KUWAIT CITY (AP) – The United States and Britain urged their citizens to leave Kuwait immediately as war loomed yesterday, citing the risk of chemical or biological attack by Iraq or terrorists.
The warning came as U.N. observers stopped all patrols at the heavily fortified Iraq-Kuwait border ahead of a possible U.N. evacuation. Iraq accused the United Nations of abandoning its “responsibility in maintaining world peace and security.”
The United States and Britain have nearly 300,000 troops in the Persian Gulf, mostly in Kuwait, poised for a possible invasion of Iraq.
President Bush issued a one-day deadline Sunday for final diplomatic attempts to avert war, meaning the start of fighting could be just days away.
The State Department ordered all U.S. government dependents and nonessential staff out of Kuwait, Syria, Israel and the West Bank and Gaza, citing the “deteriorating security situation in the region.” Britain likewise pared its embassy to a skeleton staff yesterday.
Both countries warned their nationals against travel to Kuwait and urged those already there to get out while commercial flights are still running.
“What we would like is for people to take that advice – as I say, the word is ‘urgently,'” a spokesman for the British Embassy said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The British Embassy was considering extra flights to help evacuate the 3,000 to 3,500 Britons and other Commonwealth citizens in the country, the spokesman said.
U.S. Embassy officials said it appeared regular commercial flights could handle the American departure. Embassy authorities believe between 500 and 1,000 Americans would leave as a result of the latest warning, U.S. Embassy spokesman John Moran said.
Most of the 8,000 American civilians who remain in Kuwait are military contractors, journalists and children or spouses of Kuwaiti nationals, he said.
Kuwait’s international airport was calm early yesterday. Any exodus, if it comes, was expected to start with evening flights.
Diplomats said yesterday’s warnings were based on an overall assessment or risk, rather than any new intelligence or threats.
With Kuwait the launch pad for any attack, its airport is expected to close for civilian flights if hostilities begin, possibly for several days.
The British and U.S. warnings cited the possibility of attacks not just from Iraq, but from insurgents within Kuwait.