BAGHDAD, IRAQ, SEPT. 3 -- The Iraqi government today denied permission for Western airliners to evacuate foreign women and children as U.S. and allied diplomats sought other ways to transport home the several thousand stuck in Kuwait since Iraq's invasion a month ago.
Negotiations were made particularly difficult because of the allies' aim of finding a way for women and children to leave their hiding places in Kuwait without alerting Iraqi occupation forces to the whereabouts of men in the families. Under rules laid down by President Saddam Hussein, foreign women and children may depart but men from countries enforcing an economic blockade against Iraq remain subject to arrest and internment at strategic locations as shields against potential U.S. bombing raids.
Baghdad officials today insisted that Westerners departing either Iraq or Kuwait be flown exclusively on Iraqi Airways planes or travel overland to Jordan or Turkey. This forced abandonment of plans for a French charter plane and other aircraft from Britain and Switzerland to evacuate the remaining women and children in Iraq who have received or are about to receive formal authorization to leave.
Naji Hadithi, director general for information in the Information and Culture Ministry, said Baghdad imposed the new rule after the government-owned Iraqi airline, which is unable to fly into international airports because of the U.N. trade embargo, complained that it would lose business to foreign carriers. To allow foreign carriers here would be "unfair commercially," Hadithi told several reporters.
Meanwhile, more than 100,000 mostly Arab and Asian refugees who have already fled Iraq faced worsening hardships today as they waited to go home in sizzling, fly-infested desert camps in Jordan and in a nine-mile line at a single border crossing with Turkey, the Reuter news agency reported. Refugees who had been working in Iraq and Kuwait at the time of the Aug. 2 invasion continue to pour into Jordan at a rate of 8,000 a day.
U.S. aid workers said today that some Asian refugees are dying from exposure in a makeshift camp in the desert between Iraqi and Jordanian border posts, and there are fears that rioting may erupt among thousands of stranded people fighting over scant supplies, the Associated Press reported.
Twenty-two Westerners, including eight Americans, managed to leave Iraq today, arriving by air in Amman, Jordan, while 120 Bulgarians came by road. They followed more than 700 hostages from 20 countries, including 112 Americans, who got out of Iraq over the weekend, some on Iraqi planes and others on a Western charter.
Most of the women and children who were eligible to leave Iraq have now done so, although many others are still stuck in Kuwait. Only several dozen British subjects and about 100 Americans with access to exit visas remain in Iraq, along with a number of Arab-Americans who also have been granted permission to leave Iraq.
One diplomat suggested that they could depart gradually on two daily flights to Amman, which are being operated by Iraqi Airways as the country's only regular air link with the outside world. At the same time, efforts were underway to charter an Iraqi Airways plane in the coming few days to expedite the departures.
In that light, emphasis moved toward resolving the plight of an estimated 2,000 Western women and children stranded in Kuwait along with about 8,000 men under increasingly difficult conditions that seem headed toward a dangerous crossroads. Of these, more than 2,000, including about 1,400 women and children, are native U.S. citizens, according to counts available here.
Hadithi said Iraqi authorities insist that foreign women and children leaving Kuwait must pass through Baghdad for exit visas or other emigration formalities. This appeared to dash hopes of some Western diplomats here that dependents could be flown directly from Kuwait to Europe on charter flights.
A convoy of buses was being planned to take about 500 British women and children from Kuwait to Baghdad on Tuesday, and Britain said it was considering chartering Iraqi planes and buses to evacuate foreigners from Baghdad, Reuter reported.
Australia and France said they too were arranging convoys from Kuwait to Baghdad. The State Department in Washington said it was unaware of the convoys.
The Westerners remaining in Kuwait have been advised by their governments to remain in hiding. A recent arrival here said that most foreigners are staying behind closed doors in their homes or in the homes of friends. Iraqi troops have closed off neighborhoods and in some cases are conducting systematic searches for Westerners, he said.
The recent arrival said Kuwaiti resistance forces have assumed responsibility for sheltering some American and other foreign men to prevent their abduction. At least one group has passed word that Kuwaiti families who betray foreigners in hiding will be executed, he said. This apparently came in response to a warning from the Iraqi government that all Iraqis and Kuwaitis who shelter foreigners will be hanged.
Gunfire, apparently from resistance groups, was being heard nearly every night in Kuwait as recently as three days ago, the recent arrival reported to diplomats here. Underground groups have been challenging the Iraqi occupation with attacks on troops and installations.
A Kuwaiti newspaper published in Cairo, the Al Anba, reported today that a Kuwaiti resistance fighter killed four Iraqi soldiers and seriously wounded 16 in a machine-gun attack at a police station in the occupied emirate, Reuter said. The resistance fighter then escaped. In addition, four Iraqi soldiers fled from Kuwait and surrendered to Saudi authorities, the report said.
Some diplomats here expressed fear that the tense situation in Kuwait could reach a head when diplomats at the U.S. Embassy there are no longer able to remain holed up in their compound. More than two dozen foreign embassies in Kuwait, which has been annexed by Baghdad, have defied orders to close and relocate in the Iraqi capital.
A diplomat reported that because of looming shortages of water, food and power in the cordoned-off U.S. compound in Kuwait, U.S. diplomats may not be able to hold out longer than two more weeks.
Iraq has declared that the diplomats inside the compound, Ambassador W. Nathaniel Howell and his skeleton staff of officers, have lost their immunity by refusing to heed orders to close the embassy. As a result, they could be taken into custody if they leave the compound, raising a new risk of confrontation between Iraq and U.S. forces gathered in Saudi Arabia.
The standoff at other embassies, many of which are ringed by Iraqi troops and deprived of power, water and telephone service in 120-degree heat, also remained tense today. East Germany said its envoy was grabbed by Iraqi authorities and taken to Baghdad when he ventured out of his embassy, the Associated Press reported.