KHAFJI, SAUDI ARABIA, SEPT. 16 -- Hundreds of Kuwaiti refugees flooded into Saudi Arabia today with tales of terror and anarchy as word spread through the occupied emirate that Iraq had opened the border for the first time in a month.
At least 1,500 refugees were expected to cross over today, following about 1,000 who fled Saturday, border officials said. Many provided grim reports of dwindling food supplies and descriptions of Iraqi troops blowing up homes of suspected resistance fighters.
The refugees said word first began spreading Friday that the Iraqis had lifted restrictions on departure through Khafji, the only official crossing point between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. The post had been closed since about a week after the Aug 2. Iraqi invasion.
The Iraqis made no announcement of the border opening, and the refugees could only speculate on why they had allowed it. Some said they believed Iraqi troops wanted access to the homes of departing Kuwaitis; some said it was part of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's long-term plan to repopulate Kuwait with Iraqis.
An estimated 300,000 of Kuwait's native population of 570,000 have fled since the invasion. Most are in Saudi Arabia, where the government pays for their housing and food.
Iraqi soldiers at the border point today confiscated all identity documents, including car registration forms, from those leaving, refugees said, making it difficult for any migrant to return, if he wished to.
News of the border opening spread rapidly through Kuwait's grapevine, the refugees said. Some said they heard about it through anonymous phone calls. A 33-year-old journalist said a friend was admonished by a caller: "Why do you always talk badly about Saddam Hussein? The border's open, why don't you leave?"
Like many of those fleeing, he said he was afraid to give his name lest the Iraqis harm relatives still in occupied Kuwait. "It's a rough life now," the journalist said. "They're blowing up houses, killing people for any suspicion."
Kuwaitis said the Iraqis have blown up or burned down up to 20 houses at a time in neighborhoods where Iraqi soldiers had been killed by resistance fighters. The Iraqis also were sealing off whole neighborhoods to conduct house-to-house searches, looking for resistance material and the several hundred foreigners still in hiding, the refugees said.
While Saddam's troops have plundered most public property -- carting off everything from sophisticated hospital machinery to printing presses and street lights -- they have not been able to get into Kuwaiti homes, the refugees said. "Now they want to make a super robbery in Kuwait, take everything," said 35-year-old refugee Salam Matouk.
Anyone refusing to hang a portrait of Saddam in his home is under threat of death, they said. One man interviewed said he was waiting behind a line of cars at a checkpoint in Kuwait City three days ago when a young Kuwaiti was dragged out of a car by Iraqi troops and shot dead on the spot.
"People are not obeying them so they want to get rid of us," said the 45-year-old owner of an investment company. Stocks of food were getting low, and cash short, he said. "People are really terrified about food; the Iraqis are slaughtering horses for meat."
But staples are still available, and small quantities of vegetables are brought in by Palestinian traders allowed to travel to Iraq's southern port of Basra, they said. The refugees bitterly criticized the Palestinians -- thousands of whom work as professionals or merchants in Kuwait -- for collaborating with Iraqi authorities.
Many also complained that the United States is taking too long to find a solution to the crisis. President Bush "is all talk," shouted one refugee woman from behind her heavy black veil.
Said Merchant Abdullah Sumaiti, 35: "Kuwait will disappear if the Europeans and Americans don't help us. The Arabs won't help us. Never, never, never!"