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Sense of Security Still Escapes Many Kuwaitis

Iraqi government statements insisting on Baghdad's claim to Kuwait persist

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 13, 1992



KUWAIT CITY

FREE Kuwait!" From bumper stickers, coffee cups, and wall grafitti, the slogan rings out wherever one turns in Kuwait City. But just how precarious that sense of freedom feels to Kuwaitis, nearly two years after Iraqi troops were ejected from their land, is equally obvious.

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At the refurbished airport, underground public shelters have been installed. Detailed public service announcements on Kuwaiti television instruct viewers on how to defend themselves against missile assault. As many as 100,000 Kuwaitis have armed themselves, illegally, against the threat of attack.

"Kuwaitis don't feel secure at all," says Dr. Ghanem al-Najjar, director of the Kuwaiti Association for the Defense of War Victims. "[Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein showed us what `secure borders' mean. They don't mean anything."

Memories of the shattering seven-month Iraqi occupation are still fresh in Kuwaiti minds. And while some say that time will ease the pain, others feel that the government's policies, and its alleged neglect of those who suffered most, will only worsen it. Profound insecurity

At every level - individual, social, and economic - Kuwait is still traumatized by its experience at Iraqi hands, and a profound sense of insecurity bedevils every aspect of the country's life.

"Kuwaitis know that they live in a dangerous neighborhood, and a lot of them believe literally that tomorrow morning Saddam Hussein's tanks will be in downtown Kuwait," one Western diplomat says.

Although defense agreements with the United States, Britain, and France offer a measure of protection, "most people here do not trust the government or the Army to provide them with security," says Jassem Hajia, a child psychologist who works with victims of the occupation. "In just a few hours on Aug. 2 [1990] all our institutions simply collapsed."

Such worries are commonplace on both sides of a deep divide in Kuwaiti society, between those who stayed in Kuwait and suffered the bitterness of occupation, and those who fled or who were out of the country when Iraqi troops invaded.

The government has been anxious to play down those differences, arguing that "we are all Kuwaitis." But that attitude, and many instances of preferential treatment shown to those who sat out the occupation abroad, have bred resentment among many who stayed. "The government says that to reward us would be divisive for society," argues Fatima Abdali, a scientist who remained in Kuwait during the occupation. "But not being fair divides society too."

"My colleagues who were outside were working at universities and publishing papers while I was doing civil disobedience, not going to work, and waiting in line for two hours for a loaf of bread," she complains. "And we feel that the people who don't deserve it are getting all the rewards" in terms of jobs and influence in the new Kuwait.