31 January, 1991. Missiles over doctor
By Tom Sowa Staff writer
Eastern Washington physician Dr. Mohammed Said watched the first air attacks on Iraqi targets from inside a home 25 miles from Baghdad. It was the beginning of the war and the signal for Said to forget diplomacy and start worrying about his own safety.
Said, an Ephrata resident and native-born Palestinian, had made a 9-day trip to the Persian Gulf, first to attend an Islamic conference in Baghdad, and second to help a number of his relatives escape from Kuwait.
But on Jan. 17 the war erupted around him. He waited through two more days of attacks before he could drive a furniture-filled semi-trailer truck from Iraq to Jordan.
He returned to the United States Monday and was due back in Ephrata late Wednesday. At a press conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C., Said urged a two-week cease-fire as the best way to resolve the war with Iraq.
A temporary halt offers the best chance of getting Saddam Hussein to remove troops from Kuwait and limit the number of American casualties, said the 51-year-old Said, an American citizen who has taken three self financed trips to the Middle East in the last two years.
“Saddam Hussein is not about to give up. People here don’t understand the culture he is from all represents. It’s almost impossible to tell him he has to surrender unconditionally,” Said explained.
Said, who has been invited to a number of Palestine Liberation Organization meetings as an observer, traveled to Iraq Jan. 10 and spent two days there before heading for Kuwait to visit close relatives.
Said, an American citizen for more than a dozen years, met briefly with Saddam in Baghdad during the Islamic conference and passed a letter to the Iraqi president’s top aide. The letter was a detailed suggestion on easing the American-Iraqi impasse, Said explained.
Saddam thanked Said but never received the letter from his deputy, Said discovered.
Said then drove by minivan to Kuwait City where a number of his relatives live and work. He decided to stay, but his brother-in-law, Hatem Fat, agreed to leave for Jordan. “The Kuwaitis had a mood of resignation, or else they didn’t think war would really start,” Said said.
Said was less hopeful. “I understand President Bush’s mental attitude, his tough-guy approach. So I was very frightened and I convinced my brother-in-law to leave fast.” He stayed two days in Kuwait, then started by truck for Baghdad, planning to eventually drive into neutral Jordan, where another of Said’s brothers lives.
Their furniture-laden semi reached the city of Faloga late on the night of Jan. 16, a few hours before the American and coalition forces attacked Iraq. They stayed at a friend’s home about 25 miles from Baghdad, not far from a military airport that also came under attack. When the planes came through, Said ran to a window and watched as several Cruise missiles whizzed overhead, streaking toward Baghdad.
He was both scared and angry. “I was upset and all I could think about was how could Bush do that?” Said recalled. The attack lasted two hours, with Said staying most of the time in the home’s innermost room, listening as bombs exploded and the ground shook. Two days later, he and his brother-in-law began driving to Jordan. They saw almost no other vehicles on the road.
“Most people were staying put. We heard later that on the following day, hundreds of cars began trying to cross Iraq into Jordan,” Said said. Since then, thousands of refugees have risked danger to flee the war zone. Said and his relative reached Amman at 2 in the morning, two days after the fighting began. Said stayed in Jordan until Sunday, when he flew to London. He’s convinced a short halt to the fighting would permit other Arab nations to work with Iraqi leaders to settle the dispute. “I would like to see the Arab League and other Islamic leaders become engaged in a solution. If Arabs don’t solve this, they will see the Americans as the aggressor and little lasting peace will be attained,” he noted. “Mostly I’m worried about my family in Kuwait,” he said. “They will be caught in the middle of any fighting, which will be horrible.”