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Sunday, 10 November, 2002, 14:58 GMT
UK 'prepared' for Iraq war
Desert Rats - the 7th Armoured Brigade
The Desert Rats are likely to feature in battle plans
The UK is prepared for possible war with Iraq, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has said as he denied reports that troops would start mobilising this week.

The Sunday Telegraph newspaper says the UK will this week begin assembling a 15,000-strong force ready to join an attack on Iraq if weapons inspections are thwarted.


I do not believe (Saddam Hussein) is irrational. He now understands he faces the choice of his lifetime, literally

Jack Straw
Foreign Secretary
The 7th Armoured Brigade - nicknamed the Desert Rats - would form the core of the brigade, says the newspaper, with at least 150 SAS troops on soldiers also on standby.

Mr Hoon told BBC One's On The Record the report was "incorrect", as was speculation that UK troops would not be ready for action until February.

No decisions had been taken about the possible strength and make-up of a UK force, said Mr Hoon, who stressed war was still a "last resort".

First deadline looms

His comments came as Arab League foreign ministers said Iraq was poised to accept the new United Nations resolution on restarting weapons inspections.

Iraq has less than a week to agree in principle to the resolution - and then another 30 days to disclose details of its alleged weapons of mass destruction.

Geoff Hoon
Hoon: Will not necessarily need second UN resolution
Mr Hoon said there would be "further discussion" at the UN if Saddam Hussein failed to comply with the resolution.

But it was "not necessarily the case" that America and the UK would need a fresh UN Security Council mandate before action could be launched.

Mr Hoon stressed: "What we need to do is to go through this process."

'Give inspectors time'

Whether a new resolution on possible military action would be needed would depend on how much access was given to weapons inspectors and what they found.

Mr Hoon refused to be drawn on the timing of any announcement about UK troop deployments.

Sir Michael Boyce, chief of the defence staff
Sir Michael Boyce predicts possible overstretching for troops
"What is important is that we are prepared," he said. "At each stage we have taken the appropriate and necessary decisions.

"But what's important is that we give this UN process time to be effective."

Mr Hoon refused to say whether he thought International Development Secretary Clare Short was wrong to say the UN Security Council alone must decide whether military action is taken.

Service chiefs have long complained about UK troops being overstretched.

Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, chief of the defence staff, last week told MPs the services would have "great difficulty" coping with a medium or large operation.

And if the firefighters dispute, which means troops are on standby to man Green Goddess fire engines, went on well into next year, it would cause "extreme difficulty", said Sir Michael.

Mr Hoon insisted Sir Michael had explained the services would be able to manage many different commitments.

"We will be ready, we can cope and we can deal with these eventualities," he added.

'Choice of a lifetime'

Later, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said there were indications Iraq would meet the first deadline in the resolution.

But more important was whether it had disclosed details of its weapons programmes by 7 December.

Mr Straw told BBC Radio 4's World This Weekend: "Saddam Hussein (is) one of the most evil and unpleasant dictators...

"I do not believe he is irrational. He now understands he faces the choice of his lifetime, literally."

Mr Straw insisted the UN Security Council resolution was very clear and did not leave room for misinterpretation.

"Military action is bound to follow if Saddam Hussein does not comply fully with the terms of this resolution," he added.


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See also:

10 Nov 02 | Middle East
09 Nov 02 | Europe
10 Nov 02 | Media reports
09 Nov 02 | Politics
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