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Wednesday, 2 August, 2000, 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK
Kuwait's search for its 'Missing'
al Dowkhi family at the POWs Centre
The al Dowkhi family still asks why
By BBC News Online's Andrew North in Kuwait

The last time Adal al Dowkhi saw his younger brother Salah was on 28 August, 1990, in an Iraqi police station, set up in occupied Kuwait City.

Who are the 'Missing'?
570 Kuwaiti (94%)
35 non-Kuwaiti (6%):
Saudi Arabia - 14
Bahrain - 1
Oman - 1
Egypt - 5
Lebanon - 3
Syria - 4
Iran - 6
India -1
7 women
22 elderly people
125 students
389 civilians (64.4%)
Source: Kuwaiti Government
He did not know why Salah had been arrested, and his efforts to persuade the Iraqi security officials to release him fell on deaf hears. Adal said they simply told him to come back the next day.

But when he did so next morning, Salah had been moved elsewhere. Almost 10 years later, the family still does not know what has happened to him, even whether he is dead or alive.

According to the Kuwaiti Government, Salah is one of 605 people that Iraq is still holding. They have become known as the 'Missing' and their plight has become perhaps the number one political issue in this country.

Hardly a day goes by without them being mentioned in the emirate's newspapers.

A special centre has been built for the 'Missing' and former prisoners of war in Kuwait City. Relatives often gather there to share news and console each other. Inside is a kind of shrine to the 605 people - a display of pictures of all the people believed to be in Iraq, behind locked prison gates.

Iraqi indiference

Baghdad has persistently denied holding any Kuwaiti detainees, despite repeated requests for information from Kuwait.

Hannan al Dowkhi with her brothers, Fawzi and Hani, holding a picture of their missing brother Salah
Hannan al Dowkhi holds a picture of her missing brother Salah
Since 1998, it has boycotted the so-called Tri-partite commission set up to deal with the issue. Chaired by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the body brings together Iraq and the key members of the Gulf War coalition - the US, Britain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait itself.

But the Iraqi Government objects to the presence of US and British representatives on the commission. It has also accused Kuwait of refusing to furnish details on the fate of 1,150 Iraqis it says have been missing since 1991.

Recently, Baghdad dismissed as a public relations ploy an offer from Kuwait's defence minister for conditional talks on future relations in return for a goodwill release of 10% of the missing people.

Iraq's attitude has infuriated Ibrahim al Shaheen, vice-chairman of Kuwait's National Committee for the Missing and Prisoners of War.

He said the Iraqi regime has refused even to "give us a list of who's alive and who's dead," so that their families will at least know whether they are alive or dead.

Endless hope

'Missing' display, with locks
'Missing' mosaic of Kuwaiti anguish
In the first few years after the end of the Gulf War, sporadic reports reached some Kuwaiti families that their loved ones might still be alive. But such reports were patchy and unreliable and in the last few years, even the rumours have dried up.

Al Shaheen himself has two nephews among the missing. He said he has often asked himself whether Iraq could really hang on to these people for so long and what it could gain by doing so. He fears the Iraqis may be hanging on to the Kuwaiti detainees as bargaining chips, to be used in future negotiations.

Whatever the case, Hannan al Dowkhi is adamant that she will see her brother again: "Very much I think he is still alive," she said. "We believe in Allah and we think Salah will come home again."

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