Dictator casts a long shadow over nation scarred by war

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The Independent Online

Kuwait has rebuilt its elaborate mansions and restored 600 torched oil wells to fully working order since the tiny, oil-rich nation was ravaged by Iraqi troops. Despite successfully healing the scars of war afflicting the landscape and the economy, most people believe it could easily happen again.

Kuwait has rebuilt its elaborate mansions and restored 600 torched oil wells to fully working order since the tiny, oil-rich nation was ravaged by Iraqi troops. Despite successfully healing the scars of war afflicting the landscape and the economy, most people believe it could easily happen again.

Only the continued presence of United States and British troops, they say, prevents Iraq's President, Saddam Hussein, from repeating his brutal excursion into Iraq's southern neighbour.

When the Kuwaiti Defence Minister, Sheikh Salem al Sabah, was asked if the country still feels threatened by Iraq, he was emphatic: "Yes we do, yes we do, yes we do.

"It is built in their mind and their thoughts that Kuwait is a part of Iraq, and Kuwait being rich and more advanced, with technologies and what have you, they feel jealous about it. And they will keep threatening the Kuwaiti security."

Travel round the desert kingdom and almost everything seems back in place. The oil wells, torched by the withdrawing Iraqi forces in February 1991, are gushing again. Elaborate mansions have been rebuilt.

Thousands of immigrant workers from the Indian sub-continent and the Philippines have returned. And just as before 1990, they keep the wheels of the economy spinning. Only the Palestinian community - which paid a heavy price for Yasser Arafat's support for President Saddam- has failed to return to its pre-war size.

Yet although the visible reminders of Iraq's occupation have been erased, the memories have not. Especially among those who are relatives of themissing. These are the 605 people - including 550 Kuwaiti citizens - who, according to the government, have been held by Iraq since the end of the war.

Baghdad has repeatedly denied holding anyone and has boycotted an international committee set up to resolve the issue. It accuses the emirate of withholding information on the fate of 1,150 missing Iraqis.

But in Kuwait, the missing are a highly emotive issue and another reason not to trust Baghdad. Their families often congregate at a centre for prisoners of the seven-month Iraqi occupation. Its centrepiece is a large display of pictures of all the missing people behindprison bars.

"I'm still frightened of Saddam Hussein," confessed Hannan al Dowkhi, who has not seen her brother Salah since he was arrested by Iraqi security forces, three weeks after the invasion. "I think he will come again and kill more and more."

An estimated 22,000 Kuwaitis were detained at some point during the occupation and many were tortured. Many still suffer from depression, anxiety attacks and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The response of young people who were either tortured or who witnessed others suffering such abuses has caused widespread concern. Many have developed severe behavioural problems, said Dr Abdullah al Hammadi, director of Kuwait's main torture rehabilitation centre. Most worrying, he said, is the increase in juvenile crime and the fact that some of these crimes involve torture.

He cited one case in which teenagers from a wealthy family stole a car and kidnapped its owner. They took the owner to the desert and beat him unconscious, before pouring petrol over him and setting him alight. They then ran over his body in the car. "What caused them to do this was mental problems that they have, and this type of crime was not in Kuwait before," Dr al Hammadi said.

A recent editorial in al Thawra, Iraq's ruling Baathist party newspaper, derided Kuwait for allowing itself to become "an arms depot to protect American and Zionist interests". But Abdul Hameed al Attar - whose son is among the missing - says it is only because of the Western military presence that he is safe.

"If the United States and the British and our other friends leave for any reason, surely Saddam Hussein will come again. For a simple reason, because Saddam Hussein did not recognise Kuwait's independence at all."

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