Ex-Hostages Say Iraqi Troops Terrorizing Westerners; Baker Trip To Syria
Undated (AP) _ Iraq warned today of terrorist attacks against American targets in retaliation for the ″insult″ to Islamic nations represented by U.S. military presence near holy sites in Saudi Arabia.
The official Iraqi News Agency said the warning was contained in an official memorandum handed to a U.S. official in Baghdad in response to an American message delivered Wednesday to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry.
The U.S. message ″claimed that certain terrorist groups which have bases in Iraq and are supported by Iraq are preparing for attacks against targets of the United States and its friends,″ the news agency said.
The memorandum given to the U.S. diplomat, who was not named, said: ″The Iraqi government categorically denies the American claims.″
But it said: ″The American government and President Bush should expect that the crimes the United States of America is committing against the Arab nation and the insult it is directing to the Islamic shrines by occupying holy lands will undoubtedly produce a natural reaction from the Arab and Islamic masses.″
The Palestine Liberation Organization has been one of Iraq’s strongest backers since its Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait. Two Palestinian leaders linked to past terrorism - George Habash and Mohammed Abbas - now have their headquarters in Baghdad.
Meanwhile, British women who have flown to freedom but left husbands behind in Kuwait say Iraqi soldiers are terrorizing Western men in the captive nation, and there were reports troops were searching house to house for more hostages.
The State Department said it had information that Iraqi troops were mounting intensified, more systematic searches for American men in the oil- rich Persian Gulf emirate they seized.
One evacuee said Kuwaiti resistance fighters who called a general strike shot some residents who ignored the order.
Washington pressed on with diplomatic efforts to isolate Iraq. Secretary of State James Baker III was to fly today to Syria.
U.S. relations with Syria have in the past been strained over its support of terrorists but Damascus is an ally in the desert military standoff with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
The trip comes as Iraq rapidly reconciles with neighboring Iran, which after an eight-yfered free oil for Third World nations.
The League of Red Cross will send medicine to Iraq for children, pregnant women and the elderly, a spokeswoman for the Geneva-based organization said today. The spokeswoman, Anne Naef, said a doctor from the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies would travel to Baghdad within the next few days to assess medical requirements of both Iraqis and foreign residents.
She said the doctor had no mandate to go to Kuwait. Iraq has not allowed another group, the Swiss International Committee of the Red Cross, into Kuwait.
Tens of thousands of foreigners remained trapped in Iraq and Kuwait, and masses of mostly penniless Asian refugees were still stranded in camps in neighboring Jordan awaiting transportation to their homelands.
Egypt said today that its diplomats have followed other foreign envoys in abandoning their embassies in Kuwait. Iraqi troops have besieged the U.S. and other missions that remained staffed, trying to starve them out. Power and water have also been cut to many missions, making conditions insufferable.
In Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Richard Boucher said Iraqi authorities searching for American men in Kuwait are tightening the dragnet.
″In Kuwait, there has been increased harassment of U.S. citizens, and more systematic house-to-house searches for American men are now being conducted,″ he said.
Boucher also said the 80 or so Americans who have been rounded up for use as human shields to deter a feared U.S. attack are being moved continually. All are believed held in Iraq.
About 1,400 Americans remain in Kuwait while there are about 200 in Iraq, according to official estimates.
Concern for the safety of those held hostage by the Iraqis ran deep among the more than than 400 women and children who comprised the latest planeload of Westerners allowed to leave Baghdad by Iraq authorities.
All had reached the Iraq capital from Kuwait.
One British woman who arrived in London on the Iraqi Airways 747 Wednesday night said she was forced to leave her 19-year-old son in the hands of Iraqi soldiers so she and her daughter could gain their freedom.
About 280 Americans were on the jumbo jet, which was chartered by the U.S. and British governments. They were to fly on to Raleigh-Durham airport in North Carolina today.
More than 900 Americans have left Iraq and Kuwait in recent days and an additional flight is scheduled for Friday.
Mrs. Walters, who said her husband was in hiding in Kuwait, told of Iraqi soldiers terrorizing Western men in the emirate:
″One (British) man was taken off into the desert, blindfolded and told to get out of the car and then they threatened to kill him. He was then pushed back into the car and they drove him round again and did the same, threatening to kill him again. They were terrorizing him just for the sheer hell of it.″
Another Briton, Deborah Ahmed, told of Iraqi troops shooting Kuwaitis. ″The Iraqis are shooting people and burning their houses down for writing slanderous graffiti against them,″ Mrs. Ahmed said.
One Jordanian computer expert on the flight said Kuwaiti resistance fighters were occasionally firing on civilians.
″This has been happening for the past three or four days,″ he said. ″The Iraqi government asked everyone to go to work. The Kuwaiti resistance asked everyone not to go to work but schools opened and the Iraqis asked all teachers to go to work. The other day the Kuwaiti resistance shot a teacher and his wife for going to work.″
Baker’s 24-hour trip to Damascus marks the Bush administration’s first major face-to-face contact with Syria. Improved ties between the countries could accelerate President Hafez Assad’s move back into the Arab mainstream after years of militancy.
Assad, heavily dependent on aid from the pro-American Persian Gulf Arab states, was quick to condemn the Iraqi invasion.
When the United States began massing troops in Saudi Arabia, he rallied behind it and sent 4,000-5,000 soldiers to join other Arab forces.
The U.S. military buildup in the region, though adequate to defend Saudi Arabia against Iraq, won’t be completed for about two months, the U.S. commander in Saudi Arabia was quoted today as saying.
That’s about a month later than earlier reported.
Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, in an interview published in the Washington Post, attributed at least part of the slowdown to breakdowns of some of the Navy’s fast transport ships, which he said has forced the use of slower vessels. About 150,000 American troops have been deployed in the region.
Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited American troops in Saudi Arabia today and discussed the military buildup.
Some nations have indicated they may increase their role in the gulf.
Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher said today the United States could count on German solidarity in the gulf crisis, but he would not elaborate.
West Germany has sent five minesweepers and two supply ships to the eastern Mediterranean to support the U.S. fleet.
The Dutch government announced today it was sending a third Navy ship to the gulf on Nov. 19. The supply ship Zuiderkruis will sail along with two frigates that will replace two Dutch ships in the multinational flotilla.