London -- A battalion of British Guards were ordered to the gulf yesterday to build prisoner-of-war camps for Iraqi troops.
The move came amid speculation that thousands of Iraqi soldiers, particularly the young, untested, front-line conscripts, were likely to run in the face of the sustained allied bombardment.
Another two British battalions -- the Royal Highland Fuseliers and the King's Own Scottish Borderers -- are on standby to reinforce the POW program.
British defense officials refused to give any details of how many Iraqi prisoners they expect to handle, but, asked if they expected to be inundanted, one official said: "I hope so. Wouldn't you?"
The British prison camps will be used primarily to house Iraqis taken by the British front-line units, which are now in position to launch a land assault on occupied Kuwait.
The British government yesterday threw its full weight behind the international effort to restrain Israeli reaction to Iraq's missile attack on Tel Aviv and Haifa.
Urgent phone calls were made between Downing Street and Tel Aviv, as well as Washington and Arab capitals. Later in the House of Commons, Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said Israeli restraint would be interpreted as "strength, not weakness."
Defense Secretary Tom King described the missile attack as "a cynical and deliberately provocative trap by Saddam Hussein to enlist Israel to his aid in his war against another Arab country. . . . Every Arab leader I have spoken to understands that very well."