30 January 1991 Doctor paints bleak picture of U.S.-Arab relations

By ROBERT SILER Columbia Basin bureau


The Persian Gulf war is turning Saddam Hussein into a hero of the Arab masses, could destabilize Arab governments allied with the United States, and likely will destroy Kuwait, according to Ephrata’s Dr. Mohammad Said, who was in Iraq when the war broke out. Said just returned to the United States. President Bush “just does not understand the culture there… there will be scars for generations. People are behind Saddam Hussein because he is standing up to the mighty West,” Said said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., Tuesday night. Said, 51, vice chairman of the Grant County Democratic Party, said he believes the United States should have waited longer to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis. He also thinks America will have to bear too much of the war’s cost. When Said flew into Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., Monday, 10 days after leaving Iraq, he had already passed through British airport security, perhaps the world’s tightest. But U.S. security agents at Dulles searched through his papers, read letters he wrote to members of Congress, and even questioned a toll-free number in his phone directory because of the word “Scudder,” the physician said, the number was for the Scudder Investment Group, not a reference to Iraqi Scud missiles. Said was outraged by the investigation, the longtime peace activist said from his hotel Tuesday night.

“Because my name is Mohammad and I was born in Palestine, I was not just searched. For almost 40 minutes they looked into all the papers I had brought…. When I protested it was a violation of my constitutional rights and privacy, they said they didn’t care.” Said, a U.S. citizen for about eight years, said he will file a complaint and possibly a lawsuit over the incident. The tight security, no doubt prompted by fears of terrorist attacks in the wake of the United States’ attack on Iraq, is to Said another symbol of how wrong he believes this war to be. The war has transformed the issue from a border dispute that could have been resolved by the Arab League into a much wider conflict, Said contends.

The physician, who has been active in seeking a homeland for Palestinians for several years, went to Iraq and Kuwait in September, meeting with Iraqi officials in hopes of finding a peaceful solution to the crisis. He returned to Kuwait a few days before war broke out and tried to convince his brother and his wife’s brother and sister to leave the country, where they live and work. Only his brother-in-law was willing to leave. They were with friends in a town midway between Baghdad and an important military airport in Iraq when fighting broke out. “Everything was darkened. We went out and saw the sky completely bright with lots of noise and bombing, lots of explosions. You could see the intensity of the Iraqi guns trying to shoot down aircraft., but it seemed as if (the planes) were too high. Everything was exploding.” Said had planned to drive to Baghdad to meet with officials, but decided not to go because of the bombing. He and his brother-in-law made their way to the border and entered Jordan. The physician said he fears for the safety of his brother and sister-in-law in Kuwait City. He hasn’t heard any news of them since the war started. If the allies invade the country, he said, “They will destroy it completely. Iraqi troops are on top of the roofs of buildings, between houses and the streets. The civilians are caught right in the middle.” Much has been made of Iraqi atrocities in Kuwait. The physician said some of those reports may be true. But he said he brought evidence from the country refuting one incident widely reported by Amnesty International. Iraqi soldiers allegedly pulled incubators out of a hospital, causing 22 infants to die. Said visited the facility, talked to nurses, and brought with him the hospital’s log books. According to those records, only one infant died in August, due to heart failure. Said held a press conference in Jordan when he left Iraq to refute the report. Said said he is opposed to civilians being targeted. But many Arabs believe Israel pushed the United States into war through its powerful U.S. lobby, to weaken an Arab enemy, he said.

As for the oil spill, it may be one way Iraq has chosen to lash back at the damage inflicted on the country. Said believes U.S. “smart bombs” have caused many civilian casualties. “They have destroyed Iraq,” he said. “I am really saddened. They look at the (Iraqi) military as if they are just reports. They are people with children. They wish for no more war and to go back to their children.” Some analysts say the Palestinians will lose support in the world for supporting Iraq.