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Iraq

Kuwait, a nation on war's edge

By DAVID BALLINGRUD and JOHN PENDYGRAFT

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 9, 2003


KUWAIT CITY -- The 2.2-million residents of Kuwait City are feeling jittery these days, and who could blame them?

Bad enough that Saddam Hussein remains in power to the north, but now the Turks have said they won't allow U.S. troops to attack over their border with Iraq.

If the Turks don't budge, Kuwait will become a staging area for even more foreign troops than the thousands there now. As if Hussein needed more reasons to be furious with his small neighbor.

So nerves were stretched a little tight recently when a Kuwaiti man tried to enter the Hilton Hotel with what appeared to be a weapon but was only a rusting, spent mortar round. U.S. troops in the area briefly prepared defenses, before learning the item was harmless.

There are automatic weapons, armored vehicles and concrete barriers deployed throughout the city, but while many Kuwaitis appear worried, they also seem resigned.

"Everybody in Kuwait right now is taking precautions," said one man, "getting more water in their house (and) sealing their windows. It's kind of nervous for everyone here right now."

Meanwhile:

* Thousands have signed up for training classes in protection from chemical and biological weapons, first aid and firefighting.

* Stores are selling out of protective suits and gas masks, despite some high prices. A good gas mask, for example, might fetch $200.

* The Red Cross is stockpiling blood donations.

* Kuwait television runs videos showing what to do during air raid drills, and civil defense officials have programmed cell phones with messages warning people to be ready for war.

"The safety and security of our country is our responsibility," reads one.

Ashwaq Saleh al-Aradah, a Kuwaiti mother of two, said she has stockpiled food and water. She has also set aside a part of her home as a shelter, and by the end of the week she may cross the windows with tape to protect against flying glass.

But she added that neither she nor her family were panicking and were trying to keep life as normal as possible.

That will be easier for some than for others.

A large portion of the city's population is nonresident workers, mostly Asians, and some will have trouble coming up with the money for protection, should Iraq attack with chemical or biological weapons.

"I'm worried about the poison gas missiles, but we don't know anything (about safety measures)," said a Bangladeshi cleaner who earns $150 a month. He said colleagues were asking employers to return their passports to them to allow them to flee in case of attack.

Some Westerners in the country are taking precautions, too, booking flights out of the country, obtaining visas for neighboring Saudi Arabia or buying gas masks for themselves and their families.

-- Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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