Sun, Jan 05, 2003 - Page 1 News List

US president talks of liberating Iraq, troops mass in gulf

REUTERS , WASHINGTON AND BAGHDAD

More US troops prepared on Friday to join the tens of thousands already massed in the Gulf and US President George W. Bush told cheering soldiers a war against Iraq would be one of liberation, not conquest.

Bush addressed thousands of cheering soldiers at the biggest army base in the US, Fort Hood in his home state of Texas, describing how he viewed a possible war against President Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

"Should Saddam seal his fate by refusing to disarm, by ignoring the opinion of the world, you'll be fighting not to conquer anybody but to liberate people," he told them.

The Pentagon has ordered some units of the US 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, based in Camp Pendleton, California, to go to the Gulf, defense officials said on Friday.

In a New Year surge of military preparation, the US military has announced the deployment of more than 11,000 soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division based in the state of Georgia, as well as hundreds of engineers and intelligence specialists from Germany.

Nearly 60,000 US military personnel are already in the Gulf and that number could double in coming weeks.

Britain is to send more than 20,000 troops to the Gulf and mobilize 7,000 reservists next week in preparation for war, the Daily Telegraph newspaper said yesterday.

It said defense chiefs will brief Prime Minister Tony Blair on his return from holiday about plans for a mass deployment led by the aircraft carrier Ark Royal. Blair is then expected to announce the deployment in a statement to parliament.

UN inspectors continued their investigations of suspect sites in Iraq with no word yet of a "smoking gun" that might prove the country has weapons of mass destruction or is developing them.

A UN spokesman in Baghdad said one inspection on Friday was of a depot 200km west of Baghdad which was used as a chemical weapons store before the 1991 Gulf War.

Experts also inspected an adjacent area used in the 1980s for chemical munitions tests, he said. Both desert sites had been visited by previous inspection teams.

Over 100 inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the UN Monitoring and Verification Commission (UNMOVIC) are trying to assess what Iraq's military industries have been doing since inspectors left in 1998.

The UN Security Council passed a resolution in November demanding Iraq give a full account of its weapons programs and cooperate with weapons inspectors, as required by resolutions stemming from the 1991 Gulf War, or face tough consequences.

Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz accused Washington on Thursday of "an imperialist design" to invade his oil-rich country regardless of the verdict of the inspectors, who must report their findings to the Security Council by Jan. 27.

Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said at the UN on Friday the findings would include the results of laboratory tests of samples taken in Iraq. He will make an interim report to the UN Security Council on Thursday and visit Iraq from Jan. 18 to Jan. 20.

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