WARSAW, AUG. 24 -- About 70 Americans have been moved to an Iraqi chemical plant near the Syrian border apparently to be used as "human shields" to discourage a U.S. attack on the site, which contains a small uranium extraction unit and a top-secret military production line off-limits to foreign workers, according to Polish technicians evacuated from Iraq this week.

The plant, situated at Qaim, 18 miles from the Iraqi-Syrian border, produces three kinds of chemical fertilizer for export and employs several hundred foreign workers, including Chinese and Poles. It is one of the largest and most modern factories in the region.

According to some of the Polish technicians, two groups of Americans arrived at the site on buses. The majority were men, but the groups included some women and several infants in baby carriages. The first group of about 30 people arrived Aug. 15 and the second group two days later.

The Americans are being housed in a large staff compound about 1,500 yards from the factory, the Poles said. The compound recently was built as part of an Iraqi plan to double production capacity. The Poles said the compound had air conditioning, electricity, hot water and a swimming pool.

The Americans are being kept under guard and away from the foreign workers, the Polish workers said.

"We tried to make contact with them, but they were guarded all the time by plainclothes security men. It was not possible to get within conversing distance of them," said one of the Poles, Aleksander Pyclik.

"From what I saw, they were treated properly and there were no brawls of any kind or any other drastic actions. But {the Americans} are clearly isolated," he said.

The plant -- even in normal times -- is guarded by the Iraqi army. During the Iran-Iraq war, Iranian jets flew over the plant frequently, two of the Polish technicians said.

The technicians, contacted by telephone, said it was possible that at one time the factory's military production line could have produced chemical components for use in chemical weapons. However, they added that they had no direct knowledge of any such production.

"There were rumors that this factory may produce some components {for chemical weapons}, but in any case we cannot say that final production was chemical weapons," Pyclik said. The military production line has been closed for at least 14 months, according to the technicians.

The Iraqi plant has been maintained since 1981 by Chemadex, a state-owned Polish chemical company. The factory was built in 1981 by a Belgian firm, Sebatra.

"The Polish team serviced only the {unrestricted} part of the factory, and I cannot exclude that other things were being produced there," said Kazimierz Zajac, director of Chemadex. "I cannot talk about anything other than fertilizer. This was a big factory."

Zajac said the restricted military production line amounted to about 10 percent of production capacity. He said he had not asked the Iraqis what was being produced in that part of the plant because he had been assured that it presented no danger to his workers.

Asked if the factory had the capacity to produce chemical or other weapons, Zajac said, "Ask the Western country that made the plant; they know exactly what the factory can produce."

The uranium processing unit at the plant also was off limits to most foreign workers, but some of the Polish technicians were allowed in on occasion to make mechanical repairs.

The processing unit was used to extract uranium from phosphorus ores mined nearby, according to Andrzej Wogorka, a mechanical engineer who supervised maintenance crews. Once the uranium had been extracted, it was sent on to a nuclear reactor near the Iraqi capital, Baghdad. The technicians said the reactor is at the nuclear complex bombed by Israeli jets in 1981 because it allegedly was intended for weapons production.

Chemadex officials, concerned about safety in the uranium processing section, demanded that the Iraqi government test the area for radioactivity, according to Pyclik. The Iraqis assured the Poles that the site was safe and that radiation levels were normal, Pyclik said.

Wogorka, who worked at the plant for 14 months before his evacuation, saw the uranium processing room once when he supervised a repair there. He said he saw industrial dryers, mixers, small conveyor belts and pumps.

Wogorka and others said the entire factory building takes up about 1,500 square yards. Another 1,500 square yards is occupied by outbuildings, including maintenance sheds, garages, and acid and ammonia storage areas, along with a small oil-fired power plant, they said.

The technicians said there are about 40 Polish technicians and managers still at the site who hope to return to Poland with the next group of evacuees, scheduled to leave Iraq Tuesday. About 150 Chinese, some Egyptians and a small number of Sudanese work there as well.

More than 400 Poles have been evacuated from Iraq and Kuwait since the Iraqi invasion. About 2,500 to 3,000 Polish contract workers remain there, according to the Polish news agency.

During the Iran-Iraq war, Poland was a major arms supplier to Baghdad, with annual sales of up to $300 million. President Saddam Hussein's government still owes Poland about $500 million for the weapons and related equipment, a debt that the Polish government this year contracted to be paid in oil.

Poland's Foreign Trade Ministry said today that the U.N. trade embargo against Iraq already has cost Poland $170 million in Iraqi oil and $115 million in lost exports to Iraq, according to Reuter. The ministry said Poland stood to lose more than $2 billion from the crisis.

The Polish government has asked the United States and the European Community to compensate it for the loss of Iraq's debt repayment in oil.