Saddam Hussein is moving so many Iraqi citizens into Kuwait that its population might choose to remain under Baghdad's rule even if Saddam were to remove his troops, Israeli official said Saturday.

Iraq has been transferring its citizens into Kuwait since the invasion, the officials said.An Israeli military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said 50 percent of the emirate's population at the moment "are not Kuwaitis." He gave no further details.

"This phenomenon certainly exists, and the longer it goes on, the more irreversible the annexation becomes," said Yossi Olmert, head of the Government Press Office.

The replacement of Kuwaitis by Iraqi citizens has been easy for Iraq because many Kuwaiti citizens were abroad on summer vacations during Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion and have not returned to the occupied country, Olmert said.

Following the population transfer, Saddam "may offer, at a certain stage, an arrangement involving elections on the basis of the population existing in Kuwait," Olmert said.

A similar assessment was made by Housing Minister Ariel Sharon, who as defense minister led Israel in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

In a recent television interview, Sharon said one-third of Kuwaiti residents have been replaced with "Iraqis and Palestinians, or Jordanians of Palestinian origin."

"So a day can come and Saddam can offer a political solution: I withdraw from Kuwait, you withdraw from the gulf and Saudi Arabia, and there will be a plebiscite in Kuwait. And we know what this would show," Sharon said.

Olmert said he could not estimate how many Iraqis had been moved in, whether it "concerned 40, 50 or 60 percent" of Kuwait's population.

Kuwait's population was estimated at 1.7 million to 1.8 million at the time of the Iraqi invasion.

Of the 800,000 Kuwaitis, about 300,000 are believed still inside the occupied country. The others fled after the invasion, most to Saudi Arabia.