LONDON, SEPT. 19 -- Seven weeks after the invasion of Kuwait, the Iraqi military occupation appears to have shifted into a more brutal phase of systematic subjugation and destruction, according to Kuwaitis and Westerners who have fled the country recently.
These refugees draw a bleak picture of Iraqi troops suppressing resistance with far more force, burning houses and sometimes summarily executing those suspected of attacks against occupation forces.
Western analysts endorse these accounts. They note that the new military governor in Kuwait, Ali Hassan Majid, was in charge of Kurdistan during the 1988 poison-gas campaign against the Kurdish rebellion, and the analysts say he has been given a free hand to crush resistance in Kuwait.
At the same time, the authorities appear to be conducting a far more systematic pillaging of Kuwaiti assets, reportedly hauling off to Baghdad a vast array of goods ranging from computers to traffic lights to valuable Islamic works of art.
Even the carousel at the Doha Entertainment Center, the local amusement park, is said to have been dismantled and shipped to Baghdad.
Such looting suggests to some analysts that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has concluded he cannot hold Kuwait in the face of international opposition and intends to seize as much of its wealth as possible before he withdraws. But others point to signs of "Iraqization" -- efforts to install hundreds and perhaps thousands of Iraqis in homes and jobs while pushing out Kuwaiti citizens -- as indicating Saddam still hopes to stay.
"He means to impoverish Kuwait, either to reduce it to an insignificant village of Iraq or, alternatively, if he is pushed out, he will leave behind an empty shell," said a senior Kuwaiti official who asked not to be identified.
Most outside communications with Kuwait have been cut off since the Aug. 2 invasion and accounts of atrocities seldom are verifiable. Nonetheless, recent accounts by Kuwaitis and foreign nationals who have fled the country, many of whom now reside in London, suggest that the occupation has become institutionalized and far more draconian as food supplies dwindle and the army has cracked down on pockets of resistance.
In the first days of occupation, the Iraqi authorities sought to enlist support, or at least acquiesence, from the general population, hoping to tap disillusionment with the Sabah family, Kuwait's ousted rulers. While banks, car showrooms and some government institutions were looted, most official and private entities were left untouched in the apparent hope that residents would cooperate by carrying on much as they had before the invasion.
Despite Iraqi orders, however, accounts indicated that many Kuwaitis and foreign nationals refused to return to work. Efforts to recruit a new "revolutionary" government of Kuwaiti political dissidents also failed.
Although spasmodic and diffuse, resistance to the occupation was widespread and damaging to Iraqi morale. Many Kuwaitis helped conceal and aid Western nationals whom the Iraqis sought to round up.
Analysts say Iraq's approach hardened when the first de facto military governor, Gen. Abdul Jaber Ghani, the former ambassador to West Germany, was replaced by Majid, a cousin of Saddam who holds cabinet rank as minister of local government but has had long experience in the Iraqi secret police.
"This is a ruthless man in every aspect whose reputation is well known," said an Iraqi political scientist here who asked to remain anonymous. "He brought peace to Kurdistan -- the peace of terror."
Under Majid, say refugees, the army has cracked down: Army squads move from house to house in targeted areas, searching for weapons and suspects. After an Iraqi patrol found the bodies of four dead soldiers at a local school, the army burned 15 houses and rounded up dozens of residents, according to witnesses.
Several accounts refer to persons believed to have been taken to the Salaam Palace, a former guesthouse for state visitors, for interrogation. A 27-year-old Kuwaiti student named Fatima, who fled the country last week, said a Moroccan couple was held there for 24 hours on suspicion of resistance activities. She said they described squalid conditions and beatings and showed marks on their bodies.
Andrea Hansen, an American woman who left Kuwait last week with her 5-year-old son, told reporters here she saw dead Iraqi soldiers in the street. But she and other recent evacuees say the resistance is crumbling.
"They're doing their best and they're trying very hard," she said, "but there are not enough people and not enough weapons."
Analysts say the purpose of ordering soldiers to enter Western diplomats' homes last week was clear: to strike fear in remaining foreigners.
"Threats, threats, threats -- the knowledge that almost everything we do, our very presence here, involves risk, is sinking in deeper," wrote an anonymous British journalist, who remains in Kuwait, in a letter to the Sunday Times last week.
Witnesses say systematic looting has spread to almost every sphere of Kuwaiti economic life. Some have described Iraqi workers dismantling traffic lights and lampposts as well as seats from the national football stadium and furniture and blackboards from schools. Fatima said she saw Iraqi trucks hauling drainage pipes, cement blocks and other construction materials down the main road toward Baghdad.
Iraqi authorities reportedly also seized 15 civilian airliners, and witnesses said a large Kuwaiti airplane engine was being loaded into an Iraqi cargo plane at Kuwait City's international airport during their flight from the city last week.
Khaled Nassar, vice dean of Kuwait's medical school, told the Observer newspaper that the Iraqis emptied the school of $70 million worth of medical equipment, including a huge Vax computer system, 200 terminals, a Gamma camera "Threats, threats, threats -- the knowledge that almost everything we do, our very presence here, involves risk, is sinking in deeper."
-- A British journalist in Kuwait
able to photograph minute areas of the body and about 40,000 library books. Others reported seeing Iraqi trucks being loaded with artifacts from the national museum, including manuscripts, jewelry and carpetry.
After Saddam declared Kuwait as the 19th province of Iraq, Kuwaiti officials say, the Iraqis destroyed computerized birth, citizenship and land records. Iraqi officials have taken over administering hospitals, schools and government agencies, while hundreds of families from southern Iraq reportedly have been transported to Kuwait City and housed in abandoned apartments and houses. The names of streets, buildings and hospitals have been "Iraqized."
There are unconfirmed reports that Iraq has imported Palestinian families to take over private homes and that armed Palestinian groups have aided the military in enforcing the occupation.
When the authorities briefly opened the border with Saudi Arabia over the weekend, hundreds of Kuwaitis fled. But they were required to turn over all money, passports and identity papers to border guards. Some analysts believed this was done to provide false papers for Iraqi infiltration plots. But others said it was part of the process of destroying Kuwait as a nation.
"It's a population exchange," said the Kuwaiti official. "We are allowed to leave, so that Iraqis can come in and take our place. Then one day, no more Kuwait."
The "Iraqization" policy leaves Washington and the international community with a harsh dilemma, analysts say. The purpose of economic sanctions is ultimately to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi rule, yet those measures may take months or years to succeed. Meanwhile, Kuwait as a social, economic and political entity may have vanished.
"Why is it difficult to wait 12 months or two years?" asks Amatzia Baram, an Iraq expert at Haifa University in Israel. "Because in a few months time there will be no Kuwaiti society. Some Kuwaitis will leave, some will give up, but you'll have a new Iraqi zone."