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It's time to let them go.

Following the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait hundreds of prisoners remained unaccounted for. These people -- men, women and children -- still languish in Iraqi prisons more than two years after the conflict was brought to a halt.

For most of the international community Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in the summer of 1990 is now just an ugly, historic memory. From time to time, as in December last year, Saddam Hussein makes threats of further incursions into Kuwait. But, it is widely felt, the trouncing he received from the allied troops last time, together with the continued high cost in both human and financial terms of his aggression, will be sufficient to prevent him carrying out these threats.

The entire Gulf region was affected by the Iraqi invasion and each individual state has worked hard to pull itself back together. Confidence was badly shaken by the events of 1990 and although short term activity looks promising, the long term outlook remains speculative. Kuwait has rebuilt or replaced much of that destroyed by Iraqi troops but there can never be a return to full normality while 850 prisoners, taken quite arbitrarily from cars, homes and offices in Kuwait by Saddam Hussein's invading soldiers, remain imprisoned in Iraq.

The House of Commons in London, home of the British parliament, was the venue for a recent seminar to discuss the Kuwaitis missing and held prisoner of war in Iraq.

Two representatives from Kuwait, Mubarak al Dowailah, Kuwaiti MP and chairman of the national committee for Kuwaiti missing and held prisoner of war, and Mohammed al Haddad, also a committee member, spoke movingly about feelings in their homeland.

"These prisoners have been held illegally and inhumanely in Iraq for over two years. We know the Iraqi regime is drenched in blood, that Saddam Hussein gives no regard to either international or religious law, that human beings have no value in Iraq, is it any wonder we are afraid?" asked Al Dowailah, who went on to stress just how large a segment of the Kuwaiti population was being held prisoner in Iraq. "Iraq holds 850 Kuwaitis. Since the total number of Kuwaitis numbers less than one million, this represents a huge section of our society." Al Dowailah illustrated his point by noting that, given Britain's population, an equivalent size segment of the total population would number 60,000 British citizens, or, in the United States 400,000 Americans. "There is hardly a family in the whole of the country which has not been affected," he observed.

Mohammed al Haddad noted that the missing and prisoners of war included not only men but also women, children and elderly people of both sexes. Al Haddad explained that the prisoners were taken in the round the clock raiding of the Kuwaiti homes implemented by Iraqi troops. "Arrest was just arbitrary," he explained. "Many were arrested at volunteer aid centres as they dispensed food and other essential supplies to Kuwaiti citizens. Also the Iraqi regime set up check points, cars were stopped and drivers and passengers were just taken away. Nobody knows exactly who was taken from where. In the final days young men were even dragged out of mosques, just being a Kuwaiti was sufficient basis for arrest."

The names and addresses of the Kuwaitis being held in Iraqi prisons have been confirmed by the Red Cross office in Iraq. Without its help, families in Kuwait would remain in ignorance of the whereabouts of their loved ones. However, the Iraqi authorities have denied they are holding any prisoners. The people listed by the Red Cross are not prisoners of war but people who left Kuwait of their own free will and chose to stay. All of them were historically of Iraqi origin and wished to return to their country of origin, according to officials in Baghdad.

It is not the first time the Iraqis have pulled this stunt. During the protracted war with Iran many prisoners of war were taken and held in Iraqi jails. Throughout the conflict the Iraqi authorities denied they were holding any Iranian prisoners. It was only when, in 1990, they needed Iran's support, they finally admitted they were holding Iranian prisoners of war and suggested that some sort of deal might be worked out.

For all the well meaning rhetoric the seminar closed with an air of despondency rather than one of defiance. There is little that can be done, that is not already being done, to force Saddam Hussein's hand. On the surface many suggestions made at the seminar were good but with each came the inevitable hidden agenda that would in some way further empower Saddam. The Kuwaitis realise they have a difficult task ahead of them "but we will continue to campaign for as long as it takes. Kuwait was liberated through international solidarity and we hope we can count on that continued support," Mohammed al Haddad concluded.
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Title Annotation:Mosaic; Kuwaiti citizens still languishing in Iraqi prisons
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Previous Article:Historic Galata to get facelift.
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