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US sends more troops to Gulf

Baghdad/Washington, March 4 (Reuters): The US ordered 60,000 more troops to the Gulf, despite signs that a war on Iraq might be delayed until April, as big powers and ally Turkey persisted today in complicating its military plans.

Iraq showed both co-operation and defiance in its efforts to head off a US-led invasion that Washington says will rid it of banned weapons. It scrapped more al Samoud 2 missiles, but President Saddam Hussein forecast victory in any war and branded US President George W. Bush the “despot of the century”.

Ankara’s surprise decision not to let US troops launch an attack on neighbouring Iraq from Turkey has upset plans for a mid-March invasion, but Ankara indicated a new parliamentary vote could be held.

US defence officials announced the dispatch of the fresh troops to join a more than 250,000-strong US and British force as a divided UN Security Council considered whether to approve a new draft resolution authorising war.

Washington has signalled it will push the resolution to a vote next week despite misgivings in the 15-member Council.

Big powers France, Russia and China say UN arms inspectors in Iraq must be given more time, and Moscow threatened to use its veto in the Council.

France and Germany said they will send foreign ministers to Friday’s report on Iraqi disarmament by chief UN weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei.

The decision, announced by French and German diplomats today during a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council, means the report is likely to draw ministers from other permanent council members including the US, Britain, China and Russia.

“Russia has this right and if the situation so demands, Russia will of course use its right of veto — as an extreme measure — to avoid the worst development of the situation,” foreign minister Igor Ivanov said, according to a translated version of a BBC World Service interview in London. “Russia would not support any decision that would directly or indirectly lead to a war with Iraq,” he added.

Whatever the outcome of a vote, US officials say Turkey’s opposition to up to 60,000 US troops launching a “northern front” against Iraq from its territory could delay an attack until late March or early April. They say Saturday’s decision by Turkey’s parliament could also spark problems over control of northern Iraq’s oil fields, which could be destroyed by Iraq.

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