TAIF, SAUDI ARABIA -- Kuwait's exiled leadership said it has received reports that Iraqi occupation forces in Kuwait, battered and enraged by constant bombing, have stepped up civilian executions and begun robbing families at gunpoint for food since the allied air campaign was launched Jan. 17.
There is no way to independently confirm such accounts.
In a glimpse at life for Kuwaiti civilians since the war began, officials at exile headquarters here painted a picture of Kuwait City suffering under the allied bombing onslaught, a subject avoided by U.S. military officials.
The Kuwaiti officials said several hospitals have filled up with wounded Iraqi soldiers and occasional Kuwaiti bombing victims, and electricity and water have started to go out sporadically while Kuwaitis resort to bicycles to get around the city because of gasoline shortages.
Exiled Kuwaiti Defense Minister Nawaf Ahmed Sabah said Kuwaiti civilians, heartened by the prospect of liberation now that the war has started, have begun increasingly to contest orders from Iraqi soldiers controlling the city. As a result, the number of Kuwaitis shot in street executions has climbed steeply after a decline in the final months of last year, he said.
Kuwait's exile leadership, which talks irregularly by satellite telephone with civilians inside the country, has received more reports of Kuwaitis being shot execution-style during just the last week or so than during the preceding couple of months, according to a diplomat close to Emir Jabir Ahmed Sabah's ruling family. Although increased defiance is a factor, he explained, the rise in executions has been laid principally to hardening and anger among Iraqi troops as a result of the U.S. and allied bombing that is killing and wounding fellow Iraqis.
"You would think they would be too busy with the war," complained Planning Minister Suleiman Mutawa.
Nawaf said Iraqi soldiers holding up Kuwaiti households for food do not appear to be part of an organized citywide sweep for provisions. Rather, he explained, reports from Kuwait City depict individual Iraqi units or small groups of soldiers knocking down locked doors and, brandishing standard-issue AK47 assault rifles, forcing Kuwaitis to turn over their food stores.
There have been no reports of generalized food shortages among Kuwaiti civilians, officials here said. Nawaf said many families built up large stocks during the first days after the Iraqi takeover Aug. 2. In addition, most neighborhood cooperative stores still have supplies and are open for two or three hours in the morning, he said.
In any case, whatever food and other supplies are transported from Iraq into Kuwait go directly to the estimated half-million Iraqi soldiers there, the diplomat said. Convoys seeking to bring in such supplies have been prime targets for U.S. and allied bombers pounding Iraq and Kuwait for the last three weeks.
The reports reaching here of Iraqi units robbing Kuwaiti families of food seemed to expand on information relayed by U.S. and Saudi officials, citing Iraqi prisoners of war, that front-line troops in Kuwait often have had their rations reduced to one meal a day as a result of the bombing. The troops guarding Kuwait City had been described as better supplied and fed than Popular Army conscripts assigned to the forward-most border positions from which most defectors have come.
Almost all the 200,000 to 250,000 Kuwaitis remaining in the country have stayed in Kuwait City, the gulfside capital that is Kuwait's only major population center. Most of the pre-invasion Kuwaiti population of 600,000 also lived there, along with the 1.6 million foreign workers in Kuwait before the Iraqi takeover.
Nawaf, the emir's brother, said allied bombers have targeted strategic installations in and around Kuwait City. These include missile batteries, artillery emplacements and command or communications centers for Iraq's army, he said.
"Of course, there are technical and strategic positions in Kuwait City that have been chosen by the joint forces, and they are bombed," he said in an interview.
Some schools and community centers in Kuwait City have been commandeered as Iraqi military offices, he reported. U.S. military officers have said Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the allied commander, has refrained so far from bombing such targets but that this may become necessary.
Similarly, allied bombing has not yet been directed at key Kuwaiti government buildings or large downtown hotels being used by Iraqi officers in their six-month-old occupation of the country, Nawaf added.
Kuwait's exiled leadership has no participation in allied target selection at Operation Desert Storm headquarters in Riyadh, he said, but it passes along information gleaned from relatively frequent contacts with Kuwaitis inside the country. A diplomat cautioned, however, that most calls are from family members passing along what they see in their own neighborhoods rather than military information from trained observers.
Until the war started, a Kuwaiti official said, the exiled leadership regularly sent envoys into Kuwait to gather information and establish contact with any resistance networks. This has stopped since the bombing began three weeks ago and the number of Iraqi and allied patrols has increased along the Saudi-Kuwaiti border, leading to occasional clashes and artillery exchanges, he added.
Young Kuwaitis who resisted the Iraqi occupation last fall by sniping at patrols and setting Iraqi vehicles afire have largely ceased their activities, the defense minister acknowledged. But he said many Kuwaitis have secreted weapons in caches and are likely to renew resistance attacks as the ground battle begins. Already the bombing has raised morale, he claimed.
"No matter what has happened with respect to repression, torture and wartime conditions, the fact is that they are witnessing the beginning of the liberation of their country," he said.
Most resistance was staged by small groups related by family, school or neighborhood ties, the diplomat pointed out. As a result, there have been no reports of a unified resistance network or command.