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Hostage Families Jubilant but Wary of Saddam Promise

December 6, 1990

Undated (AP) _ Saddam Hussein offered relatives of about 900 American hostages the promise that their loved ones might be home for the holidays. It was a promise received with joy and some trepidation.

″We’ve been waiting and waiting, trying and trying to get him out and hitting brick walls,″ said Sue Iliff, whose brother is among holdouts at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait. ″So this first ray of hope is like a gift.″

But, hostage relatives said, Saddam’s was a conditional gift. Their high hopes won’t be validated without a quick reunion and end to four months of frustration, pain and perpetual waiting.

″We’re really emotional about this because Christmas is a big holiday with our family ... a very special time of year,″ Mrs. Iliff said from Stover, Mo. ″But we’re being careful.″

Many families said they were reining themselves in, resisting the urge to leap at what for some appeared to be the first real break in the Persian Gulf crisis that began when Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2.

″The news is very welcome, but we’re not throwing a celebration,″ said Margaret Williams, whose son and daughter-in-law are among ″human shields″ in Baghdad. ″We’ll celebrate when we see them coming out - and not before.″

Mrs. Williams’ granddaughter, Jennifer Williams, was among a group of about 20 Americans that - against State Department advice - traveled to Baghdad this week to seek their relatives’ release.

″You can’t give up hope - there’s always hope,″ Mrs. Williams said from her home in Germantown, Tenn. ″But this could well be just another one of (Saddam’s) cat-and-mouse games.″

Saddam called for the release of all foreign hostages in a directive Thursday to the Iraqi parliament, a turnaround he attributed to recent diplomatic moves that could include President Bush’s proposal for direct talks.

The order, which did not say when the captives would be freed, followed Saddam’s previous offer to release all hostages over a three-month period beginning Christmas Day, ″if nothing mars the atmosphere of peace.″

Families and friends of captive Americans could not help but cheer the long-awaited news, but they are also veterans of disappointment.

″It’s the first time that we’ve taken anything that Saddam has said seriously enough to be excited,″ said Bonnie Anderton of Larkspur, Colo., whose husband has been holed up at the embassy in Kuwait.

″But (Saddam) has a habit of putting real nasty catches on things,″ said Mrs. Anderton, who was among the wives and children released several weeks after the invasion. ″We need more details.″

″So far we’ve heard a lot of rhetoric, double-talk and half-truths,″ added David McDonald Jr., a Michigan attorney whose old friend and client is among Americans hiding in Kuwait. ″You have to fear another let-down.″

Marie Butcher said she, too, wants to be cautious.

But she felt the catch in her throat when her son-in-law, Guy Seago, called Thursday from the military installation where he has been held by Iraqi troops.

″He’s packed and ready to leave. I warned him it might take some time to get out ... but he’s still just so thrilled,″ Mrs. Butcher said from Johnson City, Tenn.

″And, well, we’ve got our Christmas present wrapped and ready for him ... ready for both of them,″ said Mrs. Butcher, who has been baby-sitting since her daughter left for Baghdad in an effort to secure the oil worker’s release.

Relatives were weary and restrained. They knew it could all fall through. But, still, Doris Whatley was not alone in feeling the weight of her own captivity lifted - at least for awhile.

″There were times I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep,″ said Mrs. Whatley of Shreveport, La., whose ″elated″ husband called her Thursday morning.

″All of a sudden I am a changed person,″ she said, ″because my husband is coming home.″

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