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Kuwati attitude different { February 26 2003 }

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February 26, 2003
U.S. Troops Seen Differently in Kuwait

Filed at 1:59 a.m. ET

KUWAIT CITY (AP) -- As the anniversary of Iraq's retreat in the Gulf War approaches, Kuwaitis' memories of the U.S. role in their liberation are being eroded by Washington's Middle East policies and the preaching of Islamic extremists.

Since late last year, there have been three shootings of American soldiers in Kuwait. Whereas in 1991 Kuwaitis hugged and kissed U.S. soldiers, today American forces move around the country under unprecedented security.

Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. A U.S.-led coalition attacked the Iraqi occupiers on Feb. 23, 1991, routing them and liberating Kuwait in just four days.

But in the years since the Persian Gulf War, the United States' support for Israel in its 2 1/2-year-old battle with the Palestinians has soured many Arabs' view of Americans.

``Time weakens the collective memory, and Americans know that people here are Arabs and sympathize with Palestinians,'' said newspaper columnist Sami al-Nisf.

Hisham al-Rayyes, a businessman whose house was looted during the Iraqi occupation, said that Kuwaitis who endured the seven-month Iraqi occupation will not forget their American liberators, but ``our problem is with the young ones'' who are vulnerable to extremist preaching.

A leading Muslim fundamentalist, Abdul-Razzak al-Shayeji, believes Americans have overstayed their welcome. ``Their presence is colonization. Kuwait has become a base from which they can work to achieve their targets of hegemony and reshaping the area,'' he said, referring to the buildup of U.S. troops in the country for a possible invasion of Iraq.

A teacher of Sharia, or Islamic law, al-Shayeji told The Associated Press that Kuwaitis were torn between ``safeguarding the security of their country and maintaining their Islamic and Arab identity.''

However, he said Islamists should not take up arms against Americans. ``They should speak out in statements,'' and not give the government any reason to clamp down on the Islamic movement, he said.

In November, two Kuwaiti religious extremists shot U.S. Marines on a Kuwaiti island, killing one and wounding another. The assailants were shot dead by other Marines. Thirteen alleged accomplices will stand trial on Saturday.

A third Muslim zealot is accused of killing a San Diego computer contractor and injuring another on Jan. 21 close to Camp Doha, where U.S. forces are based.

A 20-year-old policeman, who is not known to be linked to extremists, shot and injured two U.S. Army soldiers on a highway in November. He is pleading insanity.

On Monday, the authorities said they had arrested two followers of Osama bin Laden on charges of planning armed attacks on U.S. military convoys.

Scores of Kuwaitis trained and fought with bin Laden's militants in Afghanistan. But columnist al-Nisf said bin Laden sympathizers are a minority in Kuwait.

Fearing that Kuwaitis were forgetting the U.S. role in forcing out the Iraqi occupiers, a group called the the Kuwait Friendship Society put Liberation Day posters on the back of 40 public buses. The posters said ``We will never forget'' in Arabic and English.

``We want to say to Americans that (the recent) incidents and statements do not express the real feelings Kuwaitis have for them,'' said organizer Salah al-Hashem.

Al-Hashem said the government and private groups should work to keep the memory of 1991 alive, especially among the younger generation. But al-Shayeji, the Islamic law teacher, was contemptuous of the Kuwait Friendship Society's campaign.

``They should call themselves the Kuwait Cronies Society,'' he said.

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