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U.S. commander in Kuwait: 'We're ready'

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 3, 2003


IN NORTHERN KUWAIT -- As diplomacy heads into its final chapter at the United Nations, U.S. officers in Kuwait say the Bush administration has amassed enough forces around Iraq to march on President Saddam Hussein whenever the order comes.

While the focus at U.N. headquarters in New York is on disarmament and Iraqi cooperation with weapons inspectors, the focus in the Persian Gulf region is on fine-tuning the growing U.S. military machine and getting ready for a war that appears increasingly imminent.

"We're ready," said Maj. Gen. Buford Blount III, commander of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, one of the major units in Kuwait. "We've got everything we need. We're just waiting on the word, the decision from the president on whether we're going to do anything."

From F-15 pilots roaring off runways in Qatar to sailors preparing Tomahawk missiles aboard ships in the Persian Gulf and eastern Mediterranean, from the crews of advanced B-2 bombers on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean to M1 Abrams tank drivers practicing here in the Kuwaiti desert, more than 200,000 U.S. troops and 25,000 Britons have deployed within striking distance of Iraq.

U.S. planes assigned to the campaign fly out of 30 bases in a half-dozen countries. Five aircraft carrier battle groups have been dispatched to the region. One is on the way.

Even once it reaches its peak in the next week or two, the force here will represent less than half of the three-quarters of a million U.S. and allied troops who gathered for Operation Desert Storm in 1991. U.S. commanders believe that with the advancement of technology and the experience of 1991, they will be able to focus more firepower more accurately and lethally than ever before.

"There are sufficient forces in place to do whatever the president asks them to do and they're certainly trained and ready," said Army Col. Rick Thomas, chief spokesman for the U.S. ground forces in Kuwait.

More than 110,000 U.S. troops and 18,000 British troops have arrived in Kuwait, jostling for room in a nation of only 6,880 square miles. The Kuwaiti government has cordoned off the northern half of the country as a military reservation, but even that does not seem enough.

The U.S. ground forces in Kuwait divide about evenly between Army and Marines, but all will fight under Army Lt. Gen. David McKiernan.

The Marines, who expect to be among the "breaching forces" that launch into Iraqi defenses, have about 55,000 men and women here with 8,000 due in the days ahead, organized under the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. Unlike in 1991, when a sizeable force of Marines remained on ships in the Persian Gulf in a bluff to make Iraqis fear an amphibious assault, most Marines have come ashore, including the Amphibious Task Force East from Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Amphibious Task Force West from Camp Pendleton, Calif. Just the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, also from Camp Lejeune, with 2,300 Marines, remains afloat in the eastern Mediterranean.

Iraq says it may stop destroying missiles if U.S. wages war

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq destroyed six Al Samoud 2 missiles Sunday but warned it might suspend the destruction if the United States indicates it will go to war.

In two days, Iraq has destroyed 10 of the banned weapons, about a tenth of its stock, which the United Nations has ordered eliminated. It also has destroyed two casting chambers used to make engines for the Al Fatah missile.

"As you can see, there is proactive cooperation from the Iraqi side," Saddam Hussein's scientific adviser, Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi, said.

"Practically all the areas of concern to UNMOVIC (the U.N. inspection team) and the subjects of remaining disarmament questions have been addressed," he said. "We hope that it will be to the satisfaction of UNMOVIC."

But he cautioned that if the United States indicated it will go to war, Iraq might stop destroying the missiles, which inspectors say fly farther than the 93 miles allowed by the United Nations.

"If it turns out at an early stage during this month that America is not going to a legal way, then why should we continue?" al-Saadi asked.

Inspectors returned Sunday to al-Aziziya, an abandoned helicopter airfield 60 miles southeast of Baghdad where Iraq says it destroyed R-400 bombs filled with biological weapons in 1991.

Al-Saadi said 157 of the R-400 bombs contained anthrax, aflotoxin and botulin toxin. He said Iraq has been excavating them and has uncovered eight bombs intact.

U.N. inspectors took samples of the material in the bombs to confirm their composition.

Bahrain, Kuwait join call for Hussein to go into exile

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- The United Arab Emirates won support Sunday from Persian Gulf nations in its call for Saddam Hussein to step down.

The king of Bahrain said he backs the call for Hussein to go, according to the Emirates state news agency. Kuwait's Cabinet also backed the measure, the official Kuwaiti news agency said.

Arab leaders Saturday refused to discuss the Emirates' proposal, which was the first open call by an Arab nation for Hussein to go into exile.

The Emirates proposal "is the only Arab way out to protect Iraq and spare its people and the whole region the threats" of war, the Emirati agency quoted Sheik Hamad, Bahrain's king, as saying.

Kuwait's Cabinet said the Emirates proposal aims to "spare the region a destructive war that would destabilize peace and security," the Kuwaiti news agency said.

British human shields go home, fearing for their safety

LONDON -- Some of the peace activists who went to Iraq to serve as human shields in the event of war returned home, fearing for their safety, a spokesman said Sunday.

The human shields are mostly European activists who drove from London to Baghdad in two double-decker buses last month, intending to guard civilian sites from a U.S.-led military attack.

Those who returned home had safety or financial concerns, spokesman Christiaan Briggs said.

"The aim was always a mass migration and if we had had five to ten thousand people here there would never be a war," he said. "We do not have those numbers."

The Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported nine of the 11 British human shields in the bus convoy had left Baghdad. Briggs said about a dozen Britons remained in Iraq alongside several dozens from other countries.

Protesters plot new ways to prevent a war with Iraq

LONDON -- More than 120 activists from 28 countries emerged from an all-day strategy session this weekend with plans not just to protest a prospective U.S.-led war against Iraq but to prevent it from happening.

They want to intensify pressure on the Bush administration's closest political allies -- the leaders of Britain, Italy and Spain -- and force them to withdraw their support, leaving the United States, if it chooses to fight, to go it alone. And they intend to further disrupt war plans with acts of civil disobedience against U.S. military bases, supply depots and transports throughout Europe.

Finally, if war breaks out, they say, they will demonstrate in towns and cities around the world on the evening of the first day, and hold a worldwide rally on the following Saturday they hope will rival or surpass their efforts of Feb. 15, which was the largest worldwide peace demonstration in history.

"We still believe we can stop this war before it begins," said Chris Nineham, one of the British organizers of this weekend's conference, held at the Stop the War Coalition's offices in northeast London. "But if not, we're putting the warmongers on notice that there will be massive protests on the day war breaks out and the following weekend."

THOUSANDS PROTEST IN PAKISTAN: Tens of thousands of Pakistanis marched through the streets of the southern city of Karachi Sunday to protest a U.S.-led war against Iraq. Police estimated that at least 100,000 people, some chanting "America is the terrorist," joined the march in what authorities said was the largest demonstration against the war in the country.

U.N. prepares for refugees

KABUL, Afghanistan -- The United Nations is preparing for up to 600,000 Iraqi refugees if war breaks out, the head of the U.N. refugee agency said Sunday.

"UNHCR cannot exclude that it comes to a military intervention, and of course we are prepared for that," U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers said.

Lubbers said an Iraqi refugee crisis could cost the international community $60-million in its first week.

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