BAGHDAD, IRAQ, OCT. 1 -- Tom Graham, 40, an engineer, said that when he first sought refuge at one of the U.S. diplomatic premises here a month ago, he "didn't relate to the word 'hostage.' A hostage was someone on a hijacked plane with a gun to his head."
"But, the longer I've been here, the more difficult it gets," Graham said. "Having lost my freedom," he explained, is "like hearing music in the distance, but never being able to . . . dance with it."
Graham is one of the 800 to 1,000 Americans who have been held hostage, either physically or emotionally, by Iraq and the Persian Gulf crisis. They wait in frustration and uncertainty -- in dusty construction sites in Iraq's desert, crowded apartments in Baghdad and beleaguered villas in Kuwait City.
Their detention "cells" vary in size and comfort. The rules differ. Some have contact with loved ones, some have work to fill the long hours. But none may go home, and all face trauma and death if the uncertain military and political standoff in the gulf collapses into war.
The trapped Americans live with uncertainty about when they might be able to resume careers, marriages and parenthood. The few who could be interviewed said they had adequate food for the short term, but were uncertain about the indefinite future. Many said they have become news junkies, listening to shortwave radio and exchanging rumors and theories about what will happen to them. Most said they look for ways to kill time.
The bulk of the trapped Americans are the 600 to 700 who continue to hide in Kuwait City, for the most part in their homes, according to a State Department estimate.
About 30 more Americans have taken refuge inside the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait, where they share conditions with Ambassador W. Nathaniel Howell, his deputy, Barbara Bodine, and about a half-dozen other U.S. diplomats. Their morale, a State Department spokesman said today, "is about as good as can be expected."
In Iraq, 101 Americans have been distributed to military, industrial and construction sites as "human shields" against attack by U.S.-led forces, according to State Department estimates.
Another 20 to 30 Americans, including Graham, have taken sanctuary in U.S. diplomatic premises here in Baghdad. About 10 other U.S. citizens, mostly children of Kuwaiti-American families, are living in a Baghdad hotel with their Kuwaiti-citizen mothers, who are trying to persuade Iraqi officials to let them leave the country.
In addition, 54 American diplomats from the embassy in Kuwait, whose accreditations Iraq says it no longer recognizes, have crammed into the U.S. Embassy and its residential quarters here, and are doing most of the work in the mission, which has only six diplomats accredited to Baghdad.
While there are few overt expressions of popular anti-Americanism in Baghdad, all Americans here appeared to worry about the danger of assaults on U.S. targets by Iraqi crowds should a war break out.
Graham and more than 20 other American men are crowded into what would, in normal times, be a comfortable suburban house for a medium-sized family. The dining room has been converted into a bedroom for four, with mattresses stacked against the wall during the day. In the foyer, clothes washed by the house's laundry committee lay folded and stacked on a table.
During an interview Sunday afternoon, residents of the house filled a living room to watch a videotape of "The War of the Roses," and later drifted off to other rooms or the garden to read, write or talk. Graham said the group had room to exercise on the grounds, swimming and playing basketball.
"I'm getting fat," he said, noting that he was used to running six to 10 miles a day.
Graham was the only one of the group who agreed to talk to journalists under ground rules that prevented the precise identification of their place of sanctuary. Many of the group object to any publicity about their plight, fearing it could increase the risk to them.
"We're mostly engineers here, but we don't talk a lot about bridges and petrochemical plants," Graham said. Discussions focus on the events of the crisis, "and everything is identified and digested in terms of your own well-being -- not what's good for Kuwait or for Saudi Arabia or for Iraq."
Graham said he, like others in the house, had developed "hostage habits" to fill time not taken up by assigned chores or reading. "You play solitaire, you gather around the radio every time the news comes on."
The uncertainty of what will happen and what it will do to their lives has turned the men into "news junkies," he said. They asked visiting journalists to bring any recent publications from outside Iraq.
The Americans hiding in Kuwait City are said to live in constant danger of exposure. "The Iraqis are having increasing success in finding these people through informers," a Western diplomat here said. Those in hiding "are obviously in greater danger of being caught with each week" that goes by, another said.
This diplomat said that while Iraq had quickly managed to tap the telephone lines of Western embassies in Kuwait City, it apparently had been unable to trace calls to the embassies. "There is concern that they may manage that, given enough time," he said.
The passage of time "has turned their homes into jail cells," said a Westerner here with access to the accounts of newly arrested detainees coming from Kuwait City.
While most of the trapped Americans are believed to be physically sound, the State Department said it has identified 69 people who are suffering serious medical problems, such as heart ailments or diabetes. Iraq has not responded to U.S. requests that those people be permitted to leave for medical treatment, according to U.S. officials.
The Americans here who are said to be in the most uncertain physical situation are those being held as "human shields" by Iraq at military, industrial and construction sites against any attack by the U.S.-led forces. The State Department estimates that there are 101 Americans in this category, among a total of perhaps 500 foreigners (including British, French, German and Japanese citizens) held at such locations.
Those people, called "hostages" by the Bush administration and "guests" by Iraq, are commonly known among English-speakers in Baghdad as "guestages."
Like the estimated 600 to 700 Americans still in hiding in Kuwait and the 30 or so in the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City, they could not be contacted by reporters here, and there are few indications what their lives are like.
Americans Known Held in Iraq: 101
Called "guests" by Iraq, these male hostages were arrested in both Iraq and Kuwait and are held at military, industrial and construction sites around the country. Also held are more than 200 Britons, about 140 Japanese, 77 West Germans and fewer than 100 Frenchmen. Women and children are not held as hostages.
In addition to the 101 known hostages, about a dozen Americans are effectively held under house arrest at their work site in Iraq. They are permitted to contact the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
Kuwaiti-Americans in Iraq: 10
This group of Kuwaiti-American women and children and Kuwaiti members of their immediate families were prevented from joining the evacuation of women and children from Kuwait in September. The group is staying at a Baghdad hotel pending review of cases by Iraqi officials.
Arab-Americans in Iraq: 320 to 330
Persons holding both U.S. and Arab (except Kuwaiti) passports, and American women married to Iraqi men, are able to enter and leave the Iraq. They retain the same right of movement inside Iraq as Iraqi citizens.
Hiding in Kuwait: 600 to 700
The Americans remaining in Kuwait City are thought to be hiding in their homes. Those discovered during systematic searches by Saddam Hussein's forces have been sent to Iraq as hostages.
In Diplomatic Sanctuary in Iraq and Kuwait: 40 to 50
American citizens have taken sanctuary in the embassy in Kuwait City, now sealed off by Iraqi troops, and in U.S. diplomatic facilities in Baghdad. They risk detention as hostages if they leave.
Unrecognized Diplomatic Staff in Iraq and Kuwait: 62
Eight staff members remain in the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City, though it is no longer recongized by Saddam Hussein's government. Iraq has confined 54 others in Baghdad where they are assisting in maintaining the U.S. Embassy.
Recognized Diplomatic Staff in Iraq: 6
Other than journalists who enter the country for limited stays, the accredited diplomats remaining in Baghdad are the only Americans allowed to leave Iraq. These officials are confined to Baghdad unless they receive specific permission to travel.
SOURCES: The Washington Post; State Department estimates