| US President George Bush (left) listens to soldiers singing at Fort Hood, Texas, on Friday. (Reuters)
Washington/Baghdad, Jan. 3 (Reuters): More American troops prepared today to join the tens of thousands already massed in the Gulf and 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.
“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, defence officials said today.
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. 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.
Bush said some 1,600 soldiers, of the roughly 42,000 based at Fort Hood, were now preparing for overseas deployments he did not specify.
“In the months ahead more soldiers from Fort Hood may be given other essential missions, but wherever you serve or wherever you may be sent you can know that America is grateful and your commander-in-chief is confident in your abilities and proud of your service,” Bush said.
Speaking in a base gymnasium, Bush addressed more than 4,000 soldiers who wore military fatigues with black berets and waved hand-held stars-and-stripes. Military flags hung from rafters and military camouflage netting covered the walls and a brass band played. Soldiers’ families and relatives were among the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd packed into bleaches.
One banner on the wall read “Fort Hood, Home of America’s Hammer,” referring to the heavy-armour units stationed at the base.
Bush flew to the base by helicopter, arriving in a scene that spoke of the military’s growing preparations for battle. Flanking his landing area were sand-coloured tanks, a black Apache attack helicopter, a missile launch vehicle and Bradley fighting vehicles. Some of the soldiers greeting his arrival had camouflage on their helmets and sported green-painted faces.
Iraqi daily Al-Iraq questioned the sincerity of a statement by Bush that he still hoped the standoff with Baghdad could be resolved peacefully.
“Bush remains the first evil-doer or the master of evil-doers on earth,” Al-Iraq said. It said he had talked about a peaceful solution only to defuse rising global public anger: “(The) truth of the matter is that Bush wanted... to cool down the climate after the rise of temperature of global public anger over his threats and preparations for aggression against Iraq.”