A chartered Iraqi aircraft carrying 386 women and children, many of them U.S. citizens, arrived in London Thursday from Baghdad in the first evacuation flight in two weeks and possibly the last for Westerners from the besieged country.
The Voice of America said the flight was delayed Wednesday night when Iraqi authorities searched passengers and baggage and took their time with paperwork.It quoted American officials as saying the flight could be the last Western evacuation for some time from Iraq and Kuwait, where thousands of Western men are being held as human shields against attack at key installations.
The flight arrived in London at 8 a.m. Thursday, and most of the 142 Americans on board were scheduled to leave later in the day for Raleigh, N.C. Officials said 27 Britons, 149 Jordanians and five Australians were on the flight along with other Arabs and Westerners.
Mohammad Issa, a language teacher from Bridgeport, Conn., with dual U.S. and Jordanian nationality, said conditions in Kuwait were "miserable, with people having to stand in line for bread, for gas, for everything."
Robbie Faddah of Houston, clutching her daughter, Laila, also told reporters food supplies were very low, Iraqi troops were spread throughout the city, and many cars and trucks were being bombed, probably by the Kuwaiti resistance.
Her husband, Hani Faddah, an electronics engineer who also has dual U.S. and Jordanian nationality, said, "People are getting scared now. It has become like Lebanon. It is descending into a civil war."
In Washington, the Kuwaiti ambassador, Saud Nasir al-Sabah, said international sanctions imposed on Iraq after its Aug. 2 invasion will fail because Saddam's economy is self-sufficient in food.
"I don't believe Iraq in the short or long run will be adversely affected by the sanctions," he told a hearing of the House Human Rights Caucus, a group of U.S. lawmakers interested in human rights issues.
Iraq's border with Jordan also remains open to truck traffic, and aircraft still land in Amman and transfer their cargo to trucks that then poke holes in the embargo, the ambassador said.
"Sanctions will not bring Iraq down," al-Sabah said.He said the embargo was being further undermined by the central banks in other countries who are providing credit lines to Iraq, although he declined to name the countries.
"Saddam Hussein's policy now is to sit tight . . . to strengthen his grip on Kuwait and to outlast the patience of the multinational forces," Al-Sabah said.
The hearing, co-chaired by Reps. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., and John E. Porter, R-Ill., included testimony from Kuwaitis who escaped after the invasion and Americans who had lived in Kuwait with their native spouses.
Deborah Hadi, who met her Kuwaiti husband when they both attended the University of Louisville, lived in Kuwait for 12 years until the events of Aug. 2 forced her to leave her husband behind.
"I am afraid that I will never be able to go home," Hadi said, tears streaming down from her face. "I am afraid I will never see my husband again."
Hadi told of how one night, when she and her husband took a cousin who was in labor to Sabah Maternity Hospital in Kuwait City, they saw a Kuwaiti woman at the front door "in hysterics" because she was in labor and they would not let her enter. When the woman continued to scream, Hadi said, "they put a bayonet through her stomach, pinning her to the wall."
A 10th-grader who testified anonymously, to protect her family still in Kuwait, said that she and other volunteers at Al-Adan Hospital in the Kuwaiti capital witnessed armed Iraqi soldiers storming the hospital room where 15 babies were in incubators.
"They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators and left the babies on the cold floor to die," she said. "It was horrifying. I could not help but think of my nephew (born July 29), who if born premature, might have died that day as well," she said.
A statement presented by the American chapter of Amnesty International cited refugees fleeing Kuwait in the third week of September as saying that "scores of people have been hanged on the grounds of Kuwait University," and that soldiers are indiscriminately firing at civilians, including women and children.
The Persian Gulf crisis continued to wear on the U.S. economy.
Oil prices briefly hit a record $41.15 a barrel on the New York Exchange on Wednesday before closing at $38.69, tumbling on an erroneous rumor that Saddam had been killed.
On the New York Stock Exchange, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 37.62 points to 2,407.92, its lowest level since May 1989.
Two U.S. fliers died Wednesday when their F-111 fighter bomber crashed in the Southern Arabian Peninsula, and the Navy called off the search for eight Marines aboard two UH Huey helicopters from the USS Okinawa that crashed Monday in the Northern Arabian Sea.
"There were no indications of survivors found during the extensive air and water search of the area," the Pentagon said. The Marines were from Camp Pendleton, Calif.
The two U.S. airmen were assigned to the 48th Tactical Wing of the Royal Air Force in England and deployed in support of Operation Desert Shield, the array of Western and Arab forces guarding against an Iraqi invasion of Saudi Arabia.
The U.S. death toll now stands at 32, one of them self-inflicted, in Desert Shield, compared to 23 Americans killed during the invasion of Panama last December.