BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: World: Middle East
Front Page 
Middle East 
South Asia 
From Our Own Correspondent 
Letter From America 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

The BBC's Frank Gardner
"Many of those here remember the invasion and 7 month occupation as if it were yesterday"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 1 August, 2000, 17:28 GMT 18:28 UK
Kuwait's hidden war scars
Kuwait towers
The Kuwait towers still dominate the skyline
By BBC News Online's Andrew North in Kuwait

Ten years after Kuwait was invaded by its northern neighbour Iraq, anyone visiting the tiny desert state struggles to find signs of the occupation.

Kuwait city centre
Kuwait city centre skyline: no signs of the Iraqi invasion
Kuwait City, the capital, is again a gleaming collection of glass-fronted office blocks and towers. Houses, mansions and palaces have been re-built or renovated.

A new multi-million dollar palace for Kuwait's ruler, Sheikh Jaber al Ahmad al Sabah, and his cabinet has just been completed.

Only at the Kuwait National Museum do you get a sense of the impact of the invasion. Apart from one gallery, it's been left as it was found in 1991, when Iraqi troops were finally forced out by US-led military forces.

Kuwait National Museum
The Kuwait National Museum was completely looted by the Iraqis
The museum's priceless collections of Islamic artefacts were looted and almost every room gutted by fire. Today, it is an eerie place, with pigeons flying around in the burnt-out rafters.

Out in the desert, a damaged pumping station in the Al Ahmadi field south of the capital is the only reminder of the hellish inferno left by Iraqi troops as they retreated.

More than 600 of Kuwait's oil wells were torched, on the orders of the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. But the wells have been repaired and are again flowing with the black liquid that is Kuwait's lifeblood.

Invasion trauma

A decade after the Iraqi invasion, those who have Kuwaiti citizenship have kept their place as one of the richest national groups in the world.

Dr Abdullah al Hammadi, director of the Riggaee Centre for Psychological Medicine, the main torture rehab centre in Kuwait
Dr Abdullah al Hammadi has many patients with a psychological trauma
Scientists are still assessing the long-term impact on the environment and the nation's health. Cancer rates are on the increase, although they are still not sure of the cause.

The last 10 years has not just been about rebuilding Kuwait's infrastructure.

Many Kuwaitis are still struggling to deal with the effects of being tortured, while they were held prisoner, either in Kuwait or in Iraq.

"Everything in Kuwait, all the buildings, have been renovated, but the inside of the people needs time to be renovated," said Dr Abdullah al Hammadi, who runs the emirate's main torture rehabilitation centre.

Violence triggered more violence

Some 22,000 Kuwaitis were detained at some point during the occupation and today many are suffering from depression, anxiety attacks and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Dr al Hammadi said a large number have resorted to drug and alcohol abuse.

Dr al Hammadi with patient Jassim Mohammed
22,000 Kuwaitis were detained by Iraquis and live with the consequences
His biggest worry is the incidence of behavioural problems among young people who were either tortured themselves or who witnessed others suffering such abuses.

"We've noticed in the last few years that crime and violence among Kuwaiti juveniles has increased," he said, adding that those involved are mostly young people who have had traumatic wartime experiences.

Worst of all, the doctor said, in some of these cases, juveniles have actually inflicted torture on their victims.

The "Missing"

¿Missing¿ display, with locks
'Missing' mosaic of Kuwaiti anguish
Some Kuwaiti families are trying to cope with another post-war trauma, of not knowing what has happened to their loved ones.

These are the relatives of the so-called "Missing", the 605 people Kuwait says Iraq is still holding. The "Missing" have become a highly emotive issue in the emirate.

Abdul Hameed al Attar, who has heard nothing of his son since he was arrested in the dying days of the occupation, said: "Even if he is dead, I want to see him."

Hannan al Dowkhi with her brothers, Adal, Fawzi and Hani, holding a picture of their missing brother Salah
The al Dowkhi family still asks where is brother Salah
Baghdad, however, has repeatedly denied holding anybody and has refused to cooperate with an international committee set up to resolve the issue.

It accuses Kuwait of failing to provide information on 1,150 Iraqis missing since 1991.

Iraq's intransigence on the issue, coupled with the belligerent statements it often makes about the emirate, means Kuwaitis are still deeply fearful of their northern neighbour.

Living with the enemy

Many people say they believe Saddam Hussein would try to invade again, if he had the chance.

Iraqis will keep threatening the Kuwaiti security

Kuwait's Defence Minister, Sheikh Salem al Sabah
Only the continued presence of American and British troops, they say, prevents him from doing so. And you hear such fears expressed at the highest levels of government.

Kuwait's Defence Minister, Sheikh Salem al Sabah, made his feelings clear in an interview with BBC News Online.

Iraqi tank
Kuwaitis still fear the possiblity of another Iraqi invasion
Asked if the country still feels threatened by Iraq, he answered: "Yes we do, yes we do, yes we do.

"It is built in their mind and their thoughts that Kuwait is a part of Iraq, and Kuwait being rich and more advanced, with technologies and what have you, they feel jealous from it. And they will keep threatening the Kuwaiti security."

Ten years after the invasion, the situation saddens Dr Ibrahim al Shaheen, Vice-Chairman of the national committee dealing with the "Missing" issue.

"We feel pain really, because we see a lot of efforts and energies being spent in Iraq, in Kuwait, in the Gulf states, in Saudi Arabia, in Iran, going just to protect ourselves. Those energies could be put to rebuild the whole region."

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Middle East stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Middle East stories