KUWAIT (AP) _ When the arrival of former President Bush was delayed by a day, Kuwaitis weren't disappointed - the delay just gave them more time to prepare a lavish greeting for the man who led the fight against Iraq.

The schedule change resulted from an airplane malfunction that delayed Bush's special Kuwaiti Airways flight.

Riyad al-Sultan, 43, a supermarket manager, spent Tuesday collecting more Kuwaiti signatures on an American flag he hoped to give the former president. Thousands have signed.

Hotels and houses are flying Kuwaiti and American flags, and large posters of Bush adorn downtown street corners.

Police and the army have been assigned to crowd-control duties to deal with the tens of thousands of Kuwaitis expected to line the airport road this afternoon to cheer Bush's motorcade.

Al-Sultan's 66-year-old mother will be among them. ''She wants to set up a tent there from tonight,'' he said Tuesday.

Kuwaitis revere Bush for his leadership in the 1991 campaign that liberated the emirate from seven months of Iraqi occupation.

Although he was the prime mover in assembling the 32-nation force to deal with Saddam, this is Bush's first trip to the oil-rich emirate.

He was prepared to enjoy the fanfare, too. ''It's going to be a wonderful trip,'' he told reporters before departing Houston.

Bush is accompanied on the three-day visit by his wife, Barbara, their son Neil and his wife, Sharon, and two other daughters-in-law.

Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former White House chief of staff John Sununu also were making the trip.

They will be the special guests of Kuwait's emir, Sheik Jaber al-Ahmed al- Sabah.

Bush is to receive Kuwait's highest civilian honor, the Mubarak al-Kabeer medal, which is named for a former emir.

He also will receive an honorary doctorate from Kuwait University, address parliament and visit U.S. troops in Kuwait under a 10-year defense pact.

Citizens have their own honors ready in what newspaper columnist Fuad al- Hashem has dubbed ''Operation Love Storm.''

Ahmed Bishara has organized a public ''Festival of Gratitude'' that will include folk dancing, singing and speeches in a downtown park.

The country's seven newspapers were filled with ads Tuesday welcoming the ''liberator'' and the ''man of principles.'' Editorials called for the government to give him Kuwaiti citizenship and to name a street after him.

Hussein Abdul Rahman, a columnist for the daily Al-Qabas, said he was so overcome with emotion he couldn't think what to write.

His column appeared Tuesday with the words ''Welcome Bush'' repeated more than 100 times, followed by Abdul Rahman's signature.