March 24 - 30, 1991

Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay

The Densest Smoke yet, A Visit From the Emir, and a Trip to Iraq

Sun 24 Mar

Palm Sunday morning brought thick smoke and low clouds. When it's like this, it stays night until 0800 or so. If the smoke is low and thin, a bright patch appears above 45 degrees elevation. The horizon sky is very dark but enough light comes through from overhead to see. When the Sun gets 30-45 degrees high it becomes visible, often dimly.

Other times the smoke layer overhead may be opaque but the sky near the horizon will be bright. I have so far not seen true night conditions with horizon-to-horizon opaque smoke, though it does get dark as late twilight.

I wrote those lines in my diary about 0900. They lasted all of two hours. I got a box ready to ship home, went out at 1115 and found literal night. Only a faint band of light showed on the western horizon. It was literally impossible to tell if it was 11 AM or PM. The darkness lasted about half an hour. About 1430 it got almost as dark.

There was a huge naked eye sunspot group visible on the Sun today. I borrowed a rifle scope from Kuyper and saw a huge main spot with a trail of smaller spots. The Sun was so dim it was perfectly safe to look at it.

In the afternoon some of us went to the Media Center to view videotapes on Iraqi atrocities and see art works dealing with the occupation. Art critics would call much of the art naive but it was graphic and powerful nevertheless. I spent the rest of the afternoon working on Arabic. In the evening a group of us went to Mass at the cathedral in town. The priest told us the church had not been disturbed much during the occupation, unlike the Catholic church in Al-Ahmadi which was vandalized, and that some Iraqi Christian soldiers came there at times. The services are in English and Konkani, a language I didn't recognize. It turns out to be a south Indian language. There have been Christians in south India since the second century, and a lot of Indians worked in Kuwait. Even though Mass was only at 1700, the smoke made it very dark, and the church was lit by only a few candles.

Mon 25 Mar

We went to Iraq today. We left about 0930 on a nice sunny day. The road leads through the choke point, then turns north. Along the way we passed more burning oil wells in the Rawdatain Field. At least 50 fires were visible, with another 20 or so in the distance to the east. The bus took us to Safwan, the first town in Iraq. Safwan is very poor and run-down, and not from the war. Many of the buildings are mud-brick, with wooden roof poles sticking out. It looks like an Indian pueblo or a town in Latin America. The contrast between what Kuwait did with its oil wealth, and what Iraq did with its is starkly evident here.

Relations between the locals and the occupying troops seem remarkably amiable. The kids mobbed the bus for candy. Male dominance starts early here; even small boys push the girls aside. There's lots of unexploded ordnance around. EOD blew ammo about 15 times in the two hours we were there, and cleared our street three times to blow ordnance in a building across the street.

We got back about 1530. I got a beautiful letter and picture from Shawn in the evening mail.

Tues 26 Mar

We spent the day checking schools in Farwaniyah. This is a heavily Palestinian area, so the Iraqis were on their good behavior here. Only one school was slightly trashed. We took Salem down to his home in Sabahiya, then got back to camp about 1500. I got in four games of volleyball for PT. Supper tonight was steak and lots of fresh fruit - very good. Mail brought two more items from Roth's Space Committee.

Wed 27 Mar

We spent the day posting warning notices along the beach SE of the Kuwait Towers. Our contact was an amiable Hispanic SF captain who went with us because he said he needed something to do. It was a gorgeous sunny day, but a bit hot: at least 80. We got back about 1430. I did a 2-mile run and some volleyball for PT.

Thur 28 Mar

Holy Thursday. We posted warning notices on the beach from Ras Al-'Ardh south to 6th Ring Road. SPC Demerath and I posted one stretch that was loaded with mines and unexploded grenade rounds. At one point we met three Kuwaiti teenagers. I showed them a picture of a mine and pointed to a pile of the real thing on the beach, while repeating "Khatar" (Danger). They asked for my hat, and seemed annoyed when I refused to give it to them. As we left I turned back and saw them throwing rocks at the pile of mines! We stepped out at a brisk pace, all the while expecting to hear a very loud noise behind us, but it never happened.

It was quite hot today, at least 85 degrees. I didn't get a sunburn because I used sunscreen; the stuff really works! We got back about 1500, and I went to practice for the Good Friday service. Wally Coyle arranged with the bishop for some of us to sing at the cathedral on Good Friday and Easter. One of the Good Friday hymns was - I should have guessed - O Sacred Head Surrounded, my nominee for the Worst Hymn of All Time. Gag!

After "choir practice" I went outside the compound to photograph captured Iraqi weapons. One was a small winged missile that everyone assumed was a Chinese Silkworm, but it had Russian writing on it. I later found out it was a Russian cruise missile called a Styx. While photographing the weapons I met some interesting people.

I met an American woman and her Kuwaiti husband. He has ties to the royal family, she was one of a handful (I heard two dozen) Americans to stay in Kuwait throughout the occupation. They spent the entire time in hiding, using false documents, and had to move six times. To top it off, she had twins the day of the invasion! The Kuwaitis told her the twins would bring good luck, and evidently they did.

Another man came up to me and asked if the pilots got back OK. He had been in the Resistance, was caught and kept in the same prison as our POW's, and had only gotten back the day before. All but one of his family were arrested, and his brother was executed. The Iraqis told him accurately what he'd done in the Resistance, but he didn't know how they found out. He said the pilots were beaten, and he himself was beaten and electrically shocked. The Iraqis would tell him "We're going to kill you, but first we'll have some fun". Then they'd get drunk and beat and shock him. He had a broken rib from it. They also cut his back and rubbed salt in. He said he gave himself "about a ,5 per cent chance of getting out alive".

Fri 29 Mar

Good Friday. We were off in the morning. After lunch I went with Scholze and Haglund out to Doha to check out a school and the beach area. I brought back a lot of junk, not so much for myself but for other souvenir hunters. Other people picked up about half of it, the remainder was picked up by an NCO from a Military History unit who was collecting exhibit material. We got back too late to make the church service, so I missed hearing O Sacred Head Surrounded. Weep, Sob!

Sat 30 Mar

Our departure date from Kuwait is 7 April. There are rumors that we will be re-deployed to Iraq to run refugee operations but so far there is no truth to the rumors (and it never happened, though the 431st sent teams on a rotating basis). The 431st leaves today for Khobar. We spent the morning on a drive-through of Sabah-as-Salem, Dhaher, and Sabahiya. The economy may be reviving elsewhere in Kuwait, but there is little evidence of it here.

After the first few days, we have been getting the impression that something is wrong here. Just after liberation, it was not surprising to find people disoriented, dazed, or simply busy celebrating. But the damage in Kuwait, apart from the burning oil wells, is minor. All the roads are intact, the power lines are mostly up, and power is being restored. Within a few days of a major disaster in the US, people would be recovering. The boss would be out with the janitor, if necessary, to get his business back in operation. The Kuwaitis are so dependent on foreign labor they have no idea how to get going, and the Arab concept of personal pride will not allow many of them to do manual or menial work. The police told some of our people who had been helping to get their cars going: "When you go, who will change the oil for us?" At the handicapped hospital in Sulaibikhat, there were attendants who took care of the patients throughout the occupation, but the idea of cleaning never occurred to them, even when we were there helping.

The Palestinians present a particular problem. They did much of the labor in Kuwait, and in addition, Kuwait pumped millions into Palestinian organizations. Yet, when Kuwait was invaded, a lot of Palestinians collaborated openly with the Iraqis. These people have a positive genius for fouling their nest everywhere they go. That distorted Middle Eastern concept of pride causes them to reason that if they can't have their way, they will help anyone who wants to destroy whatever is around them. The persistent rumor is that Kuwait will try to deport them all.

Before doing our drive-through, we went to Mishref to use the phones. 1LT Kuhr and SPC Demerath were in line when the phones were shut down and the free connections were cut off! Later on I called Shawn collect from the airport. In the afternoon I read and dictated a second tape to the Roth Space Group (as it turned out, the first tape took six weeks to arrive, and didn't even get to the group until after they had drafted their report). After that I played volleyball. The whole week has been nice and sunny. It was 90 today, but it cools off nicely once the Sun goes down.

CPT Pressner had a T-shirt he got from the Chicago Police: "HOMICIDE - Our day begins when your day ends!"

Shawn sent me a Desert Fax and a letter the same day. I got the letter two days ago. The Fax came today - 16 days after being sent. I love high-tech instant communication!

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