Joyous Kuwaitis Explore Remains Of Occupation

Coalition's victory in Kuwait has left many Arab states ambivalent about the West's regional intentions

MUHAMMAD al-Beloushi, Kuwait's champion heavyweight boxer, was not afraid to cry. His bulky body shook with sobs as he talked yesterday of his life under Iraqi occupation. ``It was seven months, seven months,'' the resistance fighter blubbered. ``But I am free now, thank God.'' The pent up emotion of his experience broke out. ``I cannot hold it, really,'' he cried, as a friend threw an arm around his shoulders in support.

Mr. Beloushi was among a group of curious Kuwaitis picking through the remains of an abandoned Iraqi military convoy that blocked the north-bound lane of a road out of Kuwait City.

Iraqis leave hardware

Tanks, trucks, armored personnel carriers, and jeeps had simply been left where they had stalled as their occupants fled on Tuesday. The Iraqi soldiers had left everything as they had run, and onlookers yesterday were choosing souvenirs.

Most were picking pieces of uniforms, spent shells, and odds and ends of military equipment that had held them in thrall since August. Now they could take what they liked, poking their heads into the hatches of tanks that until last week inspired terror.

All over the city, Kuwaitis explored the trappings of occupation - sand bags, bunkers, control posts - seeming to find it hard to believe they were harmless now that they were stripped of their occupants.

Evidence of Iraqi looting was everywhere: Three small velveteen boxes, sapphire blue, lay amongst a pile of sodden bedding. From an abandoned T-55, this reporter picked up a brown man's shirt, still in the plastic packing it had been stolen in.

But what Kuwaitis had lost during the Iraqi occupation was put out of their minds yesterday for what they had regained.

Throughout Kuwait City, joyful groups celebrated with the arrival of coalition soldiers in as many noisy ways as they could find. Small children dressed in the red, black, green, and white of the national flag jumped up and down on street corners, as their mothers, black-veiled from head to toe, hooted and ululated while waving flags. Their husbands chanted slogans, and those with machine guns loosed them off in exuberant volleys.

``Thank you, thank you, thank you,'' children shouted from car windows at any foreigner they saw.

Kuwait's national flag flew everywhere, from windows and roofs and makeshift flagpoles, plastered in cars' rear windows as their drivers cruised around the city blowing their horns.

Flying the flag had been a crime since Aug. 2, and remains of the Iraqi invasion that day littered the road to Kuwait City.

Under a looming, cloud-laden sky, the dirty sand of the desert was strewn with the blackened wreckage of war. The scene of destruction, following the coalition forces' lightening sweep into Kuwait this week, was forbidding.

Helmets, boots, and bits of uniform Iraqi soldiers had torn off in their haste to surrender were left by the roadside in the rain. The soldiers' vehicles lay equally abandoned, many of them twisted and burned by the rockets, shells, and bombs that coalition forces had rained down on them.

Transport trucks lay on their sides in the sand, scorched armored personnel carriers sat at strange angles, tanks mangled by rockets and abandoned artillery pieces dotted the desert, dim in the mist that hung thick with the fumes of burning oil wells.

Mines strewn everywhere

The road itself was torn up at regular intervals where Iraqi troops had turned drainage culverts into bunkers that allied fire had destroyed. Mines, strewn by the retreating Iraqis, had also done damage as two or three wrecked Saudi trucks testified. Unexploded mines, not all with their detonators removed by United States engineers, lay by the side of the road.

Along the route into Kuwait City, filling stations and other installations had been shelled into piles of raw concrete and protruding reinforcing rods. In the capital itself, many prominent buildings had been burned by the Iraqis as they left earlier this week, residents said.

One arrival in Kuwait City yesterday was US Ambassador Edward Gnehm. He was flown by helicopter into a heavily guarded embassy compound on the sea front, as armored vehicles blocked access roads. US troops had previously swept the embassy for booby traps.

Kuwaiti officials in Saudi Arabia have warned their countrymen to postpone their return home until the capital has been thoroughly secured and checked for mines, a process expected to take several days.

The business of rebuilding destroyed facilities and cleaning up left the mess by the occupiers and by the attacks that ousted them will take a long time. But that was tomorrow's task. Today, jubilation is all anyone here has time for.

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