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On Muslim Holiday, Kuwaiti Families Gather At Graves of War Dead

June 22, 1991

KUWAIT CITY (AP) _ On what should have been the year’s most joyful Muslim holiday, Kuwaitis gathered Saturday in a smoke-darkened cemetery to weep for their war dead.

Intense heat but little light penetrated the greasy smoke, which left a metallic bitterness in throats opened to wail in mourning for those who died in the seven-month Iraqi occupation.

Scores of red flags, symbolizing the blood of martyrs, adorned the Souleibekhat cemetery. During the occupation, many Kuwaitis had blood spilled on their doorsteps, a tactic meant to frighten them from resisting.

On the holiday marking the end of the annual pilgrimage season, the mourners cursed Saddam Hussein and wondered about the future.

″It’s a catastrophe,″ said prayer leader Hasan Dashti. ″It used to be a happy occasion, now there is a general sadness.″

Dashti said more than 500 bodies were buried in this cemetery during the occupation, more than half of them people who were shot by the Iraqis. That compared to 60 deaths for a similar period a year earlier.

Many of those who died during the occupation bore cuts and mutilations of horrible torture. Some families could not bear to wash and wrap the mangled bodies, leaving the task to the gravediggers.

In the wake of the Aug. 2 Iraqi invasion, the Dashti clan alone lost 37 of its own.

Mohammed Khan Dashti, 24, was gunned down Sept. 23 for refusing to move patients at the hospital where he worked so the Iraqis could take the equipment.

Khalid Dashti, 29, an engineering graduate from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, was shot Sept. 3 and stayed alive in the hospital for 54 days before succumbing to his wounds.

Jasim Mohammed Dashti’s father was ordered to leave the body on display outside the house for a few days as a warning. His tilework tombstone says: ″MARTYR. Killed for no reason after the Iraqi invasion - shot Dec. 31, 1990 at the age of 18. We belong to God and we return to him.″

His father, wiping away a tear as he squatted in the sand, muttered, ″Only a criminal like Saddam would do this.″

Nearby, the family of 50-year-old Hussein Ali spent the holiday covering his cement slab with marble. He was felled Feb. 21, 1991, by a stroke. The family said the Iraqis would not let him into a hospital.

″I was happy when Kuwait was liberated, but today I am not happy,″ said his nephew, Saadi Diyab Ali, 30.

He said he wants Kuwait to learn from the invasion.

″The mistakes we made before must change. All Kuwaitis love this land. We need a chance for better lives.... We need a government that we can ask for our needs.″

Most of the mourners at the cemetery were Shiite Muslims, whose faith dictates that martyrs go straight to paradise. But that did little to ease the sense of loss.

The mother of 24-year-old Younis Mohammed, who was shot Oct. 7 for taking part in the resistance, rubbed one hand back and forth over the cement block that covered his body. Shrouded entirely in black, she addressed her dead son in a loud wail.

″You, whose blood I smeared on my breasts ... every year you came and kissed me and said ‘Hi, Mom. Happy Holiday.’ But now I can only come and cry over your grave 3/8″ she cried.

Another son is one of 3,000 missing and believed held in Iraq.

″My other son is lost,″ the mother said. ″I only hope that he is not dead like you.″

Offerings lay on the grave - the Koran, fruit juice, morning glories made of bright blue and yellow cloth, rosewater meant to keep the body fresh.

They all turned gray in the oil smoke, the ground matching the sky.

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