RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA, FEB. 8 -- The number of Iraqi soldiers crossing the Kuwaiti border into Saudi Arabia to give themselves up indicates that relentless allied bombing and air strikes against supply convoys are gradually sapping the morale and discipline of Baghdad's front-line troops, two top allied generals said today.

The commander of Saudi and other Arab forces in the Persian Gulf War, Lt. Gen. Khalid bin Sultan, said a stream of deserters is swelling the number of prisoners in Saudi hands daily and that Saudi forces now hold 936 Iraqi prisoners of war, including more than 50 officers.

He said 418 other Iraqi soldiers who defected during the 5 1/2 months between Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2 and the start of allied attacks on Iraq on Jan. 17 are classified by the Saudis as "military refugees."

U.S. forces hold around 40 Iraqi prisoners of war, an American military spokesman said.

A group of five cold and hungry Iraqis who turned themselves in to a scout unit of the U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry Division one rainy night told their captors they had not eaten in five days. The shivering prisoners wolfed down the squad's offering of a whole carton of 12 "meals ready to eat," as the U.S. military's field rations are known, Sgt. Pete Lingley told combat pool reporters.

The five, members of an Iraqi tank company, told interrogators their commander knew of their plan to surrender and had promised to cover for them, the pool report said.

Capt. Tim Smith, the scout unit's commander, said the prisoners, all soaked by the night's lashing rain, appeared surprised and grateful when he turned on a heater for them.

"One of them uttered 'Thank you' in English," Smith said. "I'll never forget that 'thank you.' "

In a briefing here today, Marine Maj. Gen. Robert B. Johnston said the latest seven Iraqi "line crossers" taken by U.S. forces "had no weapons, no gas masks and no equipment." He said that while Iraqi President Saddam Hussein may be prepared to accept heavy casualties from allied air strikes, the troops enduring the round-the-clock pounding may not be. Allied leaders have said recently that the pace of air attacks on Iraqi troops and their supply lines is being stepped up.

Johnston said the deserters presented a clear picture of "eroding morale, a great concern that we have overwhelming superiority in the coalition forces and that they are facing an uncertain future."

Today, Khalid appealed to Iraqi soldiers to defect in what appears to be a concerted allied effort to whittle down Saddam's defenses in occupied Kuwait and lower the cost of an eventual allied ground offensive.

Khalid pledged that Iraqis who surrender to allied forces "will be treated to the highest standard of the Geneva Convention."

Khalid, a son of the Saudi defense minister, Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, told a military briefing that Iraqi soldiers had reported the existence of "execution battalions" under orders to shoot deserters, but he said he had no direct evidence of such killings. A senior U.S. military source cast doubt on the reports, calling them "speculative."

"I pray to God every day that they {Iraqi troops} will come to their senses and not follow one man's ambition," Khalid said, referring to Saddam. Most Iraqi soldiers "don't believe in this war," he said, and would welcome a chance to flee, but they fear being turned in by informers and the minefields and other formidable defenses they must cross to reach allied lines.

It is not known whether the Iraqi troops in Kuwait and southern Iraq are close to cracking or will put up a strong fight despite their deprivations. But allied commanders nevertheless are gearing up to accept tens of thousands of captives and deserters.

At a U.S. Marine unit along the Saudi-Kuwaiti border, tons of rice and beans have been stockpiled to feed prisoners of war, and Marines are taking classes in how to accept surrenders, a pool report said. Allied aircraft are blanketing Iraqi troops in Kuwait with millions of leaflets telling them how to turn themselves in.

Col. John Easton, 47, a Marine civil affairs officer from Manassas, said six Iraqi soldiers, including two officers, drove across the lines Tuesday in a Land Rover, becoming the first POWs taken in his 2nd Marine Division's sector.

One reason more Iraqis have not come across yet is that "the war hasn't come this far south, and we haven't gone that far north," Easton told pool reporters. "I expect that situation to change."

In the Saudi border town of Khafji, which was recaptured from intruding Iraqi forces last week, Saudi soldiers Thursday searched for Iraqi stragglers, using a loudspeaker van to urge them to give up, a pool report said.

"Our brothers the Iraqis, surrender to be safe," the Saudis called out. "We will not hurt you."