I wanted Aziz’ interview and the Iraqi position clearly outlined. Not that I thought that it would affect much, other than inform. The research both Tori and Gwen were coming up with made the situation a bit less than the black and white treatment it was getting. Britain played pretty fast and loose with its protectorates at the end of the Second World War. Palestine becoming Israel is the most common example. Was an Iraqi claim on Kuwait as strong as the mandate that created the Jewish state? Let alone that Ibn Saud had gobbled up more Kuwaiti territory than Saddam now held. Could we justify ousting Hussein without returning the Saudi territories seized?
Harold supported me, especially against Gwen who wanted to join the hawks without reservations.
So, I was deep into the story of how Sunni Iraqi boat builders from Basra, running from the Shiite Persians created the Kuwaiti boat building industry which made Kuwait a major trading power in the mid eighteenth century continuing through the nineteenth when I got a call.
George Pappas wanted my ear.
“Nick, do you know Anthony Esposito?”
“Vaguely, from years ago. Isn’t he the rogue Mafioso who is making the case against Russo?”
“You haven’t heard, busy day?”
“I’ll bite, what have I missed.”
“A Marshall’s car with him inside blew up yesterday in Passaic.”
“So, Russo walks again?”
“Anything you can add?”
“A little after one in the afternoon.”
I chuckled. “Between twelve and about two-thirty yesterday, Tori and I were having lunch with Russo, Frankie Costa, Giancarlo Capaletta, and Joey D in the Hamptons.”
“In other words, the Godfather, New Jersey and Suffolk capos and a possible button man are all alibied?”
“Ironclad, though I do have the feeling that the timing of my lunch date had a great deal to do with it.”
“I’m certain of it. Expect the FBI to visit.”
“Always a pleasure to welcome public servants.”
I immediately got to Tori, but she knew and was already at work. So, I started acting like a reporter and called Russo.
“John,” I said, “I enjoyed our lunch so much yesterday that I have decided to publish how much both Tori and I enjoyed the Etna Rosso. You heard about Tony?”
“Only channel seven, Nick.”
“You care to make a statement?”
“Only that, despite our recent disagreement, he was a friend of long standing and my heart goes out to his family. And you can quote that.”
After gathering similar sentiments from Costa, Capaletta and Joey D, I walked back into Tori. We decided on Gina Calciano to do both the story and the obit. She came in and took both Tori’s research and my quotes.
“Anyone else I should contact?” she asked.
“A few years ago, he and Joey D were joined at the hip. Joey might have a story or two that doesn’t involve illegal activity.”
“How do you know that?”
“Jen and I double date.”
“So, you know him?”
“Let’s say met him.”
“Okay, Gina. Tony was a border line psychotic murderer, a thoroughly disgusting, reprehensible human being. Friends of mine trained him a bit and he turned on us, as well as his bosses, a man without loyalty or scruples. You good enough to make me sorry he’s dead?”
“I’ll do my best.”
“That’s expected, now go.”
I turned to Tori. “You as burned as I am?”
“We were used, but they asked, they didn’t order. We won more than we lost. Gina will give the obit ghouls what they want. Our coverage will be top rank. Did you thank John?”
“You should have.”
“So, with the disposition of three capos?”
“Russo can be Siciliano or Napoli. Esposito only Napoli.”
“Still not tracking.”
“I told you, to be made both your parents have to be Siciliano. That was probably the reason for Tony turning. He made his bones over and over again, but couldn’t be made. Had to be a lot of resentment. Especially with Joey D being made for a single button.”
I shook my head. “I’ll never understand it.”
“With ancestors that populated the Atlantic coast of Europe with your bastards, it’s doubtful you ever will.”
Tori and I spoke in Parsi for five days before the Aziz dinner. Getting him to the loft on Atlantic Avenue was an operation that would have done credit to Alexander. When I locked off the elevator, both Iraqi security personnel and New York’s finest were on the ground floor, in Hetty’s loft, and on the roof.
We ate in the center of the loft. Tori made a special chili with bison, and specially ordered Hatch chili peppers.
“You remembered the quackamolli? Is that how you say it? Most gracious, thank you.”
“Guacamole,” said Tori, “How could I forget my friend.”
“So, we are about to become enemies,” I said.
“I would hope not, but no one is giving me any chance to get our position across. I deeply appreciate this.”
“So, what is your position?”
“Kuwait is Iraq. The population is Iraqi, the sea was ours for a century and Kuwait was the key. When the Turks were expelled, the Arabians started slicing them up. They went to the British instead of us. When the Second War came down, in 1938, the Kuwaitis actually voted to reintegrate with us. Churchill, the (a Parsi expletive can’t really translate Bloody Son of a Bitch, probably works best) sent the Repulse to Basra, and parked the Prince of Wales in Kuwait. In ’39 they tried to complete the reintegration and British marines ended that, not without casualties.
“We are finally reaching out to our own, and the whole World seems determined to stop us, over Israel and oil.”
“Tarik, please, be honest with me. Almost 70% of Kuwait is expatriate. It’s a haven for principled dissenters, from all over the World.”
“You touch my heart, Nick. Who are your principled dissenters? I’ll tell you, 40% of Kuwait is Christian.
“Can you imagine growing up Christian in a Muslim nation? I would say that is reason to stay, not withdraw. We are the most tolerant Muslim nation in the World.”
“Do you really think the World will cede control of the oil market to Saddam Hussein?”
“The whole World has been dancing to the Saudi’s tune for years now. Doesn’t the army that’s forming now in their desert prove that?”
“The question,” said Tori, “is why trade the devil you know for one you don’t?”
“So, we have no chance?”
“I’ll give your points full coverage,” I said. “But I really doubt it will change much. Notice who signed up first, Singapore. Why? They are threatened by Iraqi control of the oil market. Japan, who can’t commit troops, is almost handing Bush a blank check for the same reason. You don’t really face the Arab World here Tariq, you face the oil importers, and your arguments mean nothing to them.
“Off the record, is Saddam actually playing Nassar’s game here?”
Aziz smiled at that. “You are a very perceptive man, Nick, and yes I would prefer that my reaction to that not be aired.”
“Is that why the attack on Israel?”
“Who is the enemy of my enemy? Another thought you will hold in confidence I trust.”
With Tori on the research, I carefully outlined and presented the Iraqi case. I expected a backlash, but it was not anywhere near the proportions I had in my head. I think most of the better journalistic outlets appreciated that I had done it, and that they wouldn’t have to.
The bald face fact of the matter was that Kuwait was not separated from Iraq until 1913 when the Ottomans established boundaries and made it a separate province. The end of the First World War made it vulnerable and it appealed to Britain in 1920 to protect it from the raids of the followers of Ibn Saud.
Curiously, Ibn Saud owed a great deal to the Kuwaitis who welcomed the Saudi exile in 1891 and provided the basis for his counter insurgency which resulted in the Third Saudi State in 1902. Kuwait, both as a province of Iraq and a separate province under the Ottoman’s was one of the most tolerant regimes, religiously in the Middle East. This contrasted radically with the Wahhabi movement embraced by the Saudis, which was a rather puritanical, conservative Sunni sect.
In 1922 the British stepped in. Sir Percy Cox, the British High Commissioner in Baghdad, imposed the Uqair Protocol, establishing the boundaries between Kuwait, Iraq and the then Saudi emirate of Nejd. In that agreement, which the British negotiated without Kuwaiti participation, nearly two-thirds of Kuwait was ceded to the Saudis.
Kuwait remained a British Protectorate, although with a distinct anti-British sentiment, through the Second World War. In 1938, the Kuwaiti government unanimously passed a resolution to be reintegrated with Iraq which the British quashed rather quickly.
The end of the war occasioned a blossoming in Kuwait, 1946 through 1982 was considered a ’Golden Age” where the oil industry boomed and workers came from all over the World. Kuwait’s liberal attitude also attracted principled dissenters worldwide and by the early 1980s it was an intellectual and cultural melting pot and center. When it left British protection in 1961, Kuwait established the first Arab Constitution and democratic government.
The Souk Al-Manakh stock market crash of 1982, and increased competition in the oil industry led to a downturn in the Kuwaiti economy and eventually to oil wars, principally with Iraq. However, by the time of Iraq’s invasion, most of the Kuwaitis and nearly all of the expatriates considered Iraq a third world nation, and those that could, left, halving the population.
Rick and Candi balanced my article with a sidebar interviewing some of the more prominent Kuwaiti exiles, many of whom had taken shelter in Riyadh.
The tabloid press, at first, attacked both the magazine and me, personally, which I rather expected in that when the tabloids argued anything it was usually ad hominem. The rest of the press corps, however, liked my history piece, referenced it, and gave it enough lip service to appear unbiased. It didn’t dent anything, and in a week’s time even the tabloids lost interest in the roots of the coming war, following the cleavage of a couple Hollywood ingenues.
I had expected a call from the FBI, on Tony’s assassination, throughout my cobbling together the Kuwaiti piece. But it never came.
In late November the UN acted, passing Resolution 678, authorizing the use of “all necessary means” to force an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait unless Iraq chose to withdraw before January 15, 1991.
Through the first week of December, the magazine went through a mobilization that mirrored that of the International coalition in the Arabian desert. Harold and Gwen were firmly in control of the New York Offices when Tori and I left for Riyadh.
Rick and I, the writer and the editor, pretty much ceded the rental office space to our wives as Tori and Candi regimented the clerical staff and laid out marching orders for a dozen freelancers, who would be embedded with six different units in the field. It took them only four days and Tori and I were on our way through Tokyo to San Francisco and the stories I’d set in motion a couple months before.
Hetty, whose last performance had been a presentation of ‘The Nutcracker’ on December tenth was the one who picked us up, with Ray in tow. We’d left Ray with her in New York, and Kat was busy with a party in the loft, so she dispatched the two of them.
Both Tori and Candi wore burkas in Arabia. It wasn’t necessary, but both had been foreign correspondents long enough that the benefits of blending in with a culture long outweighed the needs of fashion. In first class, we both donned the travel pajamas supplied by the Singapore Air, and Tori had a rather fashionable Betsy Johnson outfit in her carry-on. The burka didn’t fit in the carry-on and I had carried it off the plane on hangers. For some reason Hetty was fascinated by the burka and tried it on as soon as we entered our San Francisco loft.