RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA, JAN. 25 -- After nine days of allied bombing, Iraqi occupation forces in Kuwait are said to remain very much in control, but suffering casualties, food shortages and a bad case of nerves, according to reports reaching here.
While the occupied emirate is the central objective of Operation Desert Storm, it is difficult to assess developments there because of the blackout of news about the activities of U.S.-led allied forces. But some reports, which cannot be independently verified, are filtering through to Kuwaiti diplomats and exiles here. These sources, some of whom have direct communications with Kuwait, suggest that the estimated 220,000 Iraqi troops in Kuwait are feeling the effects of the allied air campaign.
According to various sources, the three main hospitals in Kuwait City as well as a hospital farther south in Al Ahmadi are treating many Iraqi soldiers injured in air strikes. Iraqi troops in the capital are said to be on full alert, dressed in combat gear but jittery.
While Kuwaitis are not facing major food problems, several sources said Iraqi soldiers, many of whom appear to get only one meal a day and sometimes not even that, frequently ask for food from local residents. Only a few grocery stores are open, and trucks that used to bring food into Kuwait from Iraq and Jordan have not been seen in the past week, one source said.
Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Robert B. Johnston said today that many of the troops massed along Kuwait's border with Saudi Arabia are on "pretty slim rations."
He said about 30 Iraqis, mainly enlisted men, have deserted to U.S. forces since the onset of the war. Johnston added that a "large number" of the deserters and 81 other Iraqis captured so far under fire "are covered with lice, some hcve open wounds" and a few report that they "are down to one meal a day."
Johnston said he considered these details to be "some indication of the conditions they're experiencing on the other side of the wire."
Inside Kuwait, soldiers have confiscated hundreds more cars since the start of the war. One report said many of the vehicles are being parked at designated sites, perhaps in anticipation of a retreat to Iraq. Empty homes are still being broken into and pillaged by Iraqi troops, one source added.
Some Iraqi military camps and offices in and around Kuwait City, including a sporting club and secondary school in the suburb of Khaifan, have been bombed with a precision that impressed even the Iraqis, said one source. "They are talking about the accuracy of the missile hits. The accuracy is so perfect," this source reported.
Iraqi coastal fortifications at Messila Beach and the Shaab neighborhood of the capital also have been bombed. Other targets have reportedly included a munitions dump at Ras al Qulayah and an Iraqi intelligence center at Al Ahmadi. Both sites are south of the capital.
In addition, allied planes destroyed missiles and antiaircraft guns installed on the tops of several buildings in Jalleb Sheyouk, less than two miles from Kuwait International Airport, and on the roof of a telecommunications center in Ardiya, a small town west of the capital. The two main military air bases of Ali al Salem and Ahmed al Jaber were bombed the first day of the war, but the extent of damage is not known.
One source said that the island of Falaka, just off the coast of Kuwait City, also has been bombed and that earlier this week, residents of the capital had seen the glow at night of a large fire from the direction of Umm Qasr, Iraq's port on the gulf. Iraq has an oil storage and loading facility called Mina al Bakr near that port, but there is no official confirmation that the site has been bombed.
There also have been unconfirmed reports of skirmishes between Iraqi troops and resistance activists in Al Ahmadi and in Kuwait City's Rumaithiya suburb. In Rumaithiya, several young Kuwaitis were reported killed after they began shooting at Iraqi soldiers in the first days of the war, apparently believing liberation forces were on their way, two sources said.
Kuwait City residents, after an initial burst of euphoria at the outbreak of war, when they climbed to their rooftops and shouted "God is Great!", are now staying inside. They are taking shelter in basements at the sound of bombing raids, but the core of the capital city reportedly has not been hit except for some selected Iraqi military sites, the reports indicate.
"The sound of war gives everybody the hope that liberation is near," he added.
A ground assault on Kuwait, according to senior officers in the coalition forces, will only take place when the allies are satisfied that they have significantly weakened the Iraqis' morale and firepower to avoid the worst of allied casualties.
In particular, allied air raids in the area are aimed at destroying as much of the Iraqi artillery power as possible to minimize Baghdad's ability to wage chemical warfare, a senior Arab military source said. While Iraq's capability to put chemical weapons on Scud missiles is uncertain, it demonstrated in its war with Iran that it can deliver chemical weapons by artillery shells and airplanes.
Desertions, meanwhile, have been encouraged by leaflets air-dropped to Iraqi troops. One pamphlet carries the flags of the 28 nations that have sent naval or ground forces to the U.S.-led military coalition in the gulf, one source said. On the other side of the paper is a cartoon of a tiny Iraqi soldier facing a much larger, brawnier soldier from the allied forces, he added.