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Remembering Aug 2, 1990 – the brutal Iraqi invasion of Kuwait
July 29, 2013, 1:41 pm

LETTER HOME is a true story of the life of a British woman married to a Kuwaiti during Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait on Aug 2nd 1990. Karen Al Aniza MBE, writes a day to day account of her experiences during those eventful days….. The Times features an abridged version of the book below

“I wrote this letter to my family during the invasion, in the hope that I might find a way of getting it back home.   I met my husband Salem in England in 1980 and in April of 1981 we were married.   A couple of years before the invasion we moved into our house in Andalus, which overlooked one of the main roads towards Iraq. 

Salem’s older brother, Marwan, worked for the C.I.D.  He and his family were ordered to leave the country in the early days of the invasion.  This did not prevent the Iraqis from continuing their search for him. My friend Heather and her Kuwaiti husband, Yousef, lived close by. 

On the 1st August 1990 I was chatting to Heather on the phone when she said how bored she was feeling and that she really wished something exciting would happen. 

Be careful what you wish for………..

The Letter …

Today is Sunday 5th August 1990.  I was woken up on Thursday morning by gunfire.  We had been invaded and the Iraqis were already in the City. It didn’t seem real until all the tanks and armoured cars started pouring down the road.

They set up camp outside with six anti-aircraft guns pointing at the house and twelve more at the side.  Two plumes of smoke rose from the army camps and one from the city. The sound of gun fire went on until 9pm.

On Saturday we went out for a drive.  What destruction, burnt out army tanks, great big holes in walls, hundreds of burnt cars. 

The British Embassy and Kuwait Towers had their windows shot out. Along the sea front there are tanks and missile launchers, about thirty or so opposite us.

Andalus has started a kind of Neighbourhood Watch.  Guns have been distributed to all the houses. 

Day 8

Every night we sleep in Uncle’s basement. I sleep with a loaded handgun under my pillow.

Day 16

The Iraqis are taking everything they can out of Kuwait.  Yesterday all the Kuwaiti tanks went out. Lorry loads of furniture too. 

Day 25

  We heard the news today that those found harbouring foreigners will be hung.

Day 28

Yesterday, while we were at Heather’s, they started searching the houses.  This is the most scared I’ve been since this began.  If the Iraqis discover that Heather and I are westerners they will execute our husbands.  They searched Uncle’s house and our house, but didn’t get to us and haven’t been searching today.

Day 30

Saddam Hussein has declared that Kuwait is now officially the 19th Province of Iraq.

Day 32

Last night was fantastic!  The word had got around that everyone should go on their roofs at midnight and shout “Allah Akbar”.  You could hear it start, way off in the distance, and then get louder and louder as everyone joined in.

Day 55

A load of soldiers have just arrived next door with a big truck and taken all the furniture away.

Day 65

Well it looks like we might be leaving.  Salem has gone to see a man this afternoon.  This man is providing fake Iranian I.D.’s.  They drive everyone in a bus through Iraq and into Iran.

Day 66

Last night at 12.30 there were suddenly around twenty soldiers surrounding the house.   They wanted to know why there were so many cars coming and going.  

Later.  I’m booked on Wednesday’s flight.   Most of the family will be going the day after tomorrow and Salem will follow as soon as I’m on the plane. 

Well almost 50 pages…. I’m pleased to be able to deliver this to you personally and put your minds at rest, but I’m heartbroken to be leaving Kuwait, not knowing when and in what circumstances I’ll return. 

The Journey Home

This is the hardest day of my life.  We set off on the journey to Safeway, and for the first time in two and a half months I see how dense the occupation has become.  There are Iraqi check points everywhere.

We pile on to coaches and finally arrive at Basra Airport.  A short time later we are descending into Baghdad where we disembark, as Saddam Hussein wants us shown on TV as proof of his generosity at letting us leave.  Seven hours later we touch down at Gatwick. 

As we walk down the steps of the plane and the cold autumn air hits our faces, the Red Cross are there with blankets.  The relief is palpable, but I feel strangely numb, and quite stunned, by the fact that everything is so normal here while there is so much suffering in Kuwait……and I feel guilty that I have left it all behind, along with my husband and friends. 

I’m exhausted now, I’ve been awake for over 24 hours but all tiredness leaves me as I see the faces of my parents.  I keep telling them that Salem is coming soon.  I don’t know how wrong I am.


We get back home.  Strangers come up to me in the street saying how happy they are that I’m back.  I’m happy too, but I’m aching inside….still no word from Salem.  He should be out by now.  What could have happened? 

One evening the phone rings.  I pick it up and over a crackly line……. I hear Salem’s voice.  He’s in Saudi Arabia at the border!  I can’t stop crying with relief. Our conversation is brief, everyone is OK but Granddad is not with them, he wouldn’t leave. 

Salem eventually arrives at Heathrow at 5.30am on 28th December and I’m in his arms, holding on to him for dear life.

My first question is why didn’t you leave the day after me, as planned?  Over the next few days I get to hear the whole story. Some of which chills me to the bone.

Salem’s story

The day after I left, the family decided to wait until they got a message from me that I was safe.  Salem felt a lot freer and able to move around.

One evening in late November the door bell rang. 

A man whispered to Salem that he had been taken by the Iraqis and while in custody he had seen a file with Salem’s name on it.  He must leave as soon as possible, before they came to take him.

They buried all the weapons in the garden, in case the house was searched. 

A few days later, around 7pm, they suddenly heard shouting outside.  Soldiers surrounded the house.  Sara started to yell insults at them. They grabbed hold of Salem, held a gun to his head and released the safety catch.  Salem’s mother started begging them not to shoot, pleading for her son’s life.

The soldiers said that they knew that Marwan was still in Kuwait and began to search the house.

They were taken to the police station in Ardiya.  One by one they were questioned.  Eventually they were released…...except Salem and Jamal, who were put into jail. 

 In the early hours of the morning they grabbed hold of them and put them back in the truck.  As they took them back to the house and stopped the truck seventy metres from the gate, they became fearful that they would be shot in the back before they reached home.    The truck drove away and with a sigh of relief they made it back inside the house.

Once arrested your file goes to the Mukhabarat from whom few people ever returned alive.  They must leave….and as soon as possible.

They quickly packed a few belongings and set off in convoy towards the Saudi border.  Around 5.30am they joined the queues waiting to be given a permit, allowing them to leave the country. 

Around 2pm they reached the check point and handed over their passports and I.D.’s.   They had to sign a paper stating that they held no claim to anything in Kuwait.  For Salem it felt as if his very existence was being stripped from him.

As they headed towards the border there was no going back and the tears began to flow.

At the Saudi border they were given accommodation in a school building and Salem got to phone me.

A week later Faisal arrived.  He told them that the day after they had left the Iraqis came to the house looking for them again.  After searching they went to Uncle’s.  The soldiers moved into the house for three days, waiting to see if Salem would return.

On the 16th January, the Liberation of Kuwait began and on 26th February we sat in amazement and joy, and not without some envy, as the Kuwaitis emerged from their houses and greeted the victorious allied troops as they made their way into Kuwait.

Return to Kuwait

When Salem reached Kuwait the skies were black with smoke from the oil fires and there was damage and destruction everywhere.  Grandad was so pleased to see them and told them of how he had sent the Iraqis away when they tried to steal the cars and loot the house. 

It was a year after I had left Kuwait that I finally returned.  It was very emotional. I was so grateful that our friends and family had survived.

It wasn’t long before we carried on with our lives as if nothing had ever happened.  But, always in the back of my mind was the fact that, even after all this, Saddam Hussein was still in power in Iraq and that it was only a matter of time before we would hear his drums of war pounding again.

The full version of Letter Home is available for sale at The Kuwait Bookshop at Muthanna Complex, Fahad Al Salem St and Jarir Bookstore in Hawally. More details at


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