Fearful of Iraqi attacks if the United States goes to war with Baghdad, this Persian Gulf nation that plays host to strategic U.S. naval operations has begun deploying Patriot missiles, newspapers allied with the government reported Sunday.
The Bahrain Tribune and other pro-government publications reported the move after a visit Saturday to the Royal Field Artillery Unit by the nation's ruler and commander in chief, Sheik Hamed ibn Isa Khalifa.
The news came amid reports that Jordan is seeking Patriot missiles from the U.S. for possible use against any Iraqi missiles fired over its territory.
Bahrain, a small island state less than 300 miles from Iraq, was the target of at least two Iraqi Scud missiles during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. As host to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, the nation is seen in some parts of the Arab world as too closely aligned with perceived foes of Islam.
During his visit to the artillery range, Hamed said Patriot missiles were being deployed "to confront the developments in the region." He did not specify how many were being stationed on Bahrain's territory -- 240 square miles that are home to about 650,000 people -- or when the deployment would be completed.
Although Iraq was compelled to disarm after capitulating to a U.S.-led coalition in 1991, the Bush administration says it has evidence that President Saddam Hussein's regime has continued to develop weapons of mass destruction.
Meanwhile, in Jordan, newspapers close to the government reported that a deal was near with the U.S. to obtain a Patriot air defense system.
Jordanian airspace was violated during the 1991 war when Iraq fired 39 missiles at Israel.
In response to questions Sunday about the purchase, Jordanian Prime Minister Ali abu Ragheb said: "All this is hypothetical. But we have to be prepared for any emergency, and that is why we are taking the necessary steps to equip ourselves with the right equipment to deal with any unforeseeable thing in the future."
The weapons request reportedly was made Thursday to U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, who would lead any attack against Iraq, while he was visiting Jordan.
Jordan is becoming increasingly nervous about possible repercussions from a new war. The kingdom is particularly worried that Israel could be drawn into a conflict -- with disastrous consequences for Jordan, which lies between Israel and Iraq.
"We are talking about a war. We don't know the dimensions of this war or the extent of such a war, or who is going to participate in it or how they are going to participate in it," Abu Ragheb said.
The prime minister ruled out any direct Jordanian participation in a U.S.-led attack.
"We have not been requested to do any kind of arrangement to support the United States in such an act. We will not participate in any military action against Iraq," he said. Jordan allied with the Hussein regime in the 1991 conflict.
However, diplomats in the capital, Amman, say the government may be softening on the issue of allowing third-country nationals working in Iraq to flee through Jordan and perhaps permitting some refugees to enter on a humanitarian basis.
Williams reported from Manama and Rubin from Amman.