BAGHDAD, IRAQ, DEC. 9 -- More than 950 foreigners, including about 80 weary, traumatized Americans who came out of hiding in Kuwait, left Iraq today in the first mass departure since Iraqi President Saddam Hussein decided Thursday to stop holding hostages.

In all, 163 Americans left today, along with 440 Vietnamese, 180 Soviets, 160 Italians and smaller groups of other Europeans, all of them held here against their will since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2. More Americans and other foreigners were being brought to Baghdad tonight for expected evacuation on Monday.

{The U.S.-chartered Iraqi Airways plane carrying the 163 Americans and about 160 other hostages and relatives landed in Frankfurt early Monday, Washington Post correspondent Marc Fisher reported. Details, Page A24.}

Looking stunned and weak, the captives from Kuwait -- Americans and Britons -- were joined at the airport by American and European hostages who had been bused to Baghdad this morning from the strategic sites where they were held as "human shields" to deter attack, or had been brought in last week to meet relatives.

For many of them, the dingy lobby at Saddam International Airport was their reunion with the world -- and many who were hiding in Kuwait had reunions there with friends who had been captured by Iraqi troops, and whose whereabouts and health had been unknown. Many gave harrowing accounts of their four months in hiding.

"We were dealing with the fear of the unknown. We spent 24 hours a day dealing with it," said Paul Pawlowski, 48, an architectural planner from Boston. "It's not easy to exist where every knock on the door might be it, where every phone call might be someone testing you."

Foreigners from Kuwait spoke of days spent hiding from Iraqi soldiers and looters in attic crawl spaces, air ventilation ducts, dark stairwells and fire escapes. There were men who saw soldiers kill Kuwaitis in the streets, and others who heard firefights almost daily.

A 7-year-old boy from Orlando, Fla., said he had to disguise himself in Kuwaiti clothing to go into his yard and was forbidden by his parents, one of whom is Kuwaiti-born, to speak English outdoors.

Many said the constant pressure of not knowing when the next knock would come at the door made them think about giving themselves up just to get it over with.

One man entertained himself by playing tennis against a bedroom wall, another played solitaire. Many listened to and recorded Voice of America messages from loved ones at home and replayed them over and over when the loneliness seemed unbearable.

The former prisoners in Iraq told of being held throughout the countryside as human shields at power stations, a dam, factories and a uranium production facility.

They described a life without hot food, without changes of clothes and without the freedom to cross clearly defined barriers: high concrete walls, metal fences or invisible lines in the street beyond which other foreigners stood waiting to talk with them.

"We were like babies, we had to ask for everything, for food, to go to the toilet," said Don Fisher, a Briton held as a "human shield" in northeastern Iraq until he was brought to Baghdad today. "A lot of people went into this aggressive mood, and they may find it hard to get out of it. They'd yell at their wives, their bosses, at authority figures."

On Thursday, Saddam announced his decision to allow all foreign hostages to leave. He apologized for keeping them but said their presence had been necessary to forestall military action by the West before Iraqi troops were in full force in Kuwait, which Iraq now considers its province.

A Western diplomat closely involved in the evacuation process said today he sensed "a spirit of cooperation" from the Iraqi government in organizing the departures, and he said that the only real problems were typical "bureaucratic hang-ups."

Gale Rogers, a consular affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait who accompanied the Kuwait group to Baghdad, said three other diplomats from the embassy were on the flight, leaving five others behind. The embassy has been isolated, without outside water and electricity and dwindling food supplies, since Iraq ordered all embassies closed shortly after it invaded Kuwait announced its annexation.

The State Department has said all staff members, including Ambassador W. Nathaniel Howell, will vacate the embassy as soon as U.S. officials are convinced all Americans who want to leave Kuwait have been able to.

Only five diplomats remain at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, an American diplomat said, but he added that the number could be further reduced soon. "We're looking right now at what we need for here," the diplomat said.

The group of Americans who left the country today included 12 to 15 non-diplomats who had been living for months at the U.S. Embassy residence here to escape capture.

Before today's departure, the State Department had said 600 to 750 Americans were in captivity or in hiding in Iraq and Kuwait, but it is not clear how many of these hold dual U.S.-Iraqi citizenship and how many wish to leave for the West.

Besides the Iraqi Airways jumbo jet that arrived in Frankfurt, a plane flew to Rome carrying at least 160 Italians and another flew to Moscow carrying Soviet technicians released from their work contracts shortly before Saddam freed the others. Other flights evacuated about 440 Vietnamese, who, like many Europeans, had not been taken into custody but had nevertheless been prevented from leaving.

Officials have said special flights will continue until all Westerners who want to leave have.

Several Americans flown here today from Kuwait City to join the evacuation said the streets were filled with soldiers when they drove into the airport there today. They reported seeing fortified buildings, stripped vehicles abandoned along the road and trash-strewn streets. Several said they heard light artillery and machine-gun firefights as of early this morning.

Dennis and Mary Ann Mosher, of Sarasota, Fla., said they hid in an apartment building in Abu Hali with 14 others and moved four times under cover of darkness when they believed they were close to being detected by probing troops. In each new location, they barricaded the doors with furniture.

They said one American had given himself up to save the others when Iraqi soldiers broke in. His action diverted the troops, they said, while the other Americans hid in the shower. The group then spent two days huddled at the top of the 20-story building's fire escape and removed all the light bulbs to deter troops from venturing upstairs.

"They wouldn't come up in the dark," said Dennis Mosher.

At other times they crawled into unused air-conditioning ducts and huddled in the 120-degree heat. "If we knew they were coming, we'd get up" in the ducts, Mary Ann Mosher said.

The Moshers, like many others on the flight, said they came out of hiding after hearing Voice of America broadcasts Saturday saying they could safely leave for evacuation. Others received telephone calls from one of several private or embassy-sponsored phone networks.

Bill McQuain, from Pennsylvania, said he could look out the window of his home, which was near a strategic bridge, and see the Kuwaiti resistance try, but usually fail, to attack Iraqi soldiers.

He saw Kuwaitis being chased and shot. He also saw them make heroic trips to deliver food to trapped foreigners.

"I would hear a thud on the door, and there was a 50 kilo bag of rice, the next time a 50 kilo bag of flour," said McQuain, an account executive for a software firm. "They felt it was their duty."

Saturday, when he heard the VOA broadcast, he was stunned, McQuain said. As he stood in the long exit-visa processing line at the airport, he reflected on how his captivity had changed his life.

"It's changed some of my values," he said. "The important thing is just being happy day to day, more than anything."