My memories in memory of the invasion of Kuwait
By Mahmoud A. Suleiman
It has been twenty-five years to the invasion of Kuwait by the then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein Abdelmajid al-Tikriti, on Wednesday the second August 2015. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait took place on Thursday the second of August 1990. Thus, a quarter of a century has passed since then.
As many other people affected and influenced by the events, which have left painful memories, I thought it worthy of recalling some of them in order to make others share information and reflect on them. The invasion of Kuwait resulted into the outbreak of the second Gulf War in 1991. Moreover, I felt it is duty bound writing about the perilous journey migrants forced to take through Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan and some across the Red Sea after the Iraqi President mounted the invasion of Kuwait , my family and I were among the mass exodus. The arduous journey that imposed on me and I had to take willy-nilly to Sudan after the invasion of Kuwait by the Iraqi President Saddam Hussein remained ingrained in my memory.
As they say, memories are stations in an individual’s life tell joyous or sad events affected by the person in the past to retrieve them for taking lessons from and to tell them to other people as part of the history of life to reflect on them. Sometimes people retrieve memories in an attempt to experience those moments to assess the behavior at their time as to whether it was possible to avoid some of the peccadilloes of the time. On other times, people recall memories to impress or entertain self and others as it happens during story telling. The Second Gulf War, extended from the invasion of Kuwait until the entry into Iraq by the combined forces of the US and the UK from August 2, 1990 until February 28, 1991. The US-UK warfare was codenamed, Operation Desert Storm, in contrast to the Operation Desert Shield by the Iraqi insurgency and al-Qaeda in Iraq began in 2006 against the US forces.
Our situation as Sudanese during the Second Gulf War following the invasion of Kuwait in 1990 was to some extent unenviable besides being unsustainable. It was reminiscent of what is happening today to the problem of migrants fleeing the war zones to Europe. Accordingly, one has strong support for them and reciprocate empathy towards their hardship especially the vulnerable families, children, women and the elderly who feeling the brunt of the trauma. Moreover, I without hesitation, join those who call for providing aid to house the migrants especially the vulnerable families, children, women and the elderly who are feeling the shock to settle in a safe location suitable for their situation. It is a duty to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance to the refugees to stay to survive until the ordeal unfold to return to their country of origin and their homes with dignity and not to be exploited for dirty criminal purposes. This peerless displacement is of the most important reasons and the direct factors that made me recall these memories and reflect on them with empathy toward these survivors fleeing the war-affected countries to the European Union (EU, seeking salvation and to get rid of the scourges of war. The exodus of migrants from the war-affected countries to the European countries is reminiscent of the conditions faced by the displaced Sudanese and other nationalities following the invasion of Kuwait in the 1990s of the last century.
These memories began on the last week of July 1990 when my family of four children, my wife and I decided going out of Kuwait City to Iraq and Baghdad exclusively for tourism of a short duration prior to going home in Sudan on the annual vacation of the University of Kuwait.
We moved by a taxi from Kuwait City to the City of Basra, from where we took a train to Baghdad. That was the first time for the children to experience a train ride. It was very exciting and enjoyable experience for them. We considered taking a train trip as part of the fun of our tourism. We arrived stayed in a luxury hotel in downtown Baghdad. The next day we went out on a tourist trip to the archaeological sites in Iraq, such as Najaf and Karbala, and we saw the effects of Hanging Gardens of Babylon as we saw in practice religious rituals as practiced in Karbala and Najaf, and then we went back to the hotel before sunset. Moreover, after taking a bit of rest following the recreation journey, I switched on the television. Then came the most perturbing and worryingly surprising statement that the enterprising fearless troops had entered Kuwait, ousted the establishment and the land was annexed to the mother country of Greater Iraq and Kuwait came under the was name (Nida), meaning Call or Appeal in Arabic! Moreover, the Iraqi regime formed a puppet government headed by Colonel Alaa Hussein who allegedly became the governor to rule it.
The night of 2nd August 1990 was longest nights in my life. I suffered insomnia as a result of worry and gloom about the fate that awaits us. My worry centred especially in light of the situation that we have no enough money with us that helps us to return to Sudan. Furthermore, it would be more so in the case we cannot be able our return to our apartment in the suburb of Shuwaikh, in the City of Kuwait. However, after going through the stages of grief reaction of shock, denial, disbelief, guilt, pain, anger, sadness, reflection and reconstruction and working through to acceptance and hope to be back to life, I took a decision! During my busy mind worrying, it occurred to me that I should do all my best to go back, on my own, to Kuwait to bring my car and some of the important things and money that help my family and I according to our determination at all cost to return to Sudan.
Nevertheless, my main purpose of return to Kuwait in the first time was for fact-finding. Moreover, meeting with my Sudanese colleagues about their long-term plans about the situation was an important objective. Therefore, as soon as I entered my flat, I phoned one of the Sudanese compatriots. He told me that all the Sudanese were having a meeting in his flat. I soon joined them and became a source of information about what I witnessed during my way from Baghdad to Kuwait. Mixed opinions prevailed among the meeting attendees. The majority of them were of the opinion that the crisis would pass bye as one of the Arab usual disagreements that will end by reconciliation and the return of waters to normalcy! Some of the meeting members indicated that they would rather stay in Kuwait despite the potential threat of war than going to Khartoum ruled by the putschists of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement.
I spent that night in my apartment and I went back to Baghdad in the morning taking with some money and necessary items for the purposes of my family in the same small transport vehicles that I already used due to the lack of alternative means of travel. None of my Sudanese colleagues accompanied me. After a lapse of ten days in Baghdad, we heard the bad news and rumours of fierce looting and confiscating of people’s properties in Kuwait by the Iraqi forces. Therefore, I decided to go to Kuwait for the second time to bring my car and my most important items in preparation for a final decision to return to Sudan without waiting the emerging outcome of the current crisis between Iraq and Kuwait.
Along the distance between Baghdad and Kuwait, we were seeing military vehicles carrying heavily armed Iraqi soldiers. Moreover, the tarmac or the asphalt street suffered erosion because of the effect of the heavy weight of the artillery conduct of the military tanks.
When I managed arriving at the University staff residence, armed soldiers similar to the checkpoints we passed through all the way to Kuwait heavily guarded the gate. The guards stopped me and subjected me to interrogation. When I informed them of my identity as a member of the teaching staff, one of the soldiers asked as to whether my residence was a house or a flat. Apparently, the senior military officers occupied the houses and they have taken them as their exclusive residences after vacating them of their original residents. Eventually and after one hour, the guards allowed me entering the campus.
Return to Kuwait for the second time
Fortunately, this time there was available the trip by plane belonged formerly to Kuwait Airways, which has become part of the property of Iraq as we learned. However, when we arrived to Kuwait airport, unfortunately there was no means of transport to Kuwait City. Accordingly, I decided to walk on foot all the way from the Kuwait airport to Shuwaikh University campus neighbourhood. I met with the Sudanese colleagues again. Majority of them seemed to have changed their earlier opinion of staying in Kuwait regardless of the consequences. Two of friends decided to accompany me the journey to Baghdad taking their families in their cars. We arrived to Baghdad. The next morning we went to the Sudanese Embassy in Baghdad to get travel documents because we learned that the Iraqi authorities would not allow leaving the foreigners with valid work contracts in their passports with Kuwait.
After the Sudanese Embassy officials issued the travel documents, they told us to get ready to travel to the Jordanian coastal town of Aqaba to join the Sudan Airways flight to Khartoum!
Without any delay, we filled our car tanks with fuel and set out towards Jordan. We were among a convoy of cars escorted by the Iraqi Security Guards. We arrived to the Iraqi border town of Trebeel.
Ironically, the Sudanese colleagues who have said in the past that they will not go to Sudan under the Islamist putschists administration who were supporters of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, at the end all of them were forced to arrive with their families to Aqaba. They had to go to the motherland Sudan despite the dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood movement on power in the name of National Islamic Front (NIF).
The purpose of my decision to go for the second and the final time to Kuwait was to get my automatic- geared Nissan car. One of my kids asked me to bring his bike and his wallet, which contained thirty Kuwaiti Dinars (KD) inside! I was obviously unable to bring his bike but managed to bring him his wallet and I borrowed the thirty Kuwaiti Dinars from him to bridge the fiscal deficit at the time! One Kuwaiti Dinar was equivalent to GBP 2.17 or USD 3.30. Thus, we were GBP 65.1 or USD 99 better off in those days where the scarcity of money was the master of the situation.
Political Tension between GCC countries and the supporters of Saddam Hussein
It is noteworthy and according to Newspaper reports that the governments of Jordan, Yemen, Sudan, Algeria and Tunisia had supported Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait by the Iraqi President Saddam Hussein at the time. The result of those political positions tense relations between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and the aforementioned countries continued for quite a time. Moreover, those shortsighted unbalanced political positions had harmful and negative effects on the citizens of the respective countries during the Second Gulf War period.
Trebeel ward journey
Vending and buying requests
The Iraqis during our travel from Baghdad to Trebeel used to ask us if we have things to sell to them thinking that the displaced migrants intend to sell their property as they left Kuwait permanently because of the war and occupation of Kuwait.
We spent six hours in the locality of Trebeel in a situation liking a traffic jam in the scorching heat trapped inside the cars in the area due to poor organization by the Iraqi security forces and their disregard to the dire conditions of the displaced persons amid crying children and travelers’ grumbling. Even worse was that some Iraqi police members tried extorting some car drivers among the displaced persons by demanding, unlawfully , amounts of Kuwaiti Dinars or trying confiscating property such as computers and TV sets and intimidating passengers. I was approached by one of the Iraqi border guards asking me to hand him over my personal computer (PC) I said to him that what the Iraqi nation was going to confront expected to be magnanimous and he needed to get ready steady rather than trying to extort the refugees. He immediately left quickly. I thought he might have considered me an affiliate of the Arabic Ba’ath Party! That incident occurred after he intimidated one of the my fellow Sudanese nationals and confiscating some of his CDs. The the Iraqi Border Guard bloke came asking me to surrender my TV set and the Personal Computer (PC) to him because the devices were allegedly property of the State of Iraq following the annexation of Kuwait to Iraq since the invasion of Kuwait.!
We have been in that situation until they allowed us to move towards Jordan. The Jordanian border guards prevented the displaced persons from entering the Jordanian capital Amman, and escorted us at high speed through very rough rocky risky road surrounded by abyss on both sides resulted in some drivers to lose control of the car falling into the abyss causing catastrophic accidents.
The driving conditions at night in the darkness, along a rugged path surrounded by the abyss on both sides of the narrow road with the possibility of the very likely traffic accidents have occurred to some drivers, unfortunately, as a result of excessive speed and drowsiness caused by sleepiness of late night long-distance driving. To ward off sleepiness of me while driving, my wife used to spray water onto my face now and again to keep me awake and alert all the way long. Thus, all the circumstances were recipe for disaster happening. Fortunately and by the power of God, my family and I crossed the risks of the road to peace and we got to our destination in the Jordanian town of Aqaba in the early hours of the day.
My children were fast asleep while their mother, my wife, kept awake on guard for me in order not to take me a nap of sleep to avoid the dreaded potential loss of control of the car.
Thank God and thank him that the difficulties had gone beyond those abyss I safety with my family until we reached the port city of Aqaba.
Aqaba and the generosity of the Jordanians
On our arrival to Aqaba, the Jordanian government provided shelter and food and water for the displaced where they were generously given accommodation for women and families in the houses whereas men were made to stay in a sea beach in tents. We met a representative of the Government of Sudan and he provided us information about the plans in place for transporting families by air whenever there are 50 families while those who had cars will travel by large transport boats which carry cars and drivers to the Sudanese sea port of Port Sudan through the Strait of Aqaba and the Red Sea
The boats that carried us and our cars from the Jordanian port of Aqaba were a type of ferries the primary function of which carrying sheep exported from the Sudanese Red Sea port of Port Sudan to Jeddah in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA)..
Red Sea Trip
Red Sea Trip
We set out on board the ferry across the Red Sea trip to Port Sudan in the afternoon. The ferry also carried our cars docked in Port Sudan safely and sounds. We met the Sudanese customs authority and border guards there. After filling out the forms and papers, the authorities released our cars and allowed us entering the homeland. There is no place like home. Moreover, the Customs authorities granted temporary permits for our cars called interim release without paying of any customs duty payments.
After spending two nights in Port Sudan, we decided to leave on our way to Khartoum on the back of our cars, which filled, with petrol on the government’s account, the thing that did not cross our minds to happen.
As for my family preceded me into Khartoum aboard a Sudan Airways plane that brought took them together with the other Sudanese families to Khartoum before we moved by our cars from the Gulf of Aqaba to Port Sudan. Every one of us drove his car across the long tarmac road between Port Sudan and Khartoum passing through many villages, towns and cities that include Wad Medani. We eventually reached Khartoum. As the cars carried Kuwaiti number plates, we had to pass through the Traffic Police Office specially assigned for cars bearing foreign number plates.
The measures included the replacement of the Kuwaiti number plates by different number plates written on it the phrase ‘Temporary Release’ in the assumption that the car will return to the country it came from whenever favorable conditions became available!
At the end of the procedures related to the cars, we bade farewell to each other and each one of us went home to join his family.
Today, when I retrieve the days we were forced to leave Kuwait, I could imagine the tragedies that continue facing the migrants from troubled countries such as Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Libya and Afghanistan. They are fleeing the war zones and leaving behind their homes and possessions seeking migrant status in Europe risking their lives across the Mediterranean Sea under the exploitation of criminal gangsters and traffickers on board makeshift dilapidated rubber boats, doomed to sink at any moment and in the face of Lack of welcome from some European countries. Nevertheless, the majority of the EU countries and citizens are humane and praiseworthy nations.
The European countries that hosting immigrants with generosity are similar to the hospitable people of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan who provided services toward the workers displaced after the invasion of Kuwait in the 1990s of the last century.
Dr. Mahmoud A. Suleiman is an author, columnist and a blogger. His blog is https://thussudan.wordpress.com/