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Refugees Describe Air Raid Horrors;
Iraqi Residential Areas Feel Impact

By Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, January 21, 1991; Page A01

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RUWEISHED, Jordan, Jan. 20—Refugees arriving at this Jordanian border post today spoke of civilian casualties, of the terror of bombs landing near and -- in some cases -- hitting residential areas of Baghdad and Mosul, and of cars loaded with coffins at the southern port city of Basra.

Fleeing overland from Iraq and Kuwait, the Palestinian and Lebanese refugees described a creeping fear of death among Iraqis along with horror and dismay as aerial attacks by U.S.-led allied forces continued for the fourth straight day.

In the Iraqi capital, the refugees said, residents are cut off from the rest of the country and from one another, not knowing what is happening in other areas of town.

"People wait for the sirens, but they only come on after the first raid," said Nidal Khalil, a mechanic, who said he and his family had been living without lights or water since last week. "After the first strike early Thursday, and with second and third air attacks on Baghdad, the bombing seemed less selective," Khalil remarked. "At first, the Iraqis felt confident."

"When the planes come, people run left and right and look for basements and shelters," said Yaaqoub Chahine, a teacher, who described himself as a "stateless" Palestinian who lived in Kuwait and now is looking for a new home. "People have started hating these air raids. They live in constant horror, fearing death in their shelters. Their faces are pale, their bodies tremble from the unknown. This is the reality," Chahine said grimly.

While some refugees expressed enthusiasm and support for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's confrontation with the U.S.-led alliance, their zeal seemed tempered and they were visibly shaken by their hazardous trip.

A young Jordanian mother, rocking a 2-year-old baby in her arms as she stood in the cold desert wind at Ruweishid, said her children were "hysterical."

Hiyam Naji Rashid said she decided to leave with her children after her neighborhood was struck repeatedly on the first morning of the allied air strikes. "We were at home in {the Baghdad district of} Doura. There was an air raid every two hours. The planes came three times. There were no casualties in our quarter, but people are terrified," Hiyam said.

"No one was expecting this to happen. We have never seen anything like it. Not in eight years of war with Iran," she said as she tried to console her son, Rami, who was crying uncontrollably.

Umm Mohammed, 54, was among the most shaken of today's arrivals. Straining to maintain composure, the Palestinian mother of seven said she was on the verge of collapse.

"My children screamed all night. They all piled up on top of me. My eldest son Mohammed was taken with {Iraq's} Popular Army to Kuwait. We know what is happening there. He may never come back. . . . I guess he went voluntarily with them," she said slowly.

"With the war against Iran, we knew what to expect, now with the Americans, it is different. People are just abandoning their homes. We have still not recovered from the war with Iran," she said.

Umm Mohammed said most Iraqis she knew would have preferred a diplomatic solution to the gulf crisis. "We want them to stop this war now. We also want {Iraq} to stop this shelling against Israel, because they have children, too. But {the Israelis} must get out of our land. Let them stop from all sides. All mothers think like this," she said.

"To hell with all the oil, but please protect our young men," she added, as tears started rolling down her cheeks.

Chahine, the Palestinian teacher, said Saddam's strike against Israel had made him happy at first. "I first thought that this is a great lesson. This is how I felt about Kuwaitis when Iraq invaded. But then {the Iraqis} stayed and things got very bad."

Chahine said he left behind a pregnant daughter who was about to deliver, and he feared she would go into labor during an air raid. She had a book on natural childbirth, he added, which she presumably would use if she could not make it to a hospital.

Fares Yahya Rashid, 28, said the suburbs of Baghdad have been shelled. "People are trying to preserve themselves. Only a few gasoline stations are open and people are living on hoarded food, no electricity or water," he said.

Rashid said the presidential palace and a building in central Baghdad housing much of the city's telecommunications hardware "have suffered minor damage." Other reports, however, suggested the presidential palace has been more extensively damaged.

The residential neighborhoods of Jadriyyah and Qadissiyya, and the Doura central bus station, were also hit, according to a group of refugees who reached here from Baghdad today. Rasid said that some of the bombing has hit the residential area of Hayy Al Mansour, and university student Mahmoud Lati said a church was almost flattened in the northern city of Mosul.

"On the first morning after the raid, a bus full of people at Doura was hit, when the planes came in the daytime," one man said. Half a dozen others interviewed separately confirmed the report.

"Now there are no taxis, no transport, and each of us knows only what happens in his area," said Youssef Boutros Baqaa, 22. "Last night, some kind of rocket fell near our home in Jadriyyah. The bombing is not precise."

Taxi driver Abdul Wahab Massoud held up a large round fragment of green metal imprinted with English lettering from what he said was a downed American plane.

Massoud accompanied Nimr Madi, a Palestinian who had driven from Kuwait to Baghdad and then to the Jordanian border. Madi said he saw three cars full of bodies and coffins at a gas station in Basra.

"There are many civilian casualties in Basra and Kuwait. I saw many coffins in Basra, some of them small," Madi said, adding that an oil refinery in Basra had been hit. e described nighttime raids over Kuwait as "very intensive" and said heavy anti-aircraft fire there "turns the sky into a kind of hell."

"When the planes come to hit a target they also hit homes around them," Madi said.


© Copyright 1991 The Washington Post

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