store for us. I have learnt an important lesson from the Iraqi Invasion: make the most of life - stay together and stay united. Could Kuwait - or any other country - become target of a biological attack? Who knows!

Video of Kuwaiti Citizens fighting Iraqi soldiers:

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