Like The Phoenix
Extraordinary. It’s almost two decades since Iraq invaded Kuwait. Remember the rapid heartbeat and paralyzing fear that gripped us as the nightly news soberly detailed the dangers ahead.
On that fateful early August day in 1990, the news rang out around the world that Iraq had invaded Kuwait. A long and hotly contested debate had raged on too long regarding the rich oil reserves of the Kuwaiti emirate and exactly who was the rightful owner of this black gold.
This was the day known later as “Black Thursday.”
Behind the invasion was Iraq’s leader, Saddam Hussein. International diplomats quickly flew into action, troops were massed, and high level posturing took on new and heightened meaning. Before our eyes, in our living rooms, the Persian Gulf War had begun. Iraq had declared that Kuwait was now it’s 19th province as the world watched, and waited.
And the rest, as you know, is history as written in the pages of the Operation Desert Storm chapter. Eventually, the multi-national force wrestled back control of Kuwait. Detailed in Saddam Hussein’s radio message February 26th, 1991, his forces were withdrawing from Kuwait per his orders.
Nationals returned. Embassies and banks reopened. A massive clean up of an oil spill resulting from Hussein’s order to explode Kuwait’s oil fields began. Some 732 Kuwaiti oil wells had been destroyed creating an ecological Armageddon. And, it was not until nine months later that the last oil fire was finally extinguished.
It was not until 2008 that Kuwait appointed an ambassador to Iraq, the first since the Gulf War started in 1991.
And that just about brings us up to today, when Kuwait is a nation well back on its feet and greeting travelers from the world over. You’ll soon join that small but elite cadre.
So, What’s To See?
Lots. You can start with the Kuwait Oil Display Center. It outlines the challenges faced by fire strike teams when stamping out the oil fires ignited during the invasion. To fill in other details, there’s the Martyr’s House that tells the tale of nine young Kuwaitis killed by invading troops for resisting arrest.
On a lighter note, there’s the Marine Museum, completed in 1998 and housed in the Radisson SAS Hotel. Here you’ll discover the world’s largest wooden dhow, measuring 262 by 61 feet, named Al Hashemi II. Other examples are on view in the dhow harbor including the last pre-oil days wooden dhow, named Fateh el Kheir. No longer in use, it and others like it were once players in the vibrant and lucrative pearl industry that fell by the wayside when the world’s interest shifted from fashion to fossil fuels, your basic jewels to fuels shift.
Another museum of note is the Tareq Rajab. Different wings offer exhibits of everything from manuscripts to musical instruments, calligraphy to traditional costumes. These 30,000 pieces represent the impressive collection of Tareq Sayed Rejab and his wife, Jehan Wellborne. Plus, there’s the National Museum with its Islamic art exhibits. Though it suffered terribly at the hands of the invaders, much of it has now been restored. Features include an antique cargo dhow and a 1986 planetarium, which details the drama of the Kuwaiti night skies. Both were deliberately set on fire during the invasion. You’ll hear that story as you explore this important facility.
The Scientific Center is notable for housing the Middle East’s largest aquarium. Within are three departments, each with a different focus. There’s one for the coastal plant and animal life, another for marine flora and fauna, and a third for birds and mammals as well as the desert’s reptiles. A quick drive past the National Assembly and the Jahra Gate, which represents a section of the old city wall, will just about cap off your sightseeing.
With time to spare you can peek at the offerings at the Al Lothan Craft center, which features traditional handicrafts from the region. There are also many fine boutiques because the average Kuwaiti definitely knows his designer duds—everything from his Dolce to his Gabbana, watches to handbags, and trendy eyewear to this season’s sauciest shoes. If it’s designer this and that, they got it.
When one wearies from all this sightseeing and shopping, and the midday sun has driven home its point, just know that a cool respite awaits in the 400-foot-tall Kuwait Towers. Opened in 1979, the Swedish architect behind this building knew how to capitalize on the million-Dinar view of Kuwait City and the vast reaches of the Arabian Gulf beyond.
So, with a journalful of memories, it’s on to the next destination … one to complete your Middle Eastern tableau.
Karyn L. Planett