Trapped Americans Fight Boredom, Worry
Oct. 22, 1990
BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Americans holed up in the U.S. Embassy fight boredom by watching old war movies on video, playing chess and pumping iron. Mostly, they try to keep their spirits up.
They are among more than 1,000 Americans prevented from leaving Iraq and Kuwait because Saddam Hussein's government wants human shields against attacks by the U.S.-led multinational forces in the Persian Gulf.
About 600 foreigners, including 104 Americans, have been taken to strategic locations in Iraq that would be most vulnerable to air attacks, according to diplomatic sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Americans are among several thousand foreigners stranded or held in Iraq since Saddam's forces seized Kuwait on Aug. 2. Saddam calls them ''guests'' who will remain in Iraq ''until the clouds roll by and the sky once again becomes clear.''
''We understand that the Americans have been scattered everywhere, practically at every strategic location,'' said an Asian diplomat. ''We know that some of them are sick, probably suffering from diarrhea,'' he added. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
The hostages at the sites have been denied visits by officials from their embassies and are being moved from place to place, sources said.
''We want to start a mail service where we can forward and receive mail from them,'' said William Armbruster, 37, a U.S. diplomat at the embassy.
The embassy is also printing a weekly newsletter giving summaries of world news and football and baseball results.
''We're handing over these papers to the Iraqis, requesting them to forward them,'' Armbruster said.
Some Americans and other foreigners stranded in Baghdad are ill and urgently need medical care.
''I have 48 documented cases,'' said Laurence Vellekoop, an American doctor who had been assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait. Like many other Americans, he left Kuwait for Iraq after the invasion.
Vellekoop said some of the trapped Americans suffer from serious heart disorders, ulcers, diabetes and severe backaches. One American said he is anxious to leave because his 80-year-old mother is going blind.
Salim Mansour, leader of an American-Iraqi delegation that met with Saddam, said Monday he received a commitment from the Iraqi leadership to release some ailing and elderly Americans.
''We don't want to talk about figures or names at the moment, but I'm happy to announce that some good news will come up,'' Mansour said.
About 650 Americans were living in Iraq when Saddam's forces captured the ermirate. As many as 2,700 Americans were working in Kuwait. Some Americans received Iraqi permission to leave, and others found their own way out.
Embassy officials decline to say how many Americans remain in Iraq and Kuwait or how many have taken refuge in the U.S. Embassy. But there are believed to be 54 diplomats and dependents in the U.S. compound.
Two Iraqi soldiers keep watch outside the walled embassy and the U.S. Information Service office across the street. Iraqi secret service agents note who visits the embassy.
The Americans living in the embassy compound and embassy residences are free to move around the city. But most prefer to stay close to home.
''I don't feel unsafe,'' said Armbruster. ''There's very little anti- Americanism in the streets. Perhaps that's the contribution of Arab hospitality.
''But no one talks to us as it's illegal. It's dangerous for Iraqis to talk to foreign diplomats.''
On the streets, young men occasionally chant ''Down, Down, Bush 3/8'' when they spot an American reporter.
A 6-week-old motherless kitten has become the Americans' mascot.
The striped gray kitten, named ''Bosh'' after the way Iraqis pronounce President Bush's name, was found in the embassy garden by an Iraqi secretary.
''Bosh will find a new home in Minneapolis if and when we make it,'' said Vellekoop. ''Bosh would probably die if I leave him here.''