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American expatriates are weathering the war in Iraq with varying degrees of concern for their safety.

Despite a worldwide caution from the State Department that there is “an increased potential for anti-American violence, including terrorist actions against U.S. citizens, as a result of the military action in Iraq,” many Americans living abroad say they feel safe.

Or, as the Prague Post put it, the war has most American and British residents of the city unfazed.

“American expatriates were gathering nightly to watch the NCAA basketball tournament over burgers and beer at Jama, a local bar popular with expatriates,” the paper reported. “Few wished to tune into CNN. The subject of war took a back seat to the University of Kentucky’s chances to win the Final Four.”

And the warnings from the British government have done little to discourage British expats “from staging raucous drunken stag parties,” the paper said.

On the other side of the world, in Bangkok, Thailand, Wendy Chairin, admissions director for the International School of Bangkok, said Americans there were more concerned about a deadly illness spreading through Asia.

“You don’t hear people talking about the war as much as they’re talking about SARS right now,” she said in a telephone interview. “We have asked for increased police protection as a precaution, but there’s been no problem. Thailand is pretty American-friendly.”

She said the school has seen an increase in enrollment of children whose families have left Kuwait and Qatar in the wake of the war.

That’s what Leigh Gribble, president and chief executive officer of Blackthorn Rhino Ltd., a defense consulting company, decided to do. He moved his family from Kuwait to Jamestown, R.I., over the Christmas holidays.

“We came back for Christmas — just an ‘R-and-R’ kind of thing to see the grandparents,” said Gribble, 47, a retired Navy lieutenant commander. “Then we heard there was a good possibility they were going to shut down the American and British schools, and we bit the bullet and decided to enroll the kids here. We’ll keep them here at least until June and just see what happens.”

Gribble has two children, ages 5 and 7.

“We weren’t looking to bring the family back here,” he said in a telephone interview from Rhode Island. “We honestly didn’t think there’d be much danger in Kuwait. Of course they fooled me with the bombing of the Souk Sharq shopping center.”

The shopping center, damaged March 29 when an Iraqi missile struck nearby, is only a mile from Gribble’s home there. He said it was a popular gathering place for American expatriates in Kuwait.

“They had the principal large Western-style grocery there,” he said. “We’d go there several times a week.”

Gribble first went to Kuwait in 1992 as a U.S. Navy attaché. He stayed after retiring in 1994.

“I was the senior naval adviser and helped rebuild the Kuwaiti navy,” he said. “Retirement was coming up and I saw the great business opportunities and decided to stay.

“Kuwait was a great place to be,” he said. “We never felt that we were in any great danger.”

At least not until last fall, when several Americans were shot and killed in ambushes by terrorists.

“We had always thought the odds of getting hit by a missile or being a target of a terrorist was far less than getting run over by a car. There’s some horrific drivers,” he said.

Gribble said there was little perceived threat from terrorists during the decade he’s spent in the country.

“Most folks overseas are sophisticated enough to know that there are people everywhere who don’t like us,” he said. “So, you know the probability always exists that you’re going to be targeted and you take precautions.”

During times of heightened alerts, he would draw stares from his neighbors when he checked under his car for explosives.

“It’s just the mind-set I learned from my military background,” he said. “I also had Canadian decals in the glove box of my car.”

The American community in Kuwait has steadily grown, from 1,200 in 1992 to 6,500 just before the start of the war, Gribble said. Many of them have left the country.

“When it became apparent that the schools were going to stay closed after their normal mid-February break, we all realized it was time to get our families out,” he said. “That’s when the exodus began.”

Gribble said he intends to go back to Kuwait alone in a couple of weeks to attend to his business and prepare for the possibility of expanding into Iraq.

“There’s going to be a lot of business opportunities up there when this is over,” he said.

In Tokyo, Sally Impastato, the Asia/Pacific chairman of Republicans Abroad International, said she has received no reports of any members of her organization being harassed by anti-war protesters.

“Of course, living overseas, you soon learn about the places to avoid,” she said. “We don’t feel intimidated at all. We feel pretty secure with the police presence in our neighborhood, which is near the U.S. Embassy.”


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