KUWAIT CITY — ALI KHALED lifted his robes to climb down the well shaft in his back courtyard. Following him into an underground chamber, I shone my flashlight on two dozen long plastic packages secured with tape, piled on crates above the waterline. For seven months, this cache of rifles and machine guns had remained hidden from Iraqi eyes. ``Most Kuwaiti families hid things like this,'' Khaled said. ``We were all part of the resistance.''
Leaders of that resistance are reluctant to unmask themselves until the political situation in Kuwait has stabilized. But conversations with resistance officers, gunmen, and civilian organizers suggest that the movement comprised a few hundred young men who struck at the Iraqi occupation violently, shielded by a wide network of civilian supporters.
Resistance fighters say their opposition to the occupation began the first day of the invasion, when soldiers and policemen put up what fight they could against the Iraqi Army. The resistance developed around the nucleus of those soldiers, as civilians rushed police stations and Army barracks to clear out their arsenals.
``I spent five days with Army people shooting at them, but their strength was in numbers, and then they brought tanks to the area where we were,'' recalls Abu Mohammed, a colonel in the Kuwaiti Army, who asked that his real name not be published.
Realizing the futility of fighting street battles with the Iraqis, Abu Mohammed said, resistance fighters took off their uniforms, broke into groups of five or six, and went underground.
For security purposes, the members of each cell knew only each other, and their leader knew only his immediate superior. Since most of the officers knew each other from military service, the structure was relatively immune to Iraqi spies.
At the top, according to Abu Mohammed, is a high command, comprising Army, police, and national guard officers along with civilians.
``We work as a team,'' he said. ``There is a military side and an administrative side, and we cooperate with each other, though the leadership comes from the Army because we have the experience.''
For the first several weeks of the occupation, Kuwaitis with guns sniped at Iraqi soldiers, but the Iraqis put a stop to that with violent retaliation. They reportedly shot 10 Kuwaitis in reprisal for each soldier's death, and burned or shelled houses in the area where shots had been fired.
``We stopped shooting at them, because we were afraid for our families,'' Abu Muhammed explained. Nighttime killings of suspected informers, however, did continue.
Other armed action continued as well. Using explosives smuggled from Saudi Arabia during the early days, before the Iraqis dug in along the frontier, resistance fighters made car bombs.
``They would dress in Iraqi uniforms, drive the cars to centers of Iraqi activity, park them and walk away,'' explained Faisal Kandari, who distributed high explosives to the resistance.
The resistance also used to advantage the luxury Porsche cars for which many young Kuwaiti men have a weakness. With their powerful acceleration and sunroofs, they were ideal vehicles from which to lob grenades.
Constantly having to evade Iraqi intelligence, resistance members grew heavy beards, used archaic Kuwaiti slang to confuse anyone tapping telephone lines, and carried fake identity documents, according to a number of resistance sources.
Forging papers was made easier because employees at Kuwaiti government offices removed blank passports, drivers' licenses, and identity cards, along with the necessary stamps, as they abandoned their desks last August.
Civilians also ensured the distribution of food and money, acted as messengers and couriers, and spied on Iraqi military activities.
``My resistance was watching things, taking notes, taking those notes to other people, sometimes inside the country, sometimes outside,'' said Nasser, whose business administration studies in Philadelphia were interrupted by the Iraqi invasion.
The whole of Kuwaiti society appears to have engaged in mass civil disobedience, hiding their cars rather than changing their license plates to Iraqi ones, and refusing to work in any capacity, either for the government or in private enterprise.
The future of the resistance is unclear, but for the time being, members are helping the Kuwaiti Army watch roadblocks and hunt down Iraqi collaborators. Even Nasser, the former civilian, says he has to carry a gun.
``Now it is my time to enforce my power in my country, instead of other people enforcing themselves on me,'' he proclaims.