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Thursday, 26 September, 2002, 02:09 GMT 03:09 UK
Kuwait prepares for war
US cargo plane in Kuwait
The US has already despatched troops to Kuwait

The debate over whether to go to war with Iraq is being watched with growing interest in the Gulf.

US forces have been building up in Kuwait, officially for an exercise, but as the only Arab country likely to fully back a war with Saddam Hussein, Kuwait is likely to be in the firing line.


Do we think that Saddam represents a clear and present danger to Kuwait? Yes we do. Are we concerned about the situation? Absolutely

Dr Mohammed al-Sabah
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs
As the tension in the region grows, Kuwait is preparing for the unthinkable - a chemical weapons attack.

At a disaster training exercise at the country's Shuaiba oil refinery it is a scene of bedlam as Indian oil workers struggle to put on gas masks and ambulances race to rescue the imagined casualties.

To Kuwait's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Mohammed al-Sabah, it is clear where the threat of such a disaster being made real comes from.

Chemical attack fears

"Do we think that Saddam represents a clear and present danger to Kuwait? Yes we do. Are we concerned about the situation? Absolutely."

But he stressed that, nonetheless, Kuwait was not eager for military action.

Kuwaiti soldier
If there is military action Kuwait will be in the front line

Kuwait knows that if and when the West goes to war with Saddam, then this tiny Gulf state will be in the front line.

There are already close to 10,000 fully equipped US troops in the country.

The nightmare scenario is that in an act of desperation, Saddam Hussein might punish Kuwait for hosting US troops by firing a missile at Kuwait, with a warhead full of anthrax or nerve gas.

Emergency measures

The Civil Defence Commander, Colonel Mustafa Jumaa, says that mass orders for gas masks have been placed for civil servants. But the rest of the population will have to buy their own.


He does have weapons, I'm sure he has weapons. If the Europeans say so, then I believe he has weapons

Kuwaiti man

"At the moment there are nine emergency shelters ready in Kuwait. They are in the ministries and government buildings in case the country is attacked during working hours. We are also urging people to have private shelters in their homes," Mr Jumaa said.

Local opinion

In the cafes of Kuwait, they are trusting to God - and America - to protect their home.

As men lounge on the benches sipping their tea, the conversation more often than not turns to the subject of Saddam Hussein.

They have never forgiven him for invading Kuwait 12 years ago and now they cannot wait to see the back of him.

Gas mask wearer
Citizens have been told to buy their own gas masks

"Saddam is the dog of the Arabs. He hasn't done anything for his people or the Arab world or the entire world... his downfall would be a victory for the Iraqis," said one man.

"He does have weapons, I'm sure he has weapons. If the Europeans say so, then I believe he has weapons," the man added, giving his support for the dossier published this week which claims to outline Iraq's weapons programme.

Open in new window : Dossier at-a-glance
Iraq and weapons of mass destruction

For all its oil wealth, Kuwait is a lonely country. It is almost the only Arab state to take seriously the threat from Saddam Hussein.

For the sake of Arab unity it has to pretend officially that all it wants is for Iraq to obey the United Nations resolutions.

Saddam Hussein
Kuwaitis have never forgiven Saddam Hussein for invading

But while Kuwait would welcome the end of Saddam Hussein, some intellectuals are questioning what comes next.

Dr Ibrahim al-Hadban, who teaches political science at Kuwait University, worries that after Baghdad, the US will be looking for fresh targets in the region in its war on terror.

"First it started with Afghanistan, now Iraq, probably next Iran or Syria, then Lebanon.

"When they put (out) the list about the countries that assist terrorists... most of the countries were Arab and Muslim countries, and the question is - where do you stop?"

For Kuwait, just getting through the next few months will be hard enough. If the US attacks Iraq from here, then there is almost bound to be a retaliation.

But if Saddam Hussein stays in power, this country will never sleep peacefully. There is really no happy ending for Kuwait, except for one without Saddam Hussein.



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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Frank Gardner
"Fears of retaliation against Kuwiat are driving emergency drills"

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25 Sep 02 | Middle East
25 Sep 02 | Middle East
24 Sep 02 | Politics
24 Sep 02 | Politics
23 Sep 02 | In Depth
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