JIDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA, AUG. 18 -- Iraq now has more than 150,000 troops and 1,000 tanks in occupied Kuwait but so far has refrained from moving them close to the Saudi border in a provocative manner, according to a knowledgeable Saudi official.
The official said Iraqi troops are spread out in the same formation they took up in southern Iraq before their invasion of Kuwait Aug. 2 but said there are no large concentrations of troops or armor within 25 miles of the Saudi frontier or additional Iraqi soldiers at border posts.
Saudi Arabia also has avoided any "major troop deployment" close to its borders with Iraq and Kuwait, he said, although he refused to specify how far back they are located. This apparently means that the Egyptian, Moroccan and Syrian troops that already have arrived to help defend the kingdom from Iraq are not being used as a border-blocking force either. The official also refused to say how far north U.S. troops have moved but insisted they were "in a position where they can do their best."
From his description of the current deployment of forces, it appeared that Iraq and Saudi Arabia and its allies have deliberately avoided so far an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation along the border that might be misread by the other side as preparation for an immediate attack.
The Iraqis have sent some tanks and armored cars up to the border, but "they come and go back," the official said, suggesting they might be on reconnaissance missions.
Nonetheless, the Saudis remain very wary of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The official described him as "very unpredictable" and noted the continued flow of Iraqi troops into Kuwait and their deployment in an arch-shaped formation with both defensive and offensive capabilities as reason for extreme caution.
Iraq now has 10 divisions inside Kuwait and five to six others in southern Iraq that could be used in a lightning strike into Saudi Arabia, the official said.
While the Saudi military has sought to avoid a provocative buildup close to the Iraqi and Kuwaiti borders, the Saudi political attitude toward Saddam seems to be hardening daily. The kingdom now seems ready to support U.N. military action to enforce a trade embargo against Iraq and an armed Kuwaiti resistance force now being formed.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Faisal told American reporters at a press conference here that all diplomatic efforts to obtain Iraq's peaceful withdrawal had failed and indicated clearly that Saudi Arabia favored stepping up the pressure on Saddam now.
"We have failed," he said with unusual frankness for the Saudis, who normally are never ready to give up on diplomatic efforts to avoid intra-Arab confrontation that risks embroiling the kingdom in conflicts.
He said there was no hope for a peaceful resolution of the crisis as long as Saddam refused to withdraw from Kuwait and accept the restoration of its ruling Sabah family. "Unless these two principles are accepted by Iraq, I do not see any prospect of a diplomatic solution," he said.
The U.N. Security Council, he noted, was now considering military action to back up its trade embargo imposed on Iraq after it failed to heed a council resolution to withdraw from Iraq. "We will wholeheartedly support that action, and we hope that it will be a further signal to Iraq of the international community's conviction that they have to withdraw from Kuwait," he said.
Under both the U.N. and Arab League charters, Iraq's military occupation and annexation of Kuwait was "an issue of international peace and stability," justifying military action to enforce the trade embargo, Saud said.
Saudi Arabia also intends to support a Kuwaiti resistance force now being formed to help drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, according to the Saudi official familiar with troop movements. He said there had already been instances of Iraqi ammunition dumps and tanks being blown up and that the resistance had begun broadcasting "from another country" into Iraq.
"We're going to work with them" on resistance activities, he said. Some Kuwaiti army units and air force planes are in Saudi Arabia, where they fled the Iraqi invasion.
The Saudi official also said that many Iraqi soldiers were selling their guns to the Kuwaiti opposition and expressing an interest in defecting.
But he did not confirm numerous reports from Kuwaiti refugees that a few Iraqi soldiers already have fled Kuwait to seek refuge in Saudi Arabia.