As more nations join the active effort to force Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein acquires a growing number of human bargaining chips in the form of hundreds of thousands of foreigners now trapped in his country and Kuwait.
A senior U.S. official said the strong stands by many leaders against Saddam -- especially by the United States, Britain and Egypt -- likely have increased the dangers to their populations under his control.
For now, neither Washington nor Baghdad is willing to call the foreigners stranded in Iraq and Kuwait hostages. Iraqi officials often tell foreign governments that their citizens are free to leave, but then throw up bureaucratic obstacles that prevent them from leaving.
Although most U.S. attention naturally has focused on the plight of the 3,000 Americans in Kuwait and about 570 in Iraq, far greater numbers of Europeans, Asians and Arabs could find themselves in jeopardy should the situation deteriorate.
A survey conducted by Washington Post foreign correspondents and by reporters here illustrates the scope of the problem. There are, for example, more than 400,000 South Asians stranded in Kuwait, staff correspondent Steve Coll reported from New Delhi, including more than 10,000 Sri Lankan maids imported by the oil-rich Arabs.
For that reason, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have all expressed cautious concern about their expatriates in Kuwait. There are about 170,000 Indians in Kuwait, 90,000 Pakistanis, 100,000 Sri Lankans and 70,000 Bangladeshis. Foreign offices of all four nations have said the South Asian workers are generally safe.
But a South Korean businessman who escaped Kuwait shortly after the Aug. 2 invasion told Reuter of a far more difficult situation for the 1,200 Koreans left in the area, divided evenly between Iraq and Kuwait.
"All foreigners in Kuwait want to leave because there is horror and because there is a heavy Iraqi military presence. They are killing civilians," he said.
South Korea was hesitant to criticize Saddam, special correspondent Peter Maass reported from Seoul, because it receives almost all of its oil from the Middle East and has a large number of construction contracts and workers in Iraq and Kuwait.
Like South Korea, Japan receives most of its oil from the Middle East. There are 376 Japanese in Iraq and 276 in Kuwait, according to the Japanese Embassy here.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, in deciding how to respond, took into account the almost 1 million Egyptian nationals in the area, staff correspondent William Claiborne reported from Cairo. Egyptian officials have been quick to point out that the human dimension was significant in the weighing of such decisions as whether to send Egyptian troops to the region.
Egyptians, who number 700,000 in Iraq and 150,000 in Kuwait, are managing to leave the area at the rate of 2,500 a day, many of them through the Red Sea port of Nuweiba, Claiborne reported. An estimated 75,000 have returned from the area since Aug. 2.
Turkish President Turgut Ozal, who has given permission for the United States to use Turkish air bases in the event of hostilities, has about 60,000 of his countrymen living and working in Iraq and Kuwait, according to the Turkish Embassy here.
Along with the Egyptians, 300,000 Palestinians are the linchpin of the Kuwaiti economy, filling jobs in sectors from construction and services to big business and finance. The money they send home also plays an important role in the economies of the West Bank and Gaza, staff correspondent Jackson Diehl reported from Jerusalem. Because the Palestine Liberation Organization has sided with Saddam, it is not likely they would be under any threat.
Soviet officials also have expressed concern about the welfare of their citizens, who entered Iraq in large numbers in recent years when that country was the principal Soviet client in the region. Some 8,000 Soviet citizens live in Iraq and 900 live in Kuwait.
Former Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe have about 8,000 citizens in both countries, with Poland accounting for nearly half that number. About 2,900 Poles in Iraq and 900 in Kuwait work mostly as technicians, engineers and in other skilled jobs. There are about 2,000 Bulgarians in Iraq and 350 in Kuwait, working in a variety of jobs, skilled and unskilled.
Yugoslavia has about 12,000 workers in both countries, working mainly in the construction trades. No breakdown was available either from the embassy here or the foreign ministry in Belgrade.
But diplomats said the risks appear to be greatest for the Western residents and visitors trapped in the area, especially given the anti-Western nature of Saddam's rhetoric rallying support for the invasion.
There are more than 4,600 British nationals in the two countries, with 4,000 in Kuwait, including 1,000 tourists, and 600 in Iraq. Most of the British residents are employed in the oil industry and medical fields, with some armed service personnel in the area training Kuwaiti armed forces.
There are about 900 West Germans in the two countries, 600 in Iraq and the rest in Kuwait. Most of them are employed by large chemical, machine and aviation companies. Since the Iraqi invasion, 20 Germans fled Iraq for Jordan and two escaped through Turkey, staff correspondent Marc Fisher reported from Bonn.
A small number reached Saudi Arabia safely in the early stages of the invasion but none have left since Iraq officially closed its borders on Thursday. Then several Germans were turned back at the Iraqi-Jordanian border, although Czechoslovak and Yugoslav citizens traveling with them were permitted to leave.
The crisis has been played down in Germany, where the focus of attention continues to be on the overriding domestic issue: German unification.
Other West Europeans held in both countries include: 465 Italians; 440 Greeks; 420 French; 353 Irish; 240 Dutch; 165 Swedish; 154 Spanish; 122 Swiss and nearly 100 Danes.
There also are an estimated 400 Canadians in Kuwait and 100 in Iraq, according to Canadian officials, including 15 members of the Canadian armed forces with a United Nations peacekeeping force on the Iraq-Iran border.
Staff correspondents Glenn Frankel in London and Lena H. Sun in Beijing and special correspondent Michael C. Wise in Vienna contributed to this report.