Kuwait Delivering Aid to Iraqis, Hoping to Find POWs

By Kathleen T. Rhem, AFPS

WASHINGTON, April 14, 2003 — Kuwait is providing "significant humanitarian assistance" to Iraq while still hoping to recover its prisoners of war from Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the government of Kuwait has worked with the United Kingdom to build a pipeline into Iraq that is now delivering 2 million liters of fresh water a day.

Kuwaiti relief organizations are providing food and medicine to several Iraqi cities, and that country has set up a humanitarian operations center "to serve as a focal point for funneling aid into Iraq," the secretary told reporters outside the Pentagon.

At the same time, Kuwait wants to step up efforts to find some 600 prisoners of war it maintains Iraq still has from its 1990 occupation of Kuwait. One American, Navy pilot Michael Scott Speicher, is still unaccounted for from the 1991 Gulf War, as well.

Rumsfeld said the POW issue is one that Kuwait and the United States "share as a deep concern and an abiding interest." He was speaking in a joint press conference following lunch with Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sabah al- Ahmed al-Sabah at the Pentagon.

Rumsfeld assured al-Sabah the United States is working to "pursue every conceivable lead," he said, adding that now that Hussein’s regime is deposed, Iraqi citizens may come forward with information.

"As we enter this phase of the Iraqi Freedom operations, and that is the stabilization phase, the issue of the POWs becomes paramount," al-Sabah said.

He also thanked the administration for its efforts to "deliver the Iraqis from bondage." The minister described Iraq as a country that had been "kidnapped" for 35 years.

"The Iraqi regime, Saddam’s regime, has basically destroyed, ruptured the very fabric of the Iraqi society," he said when asked about the potential for civil unrest in Iraq. "Decent people have been tortured, killed and exiled. It would take a long time, I think, some time for the healing process to take a hold in Iraq."

Still, al-Sabah added, it’s up to the Iraqis now "to settle down and to form their own government."

Regarding Syria, Rumsfeld said the United States has seen chemical weapons tests in that country "over the past 12 (to) 15 months." He also said intelligence reports show Syria has allowed fighters to cross that country’s border with Iraq. Other evidence shows Syria has allowed Iraqis into Syria, "in some cases to stay, in some cases to transit."

The secretary described Syrians crossing the Iraqi border "carrying leaflets indicating that they’ll be rewarded if they kill Americans and members of the coalition."

Rumsfeld’s comments on Syria echo those made earlier by Secretary of State Colin Powell in a separate press conference with al-Sabah.

"We are concerned that Syria has been participating in the development of weapons of mass destruction, … specifically of chemical weapons," Powell said. "And we believe, in light of this new environment, they should review their actions and their behavior – not only with respect to whom gets haven in Syria and weapons of mass destruction, but especially the support of terrorist activity."

In his earlier press conference, Powell described a meeting to be held in Nasiriyah, Iraq, April 15 to discuss the future of that country. He said that this "first of many meetings" will be led by U.S. ambassadors Zal Khalilzad, the president’s personal representative to Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the former ambassador to Kuwait.

Powell called the meeting "a good start" and said it would reflect the views of Iraqi expatriates who have been working for the country’s liberation from outside Iraq and "those that are now free inside" Iraq.