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Prisoners in Baghdad.

An important and emotional issue for all Kuwaitis is that of the prisoners of war who three years after the invasion are still held in Iraqi prisons. The chairman of the national commiittee for solidarity with the POWS and missing persons, Sheikh Salem al Sabah, has called on the international community to continue exerting political and economic pressure on the Iraqi regime until it complies with the United Nations Security Council resolutions issued after the liberation of Kuwait, and lets the detainees go.

During the invasion Iraqi troops took quite arbitrarily from cars, homes and offices, over 800 people - men, women, old and young. The selection process appears to have been completely random. The prisoners are still being held in Iraq, the Red Cross has confirmed, although the Iraqi regime denies it detains any prisoners of war.

Kuwaiti officials have over recent months visited many of the world's capitals to inform people of the situation and seek their support. The Iraqis have something of a reputation for this sort of behaviour. Throughout the term of the war with Iran, Iraq denied that it held any POWS in its gaols.

It was not until 1990, long after open hostilies between Iran and Iraq had ceased and the latter was in need of the former's support during the allied attacks which followed the Kuwaiti invasion, that Iraq admitted holding Iranian prisoners and suggested some sort of deal might be struck.

"There is not a family in Kuwait that has not been affected by this issue", a Kuwaiti politician explained to The Middle East. "We have only a sman population, and the number of Kuwaiti prisoners among those taken amounts to a huge section of our society. Given the population of the United States for example an equivalent size segment of the population would number about 400,000."

Not all the prisoners detained in Baghdad are Kuwaiti nationals although in their efforts to secure a release Kuwait has not differentiated between Kuwaiti and non-Kuwaiti captives. "We want them all home," Sheikh Salem has consistently said. There is a strong determination to pursue all possible avenues and exert pressure at every concievable level. "there can be no return to normality in Kuwait while so many of our countrymen and Women languish in filthy Iraqi goals, without proper food, health care or even the most rudimentary facilities", a committee member reiterated this week.

Kuwait is still battling with a range of issues and the struggle is likely to continue for some time to come. Yet positive steps continue to be made. An early solution to the debt resettlement would provide the kick-start the country's economy so badly needs.

The government and the National Assembly are not always in agreement, but for the greater good of all there are encouraging signs both have resolved to keep unnecessary bickering to a minimum. A return of the prisoners of war would provide just the bumper shot in the arm the country's moral needs.

The change in Kuwait's fortunes could be just around the comer and everyone agrees change is long over due but it will be largely up to those in power to determine when or indeed whether that corner will be turned.
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Publication:The Middle East
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Words:535
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