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ON THIS DAY

ON THIS DAY

26 February 1991: Iraqi troops flee Kuwait City. The Kuwaiti capital has been liberated by the Gulf War Allies after 208 days of Iraqi occupation. Thousands of Iraqi troops began leaving the city after an order from President Saddam Hussein, broadcast this morning, to withdraw immediately. He said he was ordering the retreat because of “the aggression of 30 countries against Iraq” and the economic blockade led by the US. The first group of Allies into the city centre was a reconnaissance team of 12 US marines who arrived in the capital this evening, ushered in by some Kuwaiti resistance forces. To the north of the city a trail of abandoned Iraqi T-55 tanks were scattered along the main highway into town, as well as transport trucks and smaller vehicles. US pilots said the Iraqi troops, deserted by officers and in disarray, left the city “bumper to bumper”. They made an easy target for the American fighter jets which carried out repeated air strikes on the retreating troops, saying they would continue to attack until ordered not to. They reported only light anti-aircraft fire. The main resistance came from Iraqi armoured units trapped at the international airport on the southern outskirts of the city, but the US Marine 2nd Division was reported to have the upper hand. Kuwaiti radio, run by the government-in-exile, urged people not to take revenge on the retreating troops. But there were claims that the Iraqis took many prisoners as they left as hostages. Reports say up to 5,000 people were captured as the troops retreated. Families told reporters their sons had been taken from them, ordered into the retreating Iraqi army buses as they walked to work. During the last days of Iraqi occupation there were widespread reports of torture, rape and execution. Colonel Abu Fahad, an officer with the Kuwaiti resistance, told The Guardian newspaper: “I have seen a lot of my friends and some of our guys executed in front of their families for nothing, just being in the country. In the past few days, we didn’t even leave our houses.” Much of the city has been destroyed, with 200 buildings set on fire. Hotels, parliament buildings and government offices have been attacked. The manager of the Sheraton hotel, Mohammed Mousa, told reporters he had been given an hour to clear the building and then Iraqi soldiers had looted it, taking everything from video recorders to the piano. They then poured petrol over the ground floor, mined it and blasted it with tank fire. The university, museum, schools and hospitals have all been looted and soldiers have taken whatever they could find from shops and homes. Even clothes and mattresses lie scattered around the streets, stolen, but too bulky to take away. (Source: BBC)

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