Young, able-bodied men seem in short supply in the teeming markets and streets of Baghdad. The threat of war has stripped Iraq of its youth and sent many of them to the front.

The government announced this week it would call up an additional 150,000 men for duty in Kuwait.But some Western diplomats question the numbers and expressed doubts about Iraq's ability to wage a war, claiming troop morale is low, strategic fuel supplies inadequate and vital spare parts are in dwindling supply.

Highways in Kuwait are littered with broken-down tanks and disabled military vehicles, Western diplomats said.

The country has 18 million people, a regular army of 550,000 and 480,000 reservists, as well as a Popular Army militia of about 850,000, according to diplomats in Baghdad who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A weakness, the diplomats say, is the soldiers, whose morale is eroding because of months of maintaining the alert in the desert and food shortages brought about by distribution problems.

Men going absent while on leave is another "big problem," one European diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"One estimate is 40 percent of those who go on leave don't go back to Kuwait. The president had to decree that it's the same as desertion," the diplomat said.

Also, the diplomats noted that small numbers of Iraqi soldiers have deserted along the Turkish border.

Besides the expected reinforcements, Iraq has an estimated 430,000 troops in southern Iraq and Kuwait, which Iraq invaded Aug. 2.

There are about 330,000 soldiers in the Persian Gulf from the multinational force, including about 230,000 U.S. troops. The United States plans to increase its troop strength to about 430,000 by January.

About 1 million Iraqis and Iranian troops died during their eight-year war, according to U.N. estimates.

Iraq expelled all Western military attaches last month, making it more difficult to accurately assess Iraq's readiness for war.

"We're getting a lot of technical intelligence, but we can no longer get the assessments of individual units, commanders and their fighting ability," said one Western diplomat with long military experience.

Others say many of the troops in Kuwait belong to the Popular Army, a ragtag outfit of ill-trained irregulars.

Iraqi troops in the south also include the crack, battle-hardened Republican Guards, whose ability and willingness to fight remains unchallenged to Western observers.

But Iraq is also a victim of its military system, said the diplomat with military experience.

He said the army is dug in along a Maginot-type line on the border which is vulnerable to massive air strikes from multinational forces. The Maginot line was a French fortification that failed to repel Germany's invasion in World War II.

"They don't realize what they're facing," the diplomat said. "This time, the Americans have the proper weapon for the proper target."

Western diplomats increasingly feel that a limited war, coupled with economic sanctions, might be enough to force Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait.

Iraq, meanwhile, is hoping it can endure the economic embargo and break the international coalition against it, the diplomats said.

"The Iraqi leadership believes that unless they give him a reason to go to war, President Bush, like all presidents, will look for a way to avoid doing it," the European diplomat said.

Iraqi officials say they want peace but insist they're prepared for war.

"We expect war at any moment. This is a fact, not just propaganda," said Information Minister Latif Nassayif Jassim. "One hopes a war will never erupt."

Diplomats contend the timing of Iraq's planned Dec. 25 to March 25 release of Western hostages reflects Baghdad's fear of fighting the United States.

The winter is considered the best time for military operations in the gulf because of lower temperatures and frequent spells of good weather.

Also, diplomats say the West may face political pressure to avoid war during the Moslem fasting month of Ramadan beginning in March.