BAGHDAD, IRAQ, JAN. 8 -- Western diplomats here say final preparations are underway in case a decision is made to close their embassies and withdraw. That decision could come if Iraq shows no intention of withdrawing from Kuwait by a Jan. 15 U.N. deadline.

Paper shredders have been in use in at least two embassies over the last week, while the British Embassy is burning its sensitive documents on its rooftop.

At the U.S. Embassy, in recent days, several crates of documents have been carted into the chancery, where two paper shredders are working to destroy documents. The embassy says the shredding is part of a normal year-end inventory process and that all classified documents were destroyed shortly after Iraq invaded Kuwait Aug. 2.

Most embassies have been operating with diplomatic staffs of fewer than six people. Spain is reported to have reduced its staff to two, and other embassies are considering further reductions as Jan. 15 approaches.

If the Geneva meeting Wednesday between Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz and Secretary of State James A. Baker III ends without accord, a European diplomat said, the U.S. and European Community embassies will confer on evacuation plans. He said the EC embassies plan to follow whatever decision the United States makes on whether to stay or leave.

The European diplomat said U.S. charge d'affaires Joseph C. Wilson IV plans to strike the flag from atop the chancery and leave on Jan. 14 if there is no progress toward an Iraqi withdrawal. The embassy has declined comment on any evacuation preparations, but Wilson said on Monday, "I plan to stay. My tour of duty -- my normal tour of duty -- ends in August."

A number of missions have discussed other measures, such as gathering their staffs at a single embassy if no decision has been made by Washington or the EC about evacuation, the diplomat said.

The preparations were stepped up, another diplomat said, after Iraq began consulting various embassies about a plan to move government offices and embassies to Ramadi, about 70 miles west of Baghdad, in advance of the Jan. 15 deadline.

Iraq is also rumored to be planning to close its air space sometime after Jan. 12, and it remains unclear what the government's stand would be on travel by bus to a border if all air traffic is halted. National Assembly Speaker Saadi Mehdi Saleh declined to speculate on Iraq's intentions but said the country would take whatever measures it deemed necessary to protect itself.

Many of the Western nationals currently in the country are journalists, and diplomats have come to look at their presence -- and possible need for evacuation -- as a looming nightmare.

Wilson has repeatedly reminded journalists of a State Department advisory warning Americans to get out of Iraq. Others have criticized the presence of journalists as a reckless, unnecessary gamble. Under the Geneva Conventions, Iraq has the right to intern citizens of countries with which it is at war.

"You are taking a big risk of becoming the new 'guests' of Iraq," a European diplomat said, invoking the word used by Iraq when it detained thousands of foreign nationals after invading Kuwait.

Meanwhile, Information Minister Latif Nassif Jassim said in an interview today that Iraq rules out any possibility of a military withdrawal from Kuwait. He warned that Iraq is ready for war but said it also hopes the United States will engage in a "profound dialogue" in Geneva Wednesday.

In line with an apparent effort by Baghdad to press a hard line going into the Geneva meeting, Jassim said Iraq hopes "the talks will be successful. We will go to Geneva to have a profound dialogue, but we reject preconditions and blackmail."

Experienced diplomats here, however, generally discounted Iraq's rhetoric of war, saying it appeared to be mostly posturing for the Geneva meeting.

Asked whether Iraq was prepared to make any sacrifices for the sake of peace, Jassim replied, "Dialogue is our sacrifice."

He said Iraq is anxious to avoid war, especially since "huge forces" are poised for battle along the Saudi-Kuwaiti border. "We want {U.S. leaders} to understand our point of view: War is not good. We want to hear that they want peace," he said.

If the talks break down and war comes," he warned, "the war will not be just in the gulf, it will be everywhere. . . . One dialogue for a year is better than war for a day."