Both sides in the Persian Gulf crisis have stepped up preparations to care for the thousands of casualties expected in any armed conflict between Iraq and the U.S.-led multinational forces.

The allies have reserved hospital beds as far away as Spain and Britain for their wounded.Non-emergency cases are being turned away from the general hospital in Basra, 25 miles north of Kuwait, in case space is needed for casualties, according to reports from Iraq.

Projections of casualties vary, depending on the anticipated duration of hostilities. The lowest estimate is about 9,000 dead and wounded, based on a limited military engagement of only a few days.

The Washington-based Center for Defense Information estimated there would be military and civilian casualties of more than 300,000 - including 60,000 dead - if the fighting lasted a few months.

"The limiting factor is the operating room. We can only treat 100 to 120 patients a day," said Capt. Richard A. Mayo, head of Fleet Hospital No. 5, a U.S. Navy tent hospital in Saudi Arabia. The hospital is the largest Naval medical facility in the world.

Both the United States and Britain said they would begin inoculating their forces in Saudi Arabia, currently totaling around 360,000 personnel, to protect them against biological weapons.

Since November, when the U.N. Security Council set Jan. 15 as the deadline by which Iraq must withdraw from Kuwait or face possible attack, the allied forces have rushed doctors, blood supplies and field hospitals to the gulf.

There were no overall figures for the number of allied medical personnel in the region. But the U.S. Navy, which is providing the bulk of medical facilities, has half its 4,000 physicians deployed in the gulf.

Navy officials said up to 8,000 more reservists will be ordered to active duty to support expansion of combat and medical care in and around Saudi Arabia.

Britain last month mobilized 1,500 medical reservists. About 2,000 U.S. military doctors, nurses, medics and other medical personnel have been sent from Germany to the gulf. Officials said they would be replaced with reservists.

The Spanish government has given 5,000 chemical warfare protection suits to Britain and France and has made 5,000 hospital beds available for casualties.