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Bush begins movement of troops to Gulf

Washington/Baghdad, Jan. 1 (Reuters): The US military ordered more than 11,000 desert-trained troops to begin moving to the Gulf and Western jets struck an Iraqi defence radar as pressure mounted on Iraq, defence officials said today.

The movement, including tanks and attack helicopters, will be the first deployment of a full combat division of US forces to the area since the 1991 Gulf war.

Much of the division’s equipment is already waiting in the region.

US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld already had put thousands of troops on notice who when deployed could soon double the nearly 60,000 US personnel — including Navy and Air Force troops — already in the region.

US central command in Florida said aircraft taking part in US-British patrols hit the military defence radar after it was moved into a “no-fly” zone in southern Iraq.

“Its presence in the no-fly zone was a threat to coalition aircraft,” a central command spokesman said.

The central command said the aircraft used precision-guided weapons on the radar, located near al Qurnah, 210 km southeast of Baghdad.

There was no immediate comment from Iraq.

President George W. Bush has made no decision on whether to invade Iraq over US accusations that Baghdad is developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, but he has repeatedly warned that war may become necessary.

A UN Security Council resolution passed in November gave Baghdad a final chance to reveal all details of its weapons programmes, as required by resolutions going back to the 1991 Gulf War, or face “serious consequences”.

The next key date is January 27 when UN weapons inspectors report back to the Security Council on whether they have found any signs of weapons of mass destruction.

Iraq says it has no banned weapons and has invited chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix to visit Baghdad to “review cooperation” before inspectors report to the Security Council.

In Baghdad, there was no new year respite for the UN weapons inspectors who visited at least two more suspect sites today, a public holiday in Iraq.

UN sources said experts were preparing also to launch their first aerial inspections by helicopters and were setting up a base to facilitate inspections in northern Iraq.

One inspection team visited Al Majd Company facilities, including warehouses and a vehicle repair workshop.

Al Majd is run by Iraq’s Military Industrialisation Commission which oversees development and production of weapons and ammunition.

In an editorial, Iraqi newspaper Babel, owned by President Saddam Hussein’s son Uday, urged Arabs today to learn from North Korea’s resistance over its nuclear standoff with Washington to help put a halt to US threats of war.

Tensions between the US and North Korea have escalated since North Korea announced it would expel UN nuclear arms inspectors and reopen a nuclear reactor frozen since 1994 under a non-proliferation agreement.

US army officials said the 1st and 3rd Brigades of the 3rd Infantry Division would soon begin moving to join the 2rd brigade of more than 4,000 troops, now training in Kuwait.

Naval ships from the US, Turkey and Israel began manoeuvres in the eastern Mediterranean today in an annual event showcasing military links between the countries.

The Israeli army said the exercises were not connected to “combat training and are not directed at any regional body”.

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