Saturday, May 25, 2013

Heroes Must Never Be Forgotten - The Battle of Al-Qurain

Preface:  What you are about to read is the history of an event I was able to cobble together online and by visiting the site of the event, which is a couple of kilometers from where I live.  When I say was cobbled together, it means I was able to obtain the facts from enough sources to verify the basic story, but the intricate details are either not available, or not available in English. Therefore, some of what is here are assumptions on my part based on the situation and my familiarization with the layout of the site.  I will gladly update and correct this page if I can find more verifiable facts or if I've gotten something wrong. A more dramatic and poetically liberal telling of the tale will appear in my upcoming book, Blood Upon the Sands. (Did I actually say “My upcoming book..”?)
A quick history lesson/reminder, to lay the groundwork for this week’s missive:  On August 2, 1990, Iraqi troops poured across the border into Kuwait invading the sovereign nation with the intention of making it part of Iraq.  Five days later the first US troops arrive in Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Shield.  From then until January 1991 diplomatic maneuvers took place which went nowhere and at 0238 on 17 January Desert Storm began with the first air strikes against Baghdad.  Most folks have long forgotten Iraqi forces also invaded Saudi Arabia shortly after this but were driven out on 1 February.  On 24 February, the ground war formally began with the British Special Air Service in the lead as coalition forces crossed the border at 0400.  Three days later U.S. Marines and Saudi Arabian troops entered Kuwait City and liberated it.

Now the part you probably never heard about:

After the invasion of Kuwait, when it became apparent resistance was futile, much of the leadership and military escaped into Saudi Arabia to form a government in exile and to mount a fight for liberation from there. A majority of those left behind were Kuwaitis who were not military and those who had not been in leadership positions before.  It did not take long for the remaining military members in hiding and these patriots to develop an internal resistance movement, especially as news of an imminent liberation effort started to spread.

The Iraqi occupiers were cruel and barbaric. They were under strict orders to steal anything of value and return it to Iraq as seized war booty. Of particular interest were scientific and medical devices Iraq did not have access to due to their own economic embargo. News reports during the period included footage of Kuwaiti babies who were removed from incubators and left to die while Iraqi troops stole the devices for return to their homeland. Additionally, orders had gone out for anyone who displayed any kind of resistance to be shot, houses which displayed any sort of defiance were to be destroyed, and demonstrations were to be greeted with liberal automatic weapons fire to quell any opposition.  The situation deteriorated as Iraqi troops realized they could steal whatever wealth they could carry within them and legitimized robbery became the norm.

In the midst of this horrible situation, Kuwaitis began to gather together and formed small battle groups to try and help protect their country against the Iraqi enemy.  Over time, the groups started to obtain weapons – – some were even purchased from Iraqi troops in exchange for food and water.  Kuwaiti women were the ones who trafficked guns from place to place within the city, getting them to where they were needed.  The groups began to get more and more daring as they moved from merely causing disruption to actually confronting and killing Iraqi soldiers and disrupting Iraqi supply lines.  Again, these were not soldiers who were doing this; these were civilian activists who rose up because their country needed them.

The Al Messilah Group (named for the Group's location) consisted of 31 members. The members were young men who strongly believed in Allah and their cause, taking an oath to sacrifice everything to uphold the pride and honor of their country.   What made this group unique was the different background, class, faith, or origin of the 31 members. The group included both Sunni and Shiite Muslims as well as to members from Iran. This was a group driven by a purely nationalistic cause. As a result of their varied backgrounds and origins, the group itself became a well-known example of unity to others.

The Al Messilah Group concentrated on sniping Iraqi soldiers and planting bombs on Iraqi munitions trucks. When the Iraqi troops began to set up stronger control over the Al Messilah area to clamp down on subversion, the group chose a safer place to gather and retreated to the Al-Qurain district.  It was a newer area, and the Iraqi's were unfamiliar with it.  They relocated to Beit Al-Qurain, the house of Bader Nasser Al-Eedan and then based their operations out of a grouping of villas.

Early on the morning of 24 February, 19 members of the Al Messilah Group were assembled at the villas in Al-Qurain.  Without warning the power was cut off across the neighborhood at about 1:30AM.  This was a precursor to the upcoming invasion.

"We had a tip that coalition forces were going to execute a marine landing in coordination with two Kuwaiti resistance groups, which are Al Messilah and West Fentas groups," Hazim Jaber Saleh, surviving member of Al Messilah, said during an interview with KUNA.

"When the coalition forces' land attack was announced, we were overjoyed and planned to have a role in directing the coalition forces to Iraqi soldiers' gathering sites and in assisting the forces in fighting the occupiers who had begun to withdraw," he added.

The group had brought their weapons out of hiding and were preparing to attack the Iraqi forces.   Resistance members were wearing unified clothing with Al Messilah Group on the front and Kuwait Force on the back so coalition forces could identify them.  At about 8AM, while they were gathering their weapons and discussing their plans, a van holding Iraqi troops which had been on patrol in the neighborhood came upon their villa.  Iraqi forces had begun arresting Kuwaiti youth from their homes to use them as human shields and to hold them as prisoners of war.   The car stopped in front of Beit Al-Qurain, and an Iraqi soldier got went to the door and knocked, but got no answer.  An Iraqi officer then ordered a soldier to jump over the fence and try to enter the home.  This led to the discovery of the Al Messilah Group.

The troops immediately surrounded the villa demanding their immediate surrender.  The resistance group's leader Sayed Hadi Al-Alawi was watching the situation from the roof when he announced to the Iraqi’s the Kuwaiti resistance members chose to fight rather than surrender.

Al-Alawi shot the Iraqi soldier, the two sides exchanged shooting until 6:00PM, then Iraqi Army forces requested tank support, as well as that of Republican Guard forces that surrounded the house from all sides," Saleh said.

For 10 hours the Al Messilah Group fought off the assault armed with nothing more than small arms.  The tanks repeatedly fired at the house leaving enormous holes in the walls and causing some of them to crumble. There was a constant stream of bullets ripping through the home, as the members of the group moved about inside to gain a better position to fight off the attackers.

Al-Alawi asked the Kuwaiti resistance members to take positions in different parts of the house to confuse and disperse the Iraqi soldiers who began firing tank and artillery rounds at the building, while the Kuwaitis only had light weapons to return fire with,” Saleh explained.

By the end of the day, the resistance was running out of ammo and realized there would be no rescue from outside.  (My interpretation) Sayed Hadi Alawi, their leader, knew there was no way all of them would make it out of the villa alive.  He told his group to be prepared to escape, and he would create a diversion.  Alawi made his way to the roof of the battered structure, carrying with him a Kuwaiti flag, what was left of their grenades and his weapon.   As he looked over what remained of the wall which encompassed the roof, he could see below over a hundred Iraqi troops who were firing at the villa along with the two battle tanks that had been continually blasting their structure. Pulling the pins from the grenades he threw them into the gathered squads of troops below. In the respite from their continual fire, he turned and raised the Kuwaiti flag in a final act of defiance would seal his fate. While the troops were running from the grenades, one of the tanks – – seeing him on the rooftop – – fired its main gun ending Alawi’s life.

Yousef Khudair Ali and Aamir Faraj Al-Enizi continued to fight until both were killed by gunfire from the Iraqi troops below. The remaining Al Messilah Group members who did not leave the house were forced to surrender as they were completely out of ammunition.  They were arrested when the Iraqi troops swarmed into the house. The members of the Al Messilah Group captured were:  Jassem Mohammad Ali, Mubarak Ali Safar, Ibrahim Ali Safar, Abdullah Abdulnabi Mandani, Khalil Khairallah Al-Bulishi, Khalid Ahmad Al-Kandiri, Hussein Ali Ridha, Mohammad Othman Al-Shaya, and the homeowner Al-Eedan.

It was now 6 PM. In the 10 hours, the battle lasted, 19 Kuwaitis, who were mostly untrained, held off over 100 and Iraqi troops including a contingent of elite Republican Guard and two tanks. They did so with only small arms and a smattering of grenades – – however, in a fighting spirit which would have given Sun Tzu pause, the members of the Al Messilah Group were united in a sense of purpose and by the ultimate goal of seeing Kuwait freed from its occupiers.

The arrestees were all executed by Iraq soldiers at Sabah Al-Salem Police Station, and their bodies were thrown into an open area in Al-Qurain,” Saleh said.

Allah the Almighty had chosen martyrdom for 12 of the resistance members and survival for the rest who either escaped to neighboring homes at the start of the battle or hid in the dark amid the ruin of a house as electricity was cut off. The survivors were Sami Sayed Hadi Al-Alawi, Mohammad Yousef Kareem, Jamal Ibrahim Al-Bannai, Talal Sultan Al-Hazza', Mishaal Al-Motairi, Bader Al-Suwaidan, Ahmad Jaber Saleh, and I,” Hazim Jaber Saleh said.

After the liberation of Kuwait, the house where the battle took place became the Al-Qurain Martyrs' Museum honoring all the Kuwaitis who were martyred due to their active resistance against the Iraqi invaders. While my son was here for a visit, we went to see the site. The villa has been left pretty much as it was at the end of the battle. Sections of walls are missing, floors completely gone, and twisted metal rebar exposed throughout. Huge holes in the exterior brick walls from tank fire, glassless windows, and structures torn from their foundations. When walking through the battle site, I felt the familiar pangs of respect and awe experienced while visiting other places of liberation against tyranny.

Plaques are located within the villa to show where the men lost their lives, were captured or hid to evade arrest. On one side of the villa, the more damaged side of the building, you can look out and down upon one of the Iraqi tanks which was involved in the battle still frozen there in time. I recalled the image of Tiananmen Square where a sole student faced down a tank – but this was different – here the tank was firing without restriction or mercy. My mind reeled at the thoughts of what took place and the bravery it must have taken to continue the fight even when you know all is lost.

On the first floor is the museum which has displays of various relics from the battle. There are heart rendering pictures of the martyred men and the families they left behind. Shell casings, machine guns, and multiple documents are on display. The documents include orders given to Iraqi troops that were in effect during the occupation. The rules included things like "Burn and destroy all the homes on which there are slogans hostile to our leadership, the pictures of the defunct Al-Sabah dynasty, or the Kuwaiti flags." "Burn and destroy every district in which any military, security, or Popular Army individual is martyred." "Arrest any person who owns, or keeps at his home, a weapon." "Annihilate any hostile demonstration."
Included in the display is a memo from General H. Norman Schwarzkopf expressing his regret they did not reach the house 4 days earlier – as it could have prevented the slaughter.

PostScript:  The description of the battle above is the result of finding fourteen or so versions of the fight and pulling out the pieces where the facts coincide.  I was never able to find out how many Iraqis died in the battle, only a single reference to a hundred or so taking part in the skirmish.  It is interesting that even though this just happened 20 or so years ago, the story has already begun to transition into legend. I don’t think this is a bad thing; it is our legends which inspire us and cause us to move forward.   I do believe this tale of bravery would make a reasonably good movie, in fact, if I could get the rest of the facts I might take a shot at writing the screenplay myself.  Even without a film, Kuwaitis need to be aware of the struggles which happened during the occupation, and they should be continually reminded not only of the bravery but what was possible when all of the people worked together to benefit the nation.


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