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Iraq Trying to Break Kuwaitis’ Will, Officials Say

September 18, 1990

KHAFJI, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ Iraq’s erratic opening of the border with Saudi Arabia appeared to be part of a harsh campaign to break the Kuwaiti people’s will to resist, Kuwaiti officials, diplomats and refugees said Tuesday.

Over the past week Iraqi authorities have introduced a series of measures that have put the population on edge, they said. They range from the trivial - like making men shave - to blowing up houses of suspected resistance members.

″They are trying to break our morale, to make us weak,″ said Faisal, a 27-year-old computer programmer who fled Kuwait Tuesday. ″They want us just to give up.″

Faisal was one of about 750 refugees who made it to the Saudi border crossing at Khafji Tuesday, a steep drop from the thousands who arrived the two previous days. On Monday, Iraqi troops started seizing men under the age of 40 at random from cars. That sharply reduced the numbers attempting to leave.

Also, fewer cars were being permitted across the border. Just one vehicle with a sick, elderly man in it was allowed over in midafternoon.

The family in that car said all others were told to return to Kuwait City and try again Wednesday.

The haphazard releases appear designed ″to cause general consternation and upset the people,″ said a Western diplomat observing the border in case any of his nationals made it through.

Saudi police expelled reporters from the border area Tuesday afternoon before conducting a second thorough search of the hundreds of people who arrived over the past three days without a single identity document.

Iraqi troops have confiscated passports, car registrations and all other documents they found.

A team of four dogs trained to sniff explosives and narcotics assisted in the Saudi search.

Kuwaiti government officials questioned the refugees closely to check their accents, family ties and knowledge of Kuwait. Saudi officials have said they want to make sure no infiltrators make it through.

A senior official from the Kuwaiti defense department said Iraq over the past week had intensified its efforts to break any resistance, find all foreigners still hiding in Kuwait, infiltrate the Kuwaiti population with intelligence agents and seize as much private property as possible.

The official, who had just returned from Kuwait, said the campaign stalled resistance plans to leave car bombs throughout the city.

″We cannot move like in earlier days,″ he said, noting that checkpoints were put up every 300 yards, sometimes closer in neighborhoods of suspected resistance activity.

Each checkpoint now had at least one Republican Guard, the best-trained Iraqi troops, assigned to it in the past week, he said.

One refugee arrived at the border crossing with a flier released two days ago by the Iraqi authorities.

It was directed at both the armed resistance and the civil disobedience campaign. All Kuwaitis in essential services have refused to go to work.

The flier ordered everyone to return to work or face heavy fines. Shops would be opened by force, it said.

Police and military officers are to turn themselves in within a week or face execution.

Anyone caught firing a gun will be hanged or shot, it said.

Anyone found keeping a weapon will have his house ″destroyed on his head,″ the flier said. And if the authorities confirm shooting from any house the area 360 degrees around it will be leveled.

The defense department official said the past week saw a marked jump in executions, house-to-house searches with the entire neighborhood sealed off and a higher level of overall harassment.

″The situation is misery,″ said Massoud, a 38-year-old refugee. Like most of those arriving here he appeared somewhat relieved that he would no longer have to run a daily gauntlet of Iraqi soldiers. But he was confused and depressed about whether he made the right decision to flee his country and abandon it to the Iraqis.

″When they invaded, they said they came to protect us,″ the defense department official said. ″Now their mood has changed and they are trying to kill the Kuwaiti people.″

Many refugees spoke of executions over the past week. None could be independently confirmed but the details of the stories were similar.

Farouk Mohammadi, 45, said he fled after the corpses of two cousins and a friend were returned to their houses two weeks after they were hauled away, accused of taking part in the resistance.

The crackdown was pushing people to flee because they were terrorized about stepping outside but going crazy from inactivity indoors.

″Every Kuwaiti is swimming in a sea of horror,″ he said.