Kuwait given date for invasion, Iraqi diplomats pressed to defect

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

ABU DHABI Kuwait has been given a date for the U.S. invasion of Iraq and has requested military units trained to respond to nonconventional weapons attacks.

Meanwhile the Iraqi embassy in Bahrain complained that the United States and Britain were pressuring Iraqi diplomats to defect.

Kuwait's military has been placed on war alert. Officials said military units were placed on Level One alert, the highest grade, on late Monday. They said Kuwaiti land, air and naval forces have completed preparations for a U.S.-led war against Iraq within 48 hours.

The new alert level came in wake of a briefing on Monday by U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Tommy Franks to the Kuwaiti military and political leadership, including Emir Jabbar Al Ahmed Al Sabah. Kuwait is expected to be the main launching pad for a ground invasion of Iraq.

Officials said Kuwait has received a date of the U.S. invasion into Iraq from Central Command. They said Kuwait would be handed control of the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border zone over the next 24 hours. Since 1991, the five-kilometer-deep zone was patrolled by United Nations ceasefire observers, who have been ordered out of the area amid expectations of war.

In Manama, the Iraqi embassy in Bahrain accused Britain and the United States of trying to pressure Iraqi diplomats to defect. The embassy issued a statement on March 11 that British and U.S. agents have been threatening Iraqi diplomats.

"They asked the diplomats to cooperate with them or they would face an unknown fate," the Iraqi embassy statement said. "They made the same threat through telephone calls to the embassy. Britons introducing themselves as intelligence agents also called Iraqi diplomats at the embassy."

In another development, Kuwait has asked Ukraine to send a military unit trained to respond to a nonconventional weapons attack. The Kuwaiti request was for Ukraine to send an NBC [nuclear, biological, chemical] protection unit to help detect and respond to any nonconventional attack by neighboring Iraq. The request was for Ukraine to send a battalion.

Ukraine's 19th Battalion has been regarded as a leading NBC protection unit. The unit is said to have responded to the breakdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor near Kiev in 1986.

Germany and the Czech Republic have sent NBC units to Kuwait. The United States has trained its troops in protecting themselves from biological and chemical weapons agents.

Kuwaiti Information Minister Ahmed Fahd Al Sabah said Iraq could launch sabotage missions in the sheikdom during the war. Authorities have detained three Kuwaiti nationals charged with spying for Iraq. Authorities have not released the names of the suspects, arrested last week.

On Feb. 22, Kuwait arrested an Iraqi national and accused him of supplying Iraqi intelligence with information on Kuwaiti and U.S. military deployment in the sheikdom. The suspect, Zohair Fakira, was said to have worked for the Iraqi Defense Ministry.

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