Kuwaitis Begin Massive Cleanup

Army and resistance round up weapons as citizens share food - a letter from Kuwait City

WITH Kuwait's rulers still in Saudi Arabia, the centers of power in Kuwait City are the police stations, the only vestiges of any established authority. The portraits of Saddam Hussein that adorned the walls until last week have been torn down and replaced with posters of Emir Jabir al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah, smiling broadly. Outside hang red, green, white, and black Kuwaiti flags in profusion.

Milling around inside, you generally find a confusing mixture of law enforcers bearing a bewildering variety of weapons. Normally, at least one Kuwaiti Army officer wearing camouflage uniform is in charge of the station. But sometimes the senior officer was a resistance fighter, and wears the simple gray gown and red and white headdress of a civilian. Thus it is hard to distinguish him from the volunteers who have risen up by the thousands to man roadblocks, hunt for Iraqis, or generally help out. Few o f them have any weapons training, and brandish their loaded Soviet AK-47s, United States-made M16s, or Belgian SALs with alarming insouciance in crowded rooms.

Kuwaiti Army officers say they are issuing permits for all firearms, and confiscating weapons from those not authorized to carry them. But they are doing a slow job, as the endless burst of automatic fire from jubilant Kuwaitis each evening attests.

POLICE stations are also being used as collection points for the weapons and ammunition that the Iraqis left behind in their haste to flee Kuwait City last week.

Much remains to be cleaned up. Tanks and armored personnel carriers stand abandoned on city streets, antiaircraft batteries on the sea front are surrounded by curious onlookers, and wooden boxes of ammunition can be found in any building that the occupation forces used as offices.

In the garden of Crown Prince Saad's Shaaba Palace, overlooking the Gulf, trenches and bunkers are packed with munitions, but also with items that soldiers had looted and then left behind; tucked among crates of hand grenades, I saw a cloth bundle spilling its contents of women's jewelry - rings, brooches, and a pearl necklace - their delicacy startlingly out of place among the olive drab machinery of war.

Most of the weaponry is old Soviet-made equipment that looks badly maintained. With all the Gulf armies expected to enjoy a new influx of US military assistance after the war, the captured equipment will likely be destroyed, coalition officers say.

THE reporters who arrived in Kuwait City with the coalition troops or soon after them, have been welcomed by the capital's residents just as if we ourselves had fought to liberate this country. We have been hugged, praised, thanked like heroes. Everywhere we go we are asked to autograph Kuwaiti flags. It is all rather embarrassing, but at the same time, it is hard not to get caught up in the tide of emotion.

The logistics of reporting, however, have been fraught with complications. When correspondents got here, we established ourselves mainly in the Kuwait International Hotel, undeterred by the lack of water, electricity, telephones, or staff, taking over rooms whose doors had been broken down by Iraqi soldiers.

Television networks, hauling in convoys of generators, satellite transmitters, editing facilities, and other gear, have commandeered the hotel's conference rooms, reception salons, and the gymnasium. And their satellite telephones provide the only means print reporters have of sending stories back to our desks.

Meanwhile, with all shops and restaurants looted and closed, we are living on the food we brought with us from Saudi Arabia, what we can scrounge from US troops, and the extraordinary hospitality of local people. Until life returns to normal, the foreign press corps will be another occupying army.

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