- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 2, 2002

KUWAIT CITY Fear of war is mounting among expatriates who make up more than half of Kuwait's 2.3 million population, and many embassies are asking their nationals to have money and travel documents available at short notice.

"I have a bag with the passports, my children's birth certificates, some food, and a pile of cash in the cupboard. I'm ready to leave," said Jo Jackson, one of about 4,000 British nationals living in Kuwait.

The foreign nationals in Kuwait are beginning to feel uncomfortably close to Iraq as the prospect of a U.S.-led attack to remove Saddam Hussein grows closer. Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, leading to the Persian Gulf war the next year.

"I'm one of the lucky ones whose company will get them out if there is a war. But I know people who have closed their bank accounts and booked their tickets out of here," Mrs. Jackson said. "In the meantime, I'm just trying to get on with my life."

In a supermarket in one of Kuwait's wealthy districts the talk between the food aisles is of the possibility of a pre-emptive chemical or biological strike by Iraq.

"This isn't going to be like the last war," said one shopper, a long-term resident of Kuwait. "It's going to be short, sharp and dirty. We probably shan't be seeing any of the American or British tanks which go to war. But we are afraid that we might wake up one morning smelling Iraqi nerve gases."

It is a fear that has made many Western expatriots start sleeping with gas masks next to their beds. Last week, a chemical protection unit went on sale consisting of a tent with a water purification unit, and in typical Kuwaiti style, wall-to-wall carpets and a coffee percolator.

"I haven't worn a gas mask since 1940," said Valerie Lown, from Nottingham, England. "I just hope they are more comfortable than they used to be."

The anxiety in the expatriot community is in marked contrast to the calm displayed by most Kuwaitis. "I reassure my wife by telling this is not the first time there has been the threat of war," said Falah Al-Falah, a Kuwaiti businessman married to an American.

"Every autumn for the past 12 years there has been some talk of invading Iraq. Of course, my main concern is the safety of my family, and if the trouble increases I shall not hesitate to send my wife and children abroad," he said.

The British Embassy in Kuwait has also moved to assure worried expatriots that their safety was their top priority. "People should not be any more concerned than usual. And if people are running around like headless chickens with worry, then it's probably best that they leave anyway," said John Levins, a consular official.

According to one travel company, bookings for trips to Europe at the end of the year are far above even the usual Christmas level.

"I'm planning to go to Spain in December because of the tight controls on bringing pets into the U.K.," said Natalie McKintosh, who would normally spend the holiday season in Britain. "If I'm fleeing a war, I can hardly leave my cat behind."

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