KUWAIT (Reuters) – Kuwait says it will close the northern half of the country bordering Iraq from February 15 to allow its own military to step up training to defend against any attack.
“No one will be allowed to enter these regions after this date without official permission from the army,” Defence Ministry spokesman Colonel Ahmad al-Mulla told Reuters on Tuesday.
“It’s about 50 percent (of the country’s land area),” he said, adding without elaborating that Kuwait’s military wanted to prepare “to defend the country in case of any attack.”
The announcement follows weeks of stepped up U.S. military exercises in northern Kuwait amid preparations for a possible U.S.-led attack to forcibly disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction. Iraq denies it has any such weapons.
Kuwait, a tiny country in the northern end of the Gulf that neighbours Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia, is expected to be the main launchpad for any U.S.-led land invasion of Iraq and already hosts thousands of U.S. troops.
Its own armed forces would not participate in any incursion into Iraq but would concentrate on defending the country, which holds almost 10 percent of the world’s oil reserves, diplomats say.
The southern edge of the restricted area stretches eastwards from the al-Salmi border post # the point where Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait meet # across the desert to Kuwait’s Failaka island and Abdullah Bay.
Mulla said the military restrictions banned camping, hunting or cattle grazing in the restricted zone from February 15. All people who normally live and work in the zone would have to report to the authorities to obtain special permission to be there.
Iraq has threatened Kuwait that in the event of an attack it will hit back by sending squads of suicide bombers to punish its small neighbour for hosting U.S. forces involved in hostilities.
Two Kuwait schools used by Western expatriates announced on Monday they would close for six weeks as a security precaution in the Gulf Arab state.
A spate of attacks on Westerners by suspected Islamist extremists in Kuwait in recent weeks has raised security concerns among the 8,000 U.S. civilians and the similar number of European expatriates living there.