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US gears up to move armour

London, Sept. 4 (Reuters): The US will ship tanks and heavy armour to West Asia this month as President George W. Bush tries to garner domestic support for efforts to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Shipping sources said today the US navy had booked a large commercial ship to carry tanks and heavy armour to the Gulf, a sign its own vessels might have made such shipments.

The US military sealift command chartered a US-flagged general cargo ship to sail from the southeast US coast to an unspecified Gulf port for discharge in late September, they said.

This is the third shipment of arms and military hardware in a month using commercial shipping, which military analysts say shows the US navy has probably exhausted the capacity of its own fleet and resorted to the open market.

Military analysts say the movement of heavy armour to the Gulf mirrors similar movements ahead of the 1991 Gulf War and shows the superpower is building up fire power in the region ahead of a military strike.

In line with a pledge to consult on any move against Iraq, Bush will meet top members of Congress from both parties at the White House to discuss US efforts to overthrow Saddam.

At the meeting Bush could face tough questions from a Congress sceptical of using the military to achieve a “regime change” in Baghdad.

The White House, which accuses Iraq of developing weapons of mass destruction, says Bush has made no decision on how to proceed against the Iraqi leader. Bush’s closest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has begun preparing the nation for war, telling Britons in his most uncompromising speech on Iraq to date yesterday the world should face up to the dangers posed by Saddam.

Saddam, meanwhile, said yesterday the Iraqis would emerge victorious from any showdown with their enemies.

“We have prevailed before and we will also prevail in Umm al-Ma’arik (the Mother of All Battles) in the end, God willing,” Iraq’s state television quoted Saddam as saying in an open letter to the Iraqi people.

In Johannesburg, Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the European Union and the US agreed to push for weapons inspectors to return to Iraq but the Union felt it premature to say what would happen if Baghdad refused.

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