KUWAIT CITY—American and British diplomats urged their citizens to leave Kuwait Monday and the United Nations pulled the last of its observers from the demilitarized zone between Kuwait and Iraq as war appeared to be inevitable.
But the U.S. and British warnings did not spark a stampede. At Kuwait International Airport it was business as usual. Those who were leaving Monday said family pressure or orders from employers, not personal concerns, spurred their departures.
"I just don't think Saddam can do anything here," said Terry Akers of Houston, an engineer working on a gas project with the Kuwaiti government. "But I don't blame my company. I guess I'm glad they made the decision for me."
Diplomats said the response from the 3,500 or so Britons and 500 to 1,000 Americans in Kuwait had been "limited." So they issued a second warning.
"There is hostility here and the risk of a (terror) attack," a diplomat said. "The threat is high and will rise. The embassies are now operating with only core teams."
Even those who were leaving said they doubted Iraq would launch attacks on Kuwait. "I'm leaving because of family pressure—my daughter wants me to go," said Liz Pollit, who with her husband has lived in Kuwait 25 years. "I don't think anything is going to happen here."
Her husband, Geoff, an oil executive, was staying behind.
"I have to work," he said.
Mohammad Al-Jassim, editor of the Arabic daily Al Watan, said most Kuwaitis also are skeptical that Kuwait will be hit by either a terrorist attack or a strike by Saddam.
"Everybody knows it's a possibility, but what can you do?" he asked. "When the time comes, people will leave through Saudi Arabia if necessary."
Kuwaitis and expatriates are taking precautions, however.
The streets in the center city are empty at night. Many families have prepared safe rooms in their homes with plastic sheeting and duct tape. And some mothers have kept their children home from school.
"The moon has changed," Al-Jassim said. "People feel the war might start today."
United Nations officials apparently share that feeling. U.N. observers watching the demilitarized zone between Kuwait and Iraq pulled out completely Monday after cutting their efforts to the minimum over the weekend.
"We've moved and are awaiting other orders from New York," said Daljeet Bagga, spokesman for the U.N. Iraq-Kuwait Observation Mission.
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.