BAGHDAD, IRAQ, NOV. 19 -- Iraq announced today that it is sending 250,000 more troops to Kuwait and southern Iraq, a buildup that it claimed the United States would be unable to match.

The state-run Iraqi News Agency (INA) said President Saddam Hussein decided at a meeting of his general command "to mass seven additional divisions immediately and to call up more than 150,000 fighters from the reserves and regular troops, adding to our forces over a quarter of a million fighters."

Iraq already has about 450,000 troops in Kuwait and southern Iraq and Pentagon officials said in Washington that they have seen no sign it has begun additional deployments. A senior Pentagon official said more Iraqi troops in Kuwait would not be an alarming development because they would be vulnerable to air attack and feeding them would further tax Iraq's supply lines.

The INA statement described the planned reinforcements as "defensive measures in southern Iraq, the provinces of Kuwait and Basra, against possible aggression." It said Saddam and his generals believed the U.S.-dominated multinational force in the Persian Gulf would have to be vastly bigger than it is now to give it the superiority needed for an attack.

"What the evil American administration needs is a 3-to-1 ratio to be technically able to attack. . . . This means that America has to mobilize a 3 million-strong force with arms and equipment matching those of our forces," INA said.

A U.S. military planner said Saddam's announced buildup would crowd troops closer together in Kuwait, creating a "target-rich environment."

A Bush administration official with access to gulf intelligence said the announced shift of forces might merely be a rotation rather than a buildup. Another said that the deal Saddam struck with Iran after the invasion of Kuwait had freed 20 to 25 divisions for duty in Kuwait after years of being pinned down on the Iraqi-Iranian border.

U.S. officials said that since it invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, Iraq has expanded its network of supply lines from one north-south artery to "close to a thousand miles of new roads" from Iraq to Kuwait.

Edward N. Luttwak, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the extra troops would make Iraq more vulnerable, not less, to the highly mobile U.S. forces already deployed. By sending so many home defense forces from Iraq into Kuwait, Luttwak said, Saddam has made it easier for the United States to invade Iraq proper and envelop the concentration of Iraqi forces in Kuwait.

"The more troops Iraq puts in Kuwait, the more they become vulnerable to being cut off," as well as have their bigger supply lines cut by U.S. bombers, Luttwak contended. He said there is no need for the United States to match this increase of Iraqi forces in Kuwait. The Iraqi redeployment does not make military sense, he said, so it must be "a political and psychological answer to Bush's own buildup."

Anthony H. Cordesman, a Middle East analyst on the staff of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), said one effect of Saddam's announced redeployment is the likelihood that the extra troops will fill the gaps between Iraqi strongpoints in Kuwait, making it more difficult for attacking infantry to sweep through the holes and roll up the flanks of the Iraqis.

A stronger Iraqi force in Kuwait would provide "more incentive to use strategic air power against it," Cordesman said. He added that there is no need for the United States to respond to the threatened buildup until it actually takes place and the quality of the additional forces is assessed.

The announcement came a day after Iraq said that all of the estimated 2,000 foreigners being held here against their will, some of them as human shields against attack, will be released in batches between Dec. 25 and March 25, "unless something should occur to disturb the atmosphere of peace."

The INA statement said Iraqi officials felt that the recent announcements that the U.S.-led military coalition would be expanded pointed to "the importance of tank and infantry strength should an attack against Iraq be contemplated." It largely ignored the allied forces' estimated 2-to-1 superiority in combat air power.

Western diplomats here said the timing of the statement appeared to suggest that Iraq was not weakening its resolve in the face of a military threat, although it was preparing to release the hostages.

"They got themselves in a trap because they promoted the policy {of hostage-taking} as a deterrent," a European diplomat here said. "In order to disentangle themselves, they have to prove there is something else to protect them now that this shield has been or is being removed."

The Sunday announcement about possible release of the foreigners stirred some hope but no great elation among those trapped here.

"I'm always thinking of leaving. But I am very concerned that I walk out of here with my head high and knowing I had not been bought or negotiated for," said Roland Bergeheer, 62, from Las Vegas, the liaison between Americans staying at a safe house here and the U.S. Embassy.

Other non-American hostages who asked not to be named said they celebrated until early this morning but were wondering when and how close to Christmas they would be released.

Iraqi Information Minister Latif Nassif Jassim suggested at a press conference today that different nationalities will not be treated differently as a result of actions by their own governments.

In principle, he explained, all foreign "guests" -- many of whom remain in hiding -- should come forward and register with Iraqi authorities. In response to a question on whether that meant Iraq would no longer take into custody Americans who come out of hiding, Jassim stressed that the Sunday decision was not linked to political positions but was "a procedural matter . . . and it includes everybody."

He added that all foreigners held against their will could be freed now if President Bush gives assurances he will not attack Iraq.

When told of Secretary of State James A. Baker III's assessment of the Iraqi move as a "cynical manipulation of human lives," Jassim said Baker should talk about the massive troop buildup and stockpiling weapons to launch a war, as well as "the massacres committed by Zionists in the {Israeli-occupied} territories."

Staff writers George C. Wilson and George Lardner in Washington contributed to this report.