DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, AUG. 5 -- The crisis sparked by Saddam Hussein's grab for more power is unfolding in the Persian Gulf with a plethora of rumors echoing through the region as area governments maintain a virtual blackout on news.
The stories began with a flurry swirling around the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait Thursday morning and have grown into an avalanche. Some, such as an account that Oman and Iraq have agreed to carve up the gulf states between themselves, are easily dismissed.
But others, such as Friday's report that Iraqi troops had crossed the Kuwaiti border into Saudi Arabia, have had serious repercussions. That account drove up the price of the dollar for several hours on world foreign exchange markets until it was shot down by U.S. officials with access to satellite data.
Even in the quietest of times, rumors flourish in the Middle East. But analysts say the current rumor market is especially strong, in part because there is a nearly complete vacuum of verifiable information and because events are so incredible that almost anything becomes believable.
In a situation where there are no facts, said one foreign businessman, "everything is true."
Feeding the rumor mill is the blackout on news by many of the region's governments. Kuwait is closed to foreign journalists, as are Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Even neighboring Bahrain, which normally keeps out a welcome mat for visitors, has turned away more than 50 journalists at its international airport. "There is nothing to report on and nothing to take photographs of," said a besieged official in Bahrain's Information Ministry, explaining why visa requests were being denied.
Some of the rumors are being spread for propaganda purposes by one side or the other. Thus, Kuwaiti sources have been promoting reports of large-scale resistance to the Iraqi invaders both in Kuwait city and in the southern oil fields.
Because the Iraqis cut off communications between Kuwait and the outside world on Friday, it is unclear whether these reports are true. But wire service accounts smuggled out of Kuwait city today reported that the city appeared calm but tense, with no active resistance to be seen or heard.
Along the same lines is the Kuwaiti claim that Sheik Fahd Ahmed Sabah, younger brother of the deposed emir, was shot dead with a rifle in his hand while defending the emir's palace. Such reports, which are impossible to verify because of the blackout, are clearly designed to bolster the fighting spirit of the emir's supporters.
So is the claim that the emir, Sheik Jabir Ahmed Sabah, is coordinating resistance to Iraqi troops from a secret location in southern Kuwait. In fact, officials have confirmed, he and most of his family fled to Saudi Arabia in the opening hours of the invasion.
The Iraqis have retaliated with their own unverifiable accounts. According to one, the emir fled Kuwait with a large pile of gold bars that were transferred from his private jet to a Saudi airplane in Bahrain. The idea is to prove the Iraqi contention, broadcast hourly on Kuwaiti television, that the emir and his family were corrupt and illegitimate rulers who fed off the country's wealth and are now seeking to flee with it.
Here in the United Arab Emirates, public anxiety has been fed by the virtual silence of the government.
Diplomats explain that the small gulf states have chosen to limit their remarks to Friday's collective statement of condemnation by the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council so that none can be singled out for attack by Saddam.
Nonetheless, the silence has frightened residents and helped feed the rumor mill, which has spun out a story saying that the Emirates are prepared to sacrifice part of their own territory to appease Saddam.
What these stories reflect, said one analyst, is the weakness and fear of a small society that suddenly finds that many of its previous assumptions about its security and its neighbors have been dangerously wrong. "They can't hit the panic button, and they can't pick up and move their country somewhere safe until it all blows over, so they talk to each other, and the stories get passed around," he said. "After all, who can prove they're wrong?"
Western expatriates say they have managed to stay calm, and they discount most of the rumors. U.S. Ambassador Edward Walker and his staff have held regular meetings with members of the small but influential American business community specifically to shoot down rumors and provide reassurance.
"No one's panicking," said a veteran American businessman who asked not to be identified. "We're trying to get as much news as we can about the situation, but there's no real fear of immediate danger."