KUWAIT, JAN. 10 -- Tanks and camouflaged gun emplacements dot the vast desert around Kuwait City, and construction crews have hurriedly built a 1,400-mile network of new roads in the region as Iraqi forces prepare for an expected U.S.-led attack to wrest the conquered Persian gulf sheikdom from them.

From the air, the emirate looks like a vast fortified oasis. On the ground vast stockpiles of supplies have been massed and the emirate's 14 hospitals and 5,000 beds have been readied to receive casualties.

"We have provided for the necessities of water, electricity and medicine in case war erupts," said Iraqi Construction Minister Taher Mohammed Hassoun, but a pharmacist interviewed by Arab journalists permitted a one-day visit here said that some medicines were running short.

Meanwhile, city residents said more than 2,000 people, mainly Palestinians and Jordanians, were fleeing Kuwait each day. They head toward Jordan, which has closed its border to non-Jordanians, and other points well west of the gulf region, which would be the front line of battle should war break out. Palestinians and Jordanians made up the majority of Kuwait's 2.5 million population before the Aug. 2 Iraqi invasion.

More than half the native Kuwaiti population fled the emirate in the first weeks and months following the invasion. Most of the foreign nationals who provided the bulk of the labor force for the Kuwaiti oil industry also left, but several thousand Indians, Filipinos, Egyptians and others remain. Some of these complained that while they are still being paid -- in Iraqi currency -- they are not allowed to send the money to their families overseas.

Downtown, the once fashionable Salmiya district is filled with street vendors hawking goods from the hoods of parked cars, but many staples, such as rice, flour and cooking oil, have almost disappeared. Rationing of some foodstuffs has been imposed to counter a U.N.-ordered trade embargo, while prices of other items have soared astronomically.

Residents said armed Kuwaiti resistance had faded in the city, restoring a semblance of routine despite the approaching threat of full-scale war.