Voice from the Commonwealth Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts
"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams
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One Briton knows from cruel experience how President Saddam Hussein can make the innocent suffer when he is cornered. Tony Barlow, 63, a hotel general manager, was held as a human shield for four months at an Iraqi nuclear weapons factory during the last Gulf conflict.
He recalls the first days of that August invasion, being woken by a friend before dawn to be told that soldiers were crawling all over the city centre. By the time he reached his hotel, a contingent of Iraqi conscripts was barricading the entrance, looking as scared as he was and bemused as to where exactly they were.
Mr Barlow offered them water and then plates of food, saying: “I didn’t think it prudent to ask men with AK47s to pay for their lunch.”
The mood changed abruptly when an Iraqi officer strode into the hotel reception brandishing a pearl-handled Kalashnikov rifle and told Mr Barlow to summon all his Western guests to join them and surrender their passports. “We were told we were being taken to a place of safety, but he would not say where or for how long,” Mr Barlow said.
Mr Barlow’s wife, Pauline, and his son, Julian, who was on holiday from university in Britain, were herded on to buses with all the hotel’s European and American guests. As they were driven out of the city, he peeked round the curtains drawn across the windows and witnessed for the first time how complete the Iraqi takeover of his adopted city had been. He saw that the looting had begun, with one Iraqi military convoy heading back to their own border in a procession of expensive cars as well as a luxury yacht loaded on to a tank transporter.
The Messilah Beach hostages were taken first to the southern Iraqi city of Basra, which is expected to be the first major target for capture by the allied armies this time. From there, they were marched to a train for a ten-hour journey to Baghdad, where the captives were billetted in one of the city’s main hotels. “It was such a bizarre sight, with us under house arrest at the hotel and locked in our rooms and yet we could see Britons who lived in Baghdad turning up in shorts to play on the tennis courts.”
After five days, a group of hostages, including the Barlows, were driven into the desert to what looked like an engineering factory at Tarmiyah.
They did not know then that the buildings were being secretly used as an uranium-enriching plant for Saddam’s nuclear weapons programme. The allies would discover that only when the factory was hit by mistake by US jets and its true purpose was revealed.
The Tarmiyah factory would be Mr Barlow’s prison for the next four months. “We would discuss escape plans, as if we were in Colditz, but we hadn’t a prayer of getting out of there,” he said. Corrugated iron was nailed across the windows of the floor of the factory that they had to use as a dormitory. “In the end, we just wanted the allies to bomb the bloody place and get it over with and we would take our chances.”
Mr Barlow was one of the last hostages to be released, in November 1990, and flown home to Britain. In April 1991 he was on the first commercial flight back to Kuwait City, where he has lived for 27 years, to find what little remained of his hotel. “It was a bit of a mess,” he says, showing photographs of buildings that had been bulldozed and rooms set on fire by the Iraqis. His next two years were spent rebuilding the hotel.
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