With the Arab world's mightiest army flexing its strength at the head of the Persian Gulf, about 500 young men of this little oil sheikdom answered a call Sunday for fresh recruits.
Fifteen-year-old Ali Hassan arrived at the enrollment center with four of his friends. He was ready to sign up, he told a reporter, and boasted of his prowess at bagging bustards, a Middle Eastern scavenger bird.
The United Arab Emirates, a collection of seven oil-rich sheikdoms, was taking males from 15 to 45, its volunteer army announced Saturday in advertisements in the local press. "Youth of the nation, we invite you at this time of this critical situation in our region to fight for our country and all that it represents," the ad said.
The Emirates has a population of 1.5 million men, women and children, the vast majority foreigners. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's armed forces, which occupied Kuwait Aug. 2 in a blitzkrieg invasion and now stand less than 500 miles from the Emirates, numbers about a million battle-tough troops, veterans of a grueling eight-year war against Iran.
By comparison, the Emirates' military forces number about 40,000 troops backed by 131 main battle tanks and 38 combat aircraft.
Recruits now being enrolled at the Dubai centers and others in each of the Emirates sheikdoms will be given six weeks' training, Lt. Abdus Salam Hareb said. Instruction will begin next weekend. Would the young men be needed? Hareb said he hopes not, but "even George Bush cannot tell you what will happen next."
The volunteers, the younger generation of a society cushioned by a robust oil economy, had parked their air-conditioned sedans and four-wheel-drive trucks nearby and were being processed by army regulars in fatigue uniforms. Some were students or professionals; others were in family businesses.
A few Indian expatriates and Pakistani Pathans showed up hoping for a job, even in the army, but the call-up was limited to Emirates' citizens.
Ali Jaffer, 21, a bespectacled engineer for Dubai city, who said he had never fired a gun, spoke for his colleagues: "We have to be prepared." He termed "trash" Hussein's call for a Jihad--holy war--against the Western forces gathering in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf waters, declaring that the Iraqi president had never shown evidence of being a profound Muslim.
"Right now we need American help desperately," insisted Mohammed Altari, 21, who has entered his father's business. "Americans won't attack like Saddam did. But what Saddam did is injustice, and we have to fight that," he said, identifying the Emirates with the fate of Kuwait, a small country run by wealthy hereditary rulers.