KUWAIT, AUG. 2 (THURSDAY) -- Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait this morning, driving deep into the country and seizing parts of the capital of this Persian Gulf emirate.

{"It is fairly safe to say that Kuwait city is overrun," a White House official said in Washington early this morning.}

Heavy machine-gun and mortar fire could be heard through the morning around the palace of the ruling emir, Sheik Jabir Ahmed Sabah. Within hours of the invasion, Iraq's ruling council declared that its troops had acted to support Kuwaiti revolutionaries who had conducted a coup against Sabah's government, news agencies reported from Baghdad.

Amid fighting in the city this morning, Kuwaiti radio interrupted a program of military music, declaring: "Citizens, your country is being subjected to a barbaric invasion. . . . It is time to defend it."

A huge column of black smoke, hundreds of feet high, could be seen above the city water towers that dominate the capital's skyline and stand across the street from the emir's palace. Kuwaitis reported that at least two government ministries -- those of information and internal affairs -- had been seized by Iraqi troops. News agencies reported Iraqi seizures of other key sites.

{In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said the Iraqi troops were "pushing pretty hard, going far in," he said. He said the invasion was "not just a border thing."

{Just before midnight, the White House issued a statement saying, "The United States strongly condemns the Iraqi military invasion of Kuwait and calls for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all Iraqi forces." The White House later added, "The United States is reviewing all its options in response to this Iraqi aggression." Officials said there are about 3,800 Americans in the country, including 270 government employees and their dependents.

{The statement said the United Nations Security Council would meet this morning to review the situation.}

The Associated Press quoted Western diplomats as saying that large numbers of Iraqi tanks had rumbled into the city.

Kuwaiti state radio said the invasion began at about 2 a.m. local time, less than 24 hours after the two countries had broken off talks aimed at defusing the crisis in their relations caused by Iraqi demands for territorial and financial concessions.

The scene in Kuwait city was chaotic. A series of explosions, lasting almost an hour, could be heard shortly after dawn. They appeared to be coming from north of the city. The Iraqi border is about 50 miles north of the city.

The area near the U.S. Embassy and the emir's palace was sealed by armed police, and sporadic gunfire could be heard on the streets in the area of the palace early this morning. One Western diplomat reported that the shooting appeared to be between Kuwaiti and Iraqi forces.

{In Washington, Kuwaiti Ambassador Saud Nasir Sabah, a member of the royal family, said Iraqi forces "have penetrated very deep into the city. There is a sense of panic and desperate attempts to stop them."

{Sabah said the Iraqi invaders were supported by helicopter gunships and aircraft. He said he had no information about the whereabouts or safety of the ruling emir.

A Western diplomat here said he had been told the Iraqis had taken all border posts between Abdaly, where the main highway to Basra crosses the frontier, and Umm Qasr, on the Persian Gulf.

The Associated Press reported from Kuwait that an unidentified ship had tried to approach the emir's seaside palace and that palace guards had opened fire. AP also said that formations of Kuwaiti air force Mirage fighter jets had flown north toward the border. A Western diplomat told the Post that one aircraft reportedly had been shot down. Kuwaiti army tanks and armored personnel carriers were maneuvering south of the royal palace and appeared to be trying to establish new defensive positions.

{White House deputy press spokesman Steve Hart said the United States had conveyed its condemnation of the invasion "to the Iraqi ambassador in Washington and to the Iraqi government through our embassy in Baghdad. We deplore this blatant use of military aggression and violation of the United Nations charter."

{Pentagon officials said they were monitoring the invasion through intelligence sources, but several officials said there were no plans for a U.S. military response to the invasion, staff correspondent Patrick E. Tyler reported. "We have not gotten any new requests from our allies," said one official, adding, "I don't know what we would do."

{One Pentagon official said the Iraqi troops "started to move" during the day Wednesday in a massive formation close to the border and by the end of the afternoon, some Pentagon officials were predicting that an Iraqi invasion was inevitable. "There is general befuddlement about what to do in any case," said one Middle East specialist in the Pentagon.

{Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney was at home monitoring the Iraqi action by telephone. An aide said he was not expected to return to the Pentagon during the night. "There is no decision for him to make," an aide said, adding, "This ain't our show."

{Since the Iraqi troop build-up on Kuwait's border was first reported, U.S. officials have sought to hedge their statements about the U.S. commitment to security threats to Kuwait. U.S. officials have estimated that Iraq had massed as many as 100,/000 troops and 300 tanks on the border.

{On July 24, Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams reiterated an earlier statement by Cheney, who said: "We would, in fact, take very seriously any threat to U.S. interests or U.S. friends in the region. We've demonstrated in recent years that we in fact have the capability to . . . do something about it." But State Department officials have equally emphasized that the United States has no defense treaty with Kuwait and traditionally has avoided taking sides in the region.}

U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf consist of six warships, which have been on alert since the first Iraqi troop movements were detected more than a week ago. The Joint Task Force Middle East, under the command of Rear Admiral William M. Fogarty, consists of four frigates, a destroyer and the command ship, USS LaSalle. The U.S. battle group last week began conducting "short notice" maneuvers with aircraft from the United Arab Emirates, in what U.S. officials said was a signal to the Iraqis that U.S. reaction to any aggression would be unpredictable.

At the same time, senior Bush administration officials specifically declined to escalate their military response by deploying more forces to the region as they had done in 1987 when spillover from the Iran-Iraq war was threatening commercial shipping and the security of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

Nearby U.S. forces include an aircraft carrier battle group centered around the USS Independence in the Indian Ocean.

{In the Soviet city of Irkutsk, Secretary of State James A. Baker III, speaking after talks with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze said he had asked Shevardnadze "to halt any Soviet military or arms deliveries that might be in the pipeline for Iraq," correspondent Al Kamen reported.

{Asked about Shevardnadze's reaction to the Iraqi move, Baker said: "I really shouldn't react for him, but he was not pleased to hear that Iraqi forces had moved into Kuwait, and I think he shares our concern."}

Iraq had positioned nearly 100,000 troops and 300 tanks near its border with the neighboring Persian Gulf emirate.

Kuwait, said to be willing to compromise over some of Iraq's financial claims but adamant over not ceding territory, appeared to be trying to call what it had hoped was Iraq's bluff over the implicit threat of military action, diplomats and Kuwaitis here said. Those hopes were dashed this morning.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, whose regional influence was recently enhanced when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries went along with an Iraqi demand to raise the target price of oil, clearly intends to keep pushing Kuwait to the utmost to meet his demands.

Iraq's military move poses a major dilemma for the United States, which has longstanding ties with Kuwait, but is wary of taking sides against Saddam. His hard-line stance against Israel has made him a popular figure in Arab circles, and a U.S. military confrontation with him would likely boost that popularity.

According to one Kuwaiti source, the Iraqi delegation, headed by Izzat Ibrahim, vice chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, demanded at the first meeting on Tuesday that Kuwait accept, without discussion, Baghdad's demands for expanded territory and oil-pumping rights, as well as more than $10 billion in financial settlements, without discussion.

When Kuwait's crown prince and prime minister, Sheik Saad Abdullah Sabah, insisted on negotiations to reach a compromise, the Iraqis said they would give the Kuwaitis a night to think things over, this source said.

This version could not be confirmed, but Deputy Prime Minister Saadoun Hammadi, a member of Iraq's delegation, Wednesday blamed Kuwait for the breakdown. "No agreement has been achieved on anything because we did not feel from the Kuwaitis any seriousness in dealing with the severe damage inflicted on Iraq as a result of their recent behavior and stands against Iraq's basic interests," Hammadi said.

Saad, meanwhile, called the Jiddah talks "candid," adding that he "listened with all due interest to the vice chairman's viewpoints, and explained Kuwait's stand, based on patriotic responsibility and national commitment toward all questions."

Hammadi said future talks "will be held in Baghdad," but Kuwait, beyond saying it would resume discussions, has not commented on where they would be held. Kuwait prefers a neutral site.

In its confrontation with Iraq, Kuwait's ruling Sabah family appears to be fighting a lonely battle. Although Kuwait has long had an outspoken press and parliament, both of these forums for public opinion have in recent years been silenced as the result of a political dispute between the Sabahs and domestic critics seeking more democracy.

Censorship has kept the harsh Iraqi attacks out of the local press and parliament has been suspended since 1986. As a result, there has been little public debate over the crisis that might galvanize support for the government, critics said. "This all wouldn't be happening if we had a free press and a parliament," one activist said. "We are hearing some of the Iraqi demands for the first time."