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Report from Iraqi Border Town Safwan

Posted March. 27, 2003 22:16,   


On Thursday afternoon, the Iraqi border opened.

On the sixth day of war in Iraq, civilians other than combat troops are finally allowed in.

Five trucks from Red Crescent, a Kuwaiti relief organization reached the border town of Safwan with boxes of relief rations marked with “From Kuwaitis to Iraqi Brothers`

It took only three hours for the convoy to reach Safwan through Road 80 from Kuwait City. On a red signpost was written `Mine` in white letters, alongside the barbed wire fence in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). There were also barracks for agents of United Nations Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission (UNIKOM) who had stayed to prevent conflicts in the DMZ.

The observation mission remained to prevent disputes along the DMZ. Blue U.N. flags flapped in the wind near empty barracks where all the agencies were evacuated. 20 British military trucks full of weapons such as thousands of rifles, bullets as well as anti-tank missiles came along with relief trucks and vehicles housing journalists.

Even though they crossed the border, they were still in a desert area. There is no difference between the landscapes of Kuwait City and Safwan. However, life for the people in Kuwait City and Safwan contrast as vividly as that for heaven and hell.

As relief convoys arrived, Safwan became a mess. British soldiers and volunteers of the Red Crescent stepped back as over 500 residents of Safwan gathered around relief trucks in a desperate attempt to gain access to relief goods. As the rear doors were opened, two young men started throwing boxes of relief goods to people standing behind it. Shoes were taken off, and boxes were knocking people in the head. People brought bicycles, trolleys, small trucks, etc to carry the boxes away.

Stronger people managed to take more of the boxes and in contrast, older women went home empty handed to their children.

“With no bread to eat, life is too hard,” said 25 year old Napil Hussin who managed to get one box. A child worked hard among the adults and barely managed to get one plastic bag. He tore the paper pack of juice apart with his teeth and gulped it down then and there.

Although the local residents welcomed the aid goods, they were confused. Around 100 residents raised their hands and shouted `Saddam is Great!`

“I don`t feel freedom but humiliation, the U.S. came not to liberate us, but to take our natural resources,” said 22 year old local resident Hassimid when a western reporter asked him what he thought of Operation Enduring Freedom.

“Because of U.S. air attacks, our family lost two family members, and the others who survived were also seriously wounded. The wounded now need to get hospital treatment.

Unlike Shi`a Moslems who control the regime, Sunni Moslems retaliated and were massacred because they praised U.S. forces on the media in the 1991 Gulf War. One resident approached a journalist and said softly, “Saddam Hussein, No,” and pretended as if he was cutting his throat with his hand.

Even while they were struggling hard to get boxes of humanitarian aid, most of the residents waved their hands off the cameras when journalists tried to take pictures of them. The truck was completely emptied in 1 hour and 20 minutes. The faces of residents who were heading home were, however, still full of anxiety concerning their future after the war.

Sung-Kyu Kim kimsk@donga.com