KUWAIT CITY -- For 26 days, Caryle Murphy was the only American newspaper reporter in Kuwait chronicling the Iraqi invasion. The 43-year-old Murphy, shown here in a photograph taken yesterday in Riyadh, escaped last Monday across the Kuwaiti border into Saudi Arabia. Here, she tells the story of how ordinary Kuwaitis and Americans coped with the nightmare of war and occupation.
An American-educated engineer named Marwan got up as usual on Aug. 2, took a shower, ate breakfast and set off for work. But like thousands of others here that morning, he never made it to the office.
"I got stopped by a soldier who asked me where I was going," Marwan recalled later. "He said, 'Don't you know what's going on?' I said, 'No, what?' "
"Iraq is in Kuwait and your ruler has run away," the soldier said. "Go home."
Iraq's invasion of Kuwait one month ago turned Middle East politics topsy-turvy. It sent recriminations and outraged protests from Arab and Western leaders bouncing off communications satellites. And it propelled Kuwait's 2 million inhabitants to the media's center stage.
But on the ground, Baghdad's invasion and occupation of Kuwait was an intensely personal affair. Literally overnight -- far too quickly for it to sink in -- Kuwaitis and foreign workers in this Persian Gulf emirate found normal, everyday life drastically altered and contacts with the outside world cut off.
How people here coped over the next 26 days is a story of sleepless nights, separated families, broken careers, bravery, depression, boredom, grace under pressure and good humor. With family, personal and business routines disrupted in large ways and small, life entered unexplored terrain for both occupiers and occupied.
What follows are extracts from a diary of life in occupied Kuwait that I kept from the early hours of the invasion until my escape on Monday. The focus is meant to be human. But political and military details of that period cannot be avoided, since they were the stuff of ordinary life for a population living under the heels of foreign invaders.
Most of those who appear in this account cannot be fully identified at a time when the Iraqi army is still in Kuwait and tightening its grip on every aspect of life. Keeping a low profile is a must for those who remain inside and are learning that no matter how bravely they resist, fear is the child of boredom and isolation.AUG. 2 'I would recommend you join the others in the basement.' Like engineer Marwan, thousands of Kuwait City residents drive to work at around 7 a.m., five hours after the start of the invasion -- oblivious to what has happened in their city. Many of these early-morning commuters read today's edition of the Kuwait Times. The lead story is about the breakdown of talks between Iraq and Kuwait yesterday, with the headline, "Kuwait Hopes for More Talks" -- out of date even as it rolled off the presses.
Shortly after a column of tanks passes in front of the Kuwait International Hotel, I run down to the lobby to see if anyone knows which side they belong to. One of the receptionists, a megaphone in hand, is keeping guests away from the front door and asking them to proceed to the hotel's basement.
I call the U.S. Embassy. "We are contacting American citizens to find out where they are if an evacuation is ordered," says a spokesman. He adds that one has not been requested at this time. "I would recommend you join the others in the basement," he says.
At 12:30 p.m., an artillery shell hits with a sharp crack, seemingly just outside my seventh-floor window. I jump, slam down the phone, saying, "I gotta go!" and go to the lobby. The gift shop clerk shows me where the shell landed: on the 15th floor of an apartment building about 500 yards from the hotel.
A crowd in the lobby is watching Cable News Network on a TV set. Suddenly, the voice of hotel manager Hermann Simon comes over the hotel intercom. "It seems that in a quarter of an hour, the Iraqis will be at the hotel. . . . Stay calm. Don't act strange. We have our instructions."
An unflappable innkeeper and veteran of hotel service in Tehran during political unrest in 1977 and Lisbon during the 1974 coup, Simon reacts to things going wrong by saying, "What a wonderful day!" Pretty soon the whole staff is running around saying, "What a wonderful day!"
The Iraqis never show up.
All those guests who wish, however, are evacuated to another hotel, presumed to be in a safer part of town. Only about 20 guests decide to stay put. The Reuter news service to the hotel is cut off during the afternoon. I finish filing a story at about 2 a.m. An hour later, I send out my last telex, telling my editors that international phone lines are down and that I don't know how soon the Iraqis will order foreign reporters out of the country. As I go upstairs to bed, scores of hotel staff members -- Indians, Thais, Filipinos -- are hunkering down in the hallway to sleep. They can't make it home because of a curfew. AUG. 3 'Maybe you will want to have a second pair of underpants.' A U.S. Embassy spokesman reports that "there is no suggestion at this point that Americans seem to be the target" of the Iraqi forces. Many U.S. citizens registered at the embassy cannot be located, he says, but "it's not clear if they are missing or on vacation." Iraqi troops have not gone near the embassy since their arrival.
They also have not turned up at the hotel. "I am prepared," says Simon, taking a business card out of his vest pocket. On the back are greetings written in Arabic. A Red Cross flag has been spread on the hotel roof to signal its civilian status, and a first-aid post has been set up in a ground-floor conference room.
Since there are no taxis, Dutch radio reporter Hettie Lubberding and I hire two Palestinians who are hanging around the lobby to take us out for a drive. In a Palestinian quarter called Hawalli, an Iraqi troop transport helicopter had crashed and burned in an open lot. Six charred bodies still lie inside the chopper. While we are there, a steady stream of the curious comes to look at the grisly sight. A man in a jogging suit videotapes every angle of the wreckage.
In Riggae, where the Kuwaiti military headquarters are located, Kuwaiti troops held out against the Iraqis all day yesterday. Today, a portrait of a smiling Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, graces the entrance to the Kuwaiti military compound. Hundreds of Iraqi soldiers relax by the side of the road, washing their clothes or eating lunch. They wave us on. The body of a dead soldier lies in the road, covered with a blanket.
This is an odd invasion, I think. Only one day afterward, we are driving around town unhindered. Nobody has asked us for identification. Gawkers are driving from all over to look at six burned bodies in a crashed helicopter. And for all the gunfire and shelling we heard yesterday, we have seen the body of only one person actually killed in the fighting.
At 7:15 p.m., Kuwait television, now controlled by the Iraqis, broadcasts a communique saying the "national power" has decided to leave the country and promises "a new era of democracy" for Kuwait. The announcer, who speaks with an Iraqi accent but wears Kuwait's national dress, praises Kuwait's "temporary, free government." But 36 hours after the invasion, none of the "young revolutionaries" the Iraqis claimed they were assisting during the invasion has been seen or heard from.
"It reminds me of the free, pro-Nazi government in France," says one Kuwaiti newspaper editor.
The hotel is bustling again, since the guests evacuated yesterday have returned. The Kuwait International is now deemed safer. Simon holds a briefing in the ballroom for his grim-faced guests.
"Don't sleep in your rooms," Simon advises, recommending instead the hotel basement, two floors underground. The staff has put 500 bottles of water and "some nice Austrian bread" prepared by the chef down there, he adds. Cars in the parking garage above the basement have had their fuel tanks emptied to prevent fire. If the basement is not appealing, Simon adds, sleep in the ballroom, and "if you want to sleep in the lobby, you are most welcome.
"Please do not drink alcohol tonight," he says, "as we might be without electricity. And if you can't find your way around, we would have a disaster. I don't know if I will be connected to water tomorrow, so I think everyone should take a shower tonight and fill up the bathtub. Maybe you will want to have a second set of underpants. If we have to evacuate, remember you will not be able to take too much on the plane. If they come."
Simon says he had been in touch with some embassies about evacuation, but "at the moment, we don't know what's happening." He appeals for people not to waste food at meals. "Let's fill our stomachs, but let's not go crazy . . . just in case we have to spend a few more days here."
At about 10 p.m. Lubberding and I -- without telex or phone -- decide to ask the U.S. Embassy if they will permit us to send out our stories. We sprint across the empty street and are let into the embassy. A staffer does not appear to appreciate our arrival. He turns off the lights in the entryway for security. I drop my computer and the batteries roll all over the floor; I feel like a klutz. He mutters something about everyone being "confined to quarters." We are brought to a residence and put in a room.
Stacked in the corner are several boxes of glassware, marked for shipment to the United States. I remember that Ambassador W. Nathaniel Howell had been scheduled to depart Kuwait this month, having finished his tour.
A political officer arrives and says she can't allow us to use the embassy's communications. She urges us to stay at the embassy. "We've heard rumors, which I'm not going to tell you the details of. But you should not go outside again." Lubberding and I decline. Back at the hotel, CNN is reporting that Baghdad has promised to start withdrawing its troops on Sunday. AUG. 4 The World Intercontinental Ballistic Bowl Championship This morning an American, who worked in Kuwait only a few months and took refuge in the hotel, uses the hotel word processor to write his resume. He prints out two copies. "Got to plan ahead," he says.
Occupation madness has begun to set in at the hotel. People are playing table tennis in the main lobby. Simon has dressed a staff member as Kermit the Frog and sent him to entertain the kids. In the central telephone exchange room, the operators are playing cards on the floor.
At a very late hour, two British businessmen are organizing a tournament for tomorrow in the hotel's bowling alley. Reflecting the general belief that there is going to be an imminent U.S. counterattack, the businessmen are calling the tournament "The World Intercontinental Ballistic Bowl Championship."
Rule Number One is that each team has to have one journalist. (There are only two of us at the hotel.) To qualify, bowlers have to be able to recite Jane's Schoolboy Edition of Tanks, 1990 edition. First prize is a long weekend in Baghdad.
The emir's picture, which used to hang in the lobby, is gone.AUG. 5 and 6 '. . . Kuwait will never be the same.' Looting, by both troops and civilians, has begun. Domestic servants, many of them Filipinos, have told their employers that some of their friends have been raped. It seems that no one is in charge. The newly named ministers are still invisible, and no Iraqi has come forward as a local authority.
A European diplomat has compiled a list of 49 foreigners, including 11 Americans, who have been picked up since the invasion, some from local hotels. Thirty-five others -- British military advisers to the Kuwaiti forces -- also have been taken from their homes. Meanwhile, Kuwaitis have begun to respond. About 50 women, carrying pictures of the emir and crown prince and shouting anti-Iraqi slogans, stage a demonstration in Faiha. A group of about 11 Kuwaiti men, unshaven and bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, gather to discuss what to do.
"There is bitterness" against the royal family, says one. "People want them to come back, but they think they made a lot of mistakes by not preparing the public to receive this tragic situation."
"Their legitimacy, their image is not the same at all," adds another. "And Kuwait will never be the same."
Other Arabs have long considered Kuwaitis arrogant, demanding and clannish. They resented Kuwait's tight restrictions on foreign workers, who had difficulty even in getting drivers' licenses while working here. The Kuwaitis were also stingy with citizenship, refusing to grant it even to those who had worked 30 or 40 years in the country. And many Kuwaitis admit that the royal family rightly deserves its reputation for being greedy, power-hungry and involved in too many shady business deals.
Despite this, Kuwaiti society has had a long democratic tradition. It was the only gulf country with a constitution guaranteeing popular participation in the government. Even with censorship, it had some of the freest and liveliest newspapers in the Arab world. Many Kuwaitis decry what they call their "moral decay" engendered by decades of petrodollar wealth.
Last winter, Kuwaitis organized their own pro-democracy movement, demanding that the emir bring back parliament, which he suspended in 1986. Today, many Kuwaitis are saying that if he had met this popular demand and lifted press censorship, the Iraqi invasion might not have taken place.
Still no telex lines. The ambassador at another embassy says he will take my telex tape but can't promise anything. It's now past curfew, but a young Lebanese man offers to drive me to the embassy. "I'm used to this," he says, laughing. There are no roadblocks. I pitch the envelope containing the telex tape over the embassy wall, the ambassador having warned me that the compound is under tight security and no one would answer the doorbell.
At 11:30 p.m., Baghdad TV begins showing films of Iraqi troops and tanks heading north out of Kuwait. It does not show all the traffic that has been going south the past two days, toward the Saudi border. On Aug. 6, residents of many Kuwait City suburbs wake up to find anti-Iraqi graffiti spray-painted over walls. "Get out of our country." "Down with Saddam Hussein and his barbarian army." Pictures of the emir and crown prince also have appeared on walls and traffic signs.
A delegation of 22 Iraqi military and civilian officials move into the Kuwait International Hotel as guests.AUG. 7 and 8 'We are kidnapped now, hijacked. But in a country, not in a plane.' I decide to move in with some Americans. People are getting more afraid because of all the talk about Iraq using chemical weapons. The BBC says the United States is launching its biggest overseas deployment since Vietnam. Americans trying to reach Saudi Arabia on the main road are turned back. Iraqi missiles, troops and supplies continue moving south, but there are very few soldiers in the city.
At the Kuwait International Hotel, the Indian doorman looks out on a quiet street. "So what is going to happen now?" he asks. "Are we going to be killed?" He is looking off into space. Nobody is talking about evacuation plans for Indians. Inside, the atmosphere is bleak. Guests are edgy and bored. "No background music?" says manager Simon, inspecting the patisserie. "Put on the music. Where are our standards?"
Later, I visit an American woman who has been watching CNN reports on the U.S. military buildup and on Iraq's past use of chemical weapons. "You hear these things on the news and, god-dang, some of it scares the hell of you," she says. I suggest that a lot of what U.S. officials are saying is to scare Saddam Hussein. "Well, I don't get the feeling that he's as scared as everyone else is," she answers.
The phone rings. An American couple is saying the rosary and anyone who wants to join them is welcome.
On the morning of Aug. 8, Baghdad TV shows five ministers of Kuwait's "temporary, free" government sitting in a parlor, but at 5:30 p.m. Iraq announces it has annexed Kuwait. Thus ends the short, silent life of this phantom cabinet whose members were named four days ago and who never uttered a word in public.
Tonight, I visit an Egyptian family. Everyone is sitting in the bedroom listening to President Hosni Mubarak lay into Saddam Hussein on Cairo radio. "We are kidnapped now, hijacked," says the husband. "But in a country, not in a plane."
"We have survived one week now," a diplomat reminds me tonight.