THE 2 million Muslims living in Britain are divided over whether to support the British government if there is fighting in the Gulf. Their religious leaders are planning a conference next weekend to discuss the divided loyalties of British Muslims, and will offer guidance to the faithful.
As 28 Iraqi diplomats in London were ordered by the Foreign Office to pack their bags and return home, leaving only four officials in the embassy, inquiries suggested a split between those who favor the use of force against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and others who say it is impermissible for a Muslim to sanction an attack on another Muslim.
In Bradford, a center of Muslim militancy, Liaqat Hussain, who speaks for 40 of the northern English city's mosques, and who holds British citizenship, says he prays that if Iraq is attacked, it will be able to mount a successful defense of itself. He denied, however, that the issues in the Gulf presented British Muslims with a test of patriotism.
``If British forces go to fight a Muslim country with which Britain has no quarrel, people have a right to make up their own minds,'' Mr. Hussain said. ``It has nothing to do with nationality.''
In Bristol, in Britain's southwest region where some 10,000 Muslims live, the mood appeared to be more circumspect. Mohammed Hayat, a spokesman for the city's Muslim Association, says: ``The consensus here appears to be that a refusal by Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait would justify the use of force to eject him.''
British authorities are reported to have ordered surveillance of Iraqis in Britain. Many of the estimated 5,000 Iraqis here are believed to be opponents of the Baghdad government.
But a government official says a significant number of ``supposed Iraqi students'' are still studying at British universities. On Jan. 3, 67 Iraqis, mostly students suspected of involvement in semiofficial espionage activities, were ordered home.
British authorities are likely to take an interest in the Bradford conference, to which Iraqi government spokesmen have been invited. The meeting will also be attended by Muslim clergy from around Britain. Its aim will be to help British Muslims decide their stance on the crisis.
A government official said that much of the conflicting comment from the many Muslims that are living in Britain ``runs parallel to divided opinions among non-Muslims'' and is therefore little more than a reflection of the sentiments of the British population as a whole.
But he said there was room for concern about those who believed Iraq was justified in invading Kuwait and who say they might back Iraq if British troops went into action against Saddam.
WHILE Muslims considered where their loyalties would lie in the event of a Gulf conflict, security agencies were in the process of tightening up antiterrorist measures at British airports and seaports.
Since the invasion of Kuwait, hundreds of Iraqis have been given temporary visas to remain in Britain. Scotland Yard officers say privately that they worry some may be Iraqi agents who will try to win support from non-Iraqi Muslim militants living here.
Radhi Al-Hassan, a member of the Organization of Islamic Action, which opposes the Baghdad government, confirmed last weekend that Scotland Yard special branch officers had visited his organization and warned of the likelihood of Iraqi terrorist attacks on opponents of Saddam living in Britain.
British security officials say they are satisfied the vast majority of British Muslims would hesitate to involve themselves in antigovernment activity.
Clergy at the Bradford Council for Mosques, however, along with other Muslims in Britain, have called for the assassination of Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses. That level of militancy has caused security forces concern, officials said.