The Justice Department yesterday ordered immigration authorities to begin photographing and fingerprinting anyone entering the United States with an Iraqi or Kuwaiti passport as part of an effort to counter what the administration views as a mounting threat of terrorism.

A spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service said it was the first time he could remember that the government has adopted such a measure. The Justice Department said the new rule applied to visitors holding Kuwaiti as well as Iraqi passports because Iraqi authorities confiscated credentials of many Kuwaitis and gained control of blank Kuwaiti passports during the August invasion.

"While travelers may incur some inconveniences, this is more than counterbalanced by United States security needs," said Deputy Attorney General William P. Barr.

The new procedures, effective immediately, come two days after the FBI began nationwide interviews of 200 Arab-American business and community leaders.

The agency said it wanted to collect information about possible terrorist threats and inform the Arab Americans that it wants to protect them from any backlash here.

At a meeting in Detroit, home to North America's largest Arab-American community, Arab Americans called the FBI initiative discriminatory and offensive.

Some civil rights attorneys were critical as well, saying it appears to violate constitutional and privacy act rights of Arab Americans.

"If we were on the verge of going to war with Nigeria, and the FBI started interviewing black Americans, I don't think anybody would stand for it," said David Cole, a constitutional law professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. "This kind of selection violates the principles of the {Constitution's} equal protection clause . . . that you be treated as an individual and not singled out by the government on account of your race or ethnic origin."

An administration official, who asked not to be identified, said the initiative was clearly within the FBI's legal authority. "Basic constitutional law is that a law-enforcement officer can direct an inquiry to any person and that person has the option of either speaking to them or not.

"It's only logical if you are asking about the activities within a particular ethnic group to ask people who are members of that ethnic group what they know about it," he said.

Officials declined to comment on what other measures might be taken to stem the possibility of terrorist attacks in the United States, but both FBI and INS spokesmen denied reports that members of suspected pro-Iraqi cells who have been under surveillance since August will be rounded up if war breaks out.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that such roundups, aimed at harassing and disrupting terrorist groups, would take place here and in countries around the world in the event of hostilities.

In Germany yesterday, it was reported that anti-terrorist units in Bonn had conducted raids at the homes of several Arabs, carrying out searches and arresting two Arabs.

Asked about the possibility of preemptive arrests, FBI spokesman Thomas F. Jones said, "I can't speak for other countries, but the FBI has no plans along those lines."

The Justice Department decided against a proposal that would have required INS to fingerprint and photograph all visitors with Kuwaiti or Iraqi passports who have entered the country since August. INS officials said about 8,500 Iraqis and more than 5,000 Kuwaitis are now visiting the United States.

Civil rights attorneys said the FBI's interviewing of Arab Americans, because it is directed at U.S. citizens, is more open to legal challenge than the policy of fingerprinting visitors.

Still, Cole said, "I don't think that a court is going to enjoin the FBI from engaging in this kind of activity. The courts, particularly in times like this, bend over backwards to accommodate the federal government's national security claims."

Kate Martin, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said "the presumption" behind the FBI's activity is "outrageous" and "clearly unconstitutional."

"The presumption is that because you are of Arab descent, you might have some connection to terrorism," she said.

Civil rights attorneys said the FBI and the INS have harassed and closely watched Arab Americans in the name of national security since the 1979-80 hostage crisis in Iran.

Officials of the Arab-American Institute here, already alarmed about the FBI interviews, voiced fears that the government might be thinking of implementing a controversial "contingency plan" drawn up in 1986 by INS investigators for dealing with "Alien Terrorists and Undesirables."

The 31-page proposal, drawn up after the retaliatory U.S. air attack on Libyan targets in April 1986, suggested "wholesale" invalidation of the visas of visitors or "non-immigrants" in a particular nationality group so they would have to re-register. It also recommended vigorous pursuit of aliens suspected of terrorism, including jailing without bond, closed-door deportation hearings and a routine use of "fallback" charges in case the main charge could not be established.

INS spokesman Duke Austin said yesterday the proposal, including a plan to use a Louisiana detention facility if suspected terrorists numbered between 500 and 1,000, was drawn up by some "low-level staffers" and disavowed when it became public in 1987.

"The INS commissioner at the time {Alan Nelson} never even saw the plan," Austin said. "It was summarily discarded."

Lawyers for eight Los Angeles-area Palestinians arrested in 1987 on civil charges of subversion said the government's conduct of the case contained many elements of the INS "contingency" plan.

The eight Palestinians were accused of affiliation with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group with a terrorist record, and initially held without bond. Despite their denials and key court rulings in their favor, they are still facing the threat of deportation. One initially charged with subversion now faces ouster because he worked at a convenience store without INS permission.

"The 1986 {contingency} plan reads like a blueprint for these prosecutions," said Cole, who represents the Palestinians.