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 Thursday, 9 January, 2003, 04:19 GMT
Top general briefs Bush on Iraq
UN weapons inspectors at Saddam Medical College
Weapons teams have a tough new UN mandate
The head of the US Central Command, General Tommy Franks, is in Washington to report to President Bush and his security chiefs on the latest plans for possible military action against Iraq.

The briefing comes as the US and British military build-up in the Gulf gathers pace.

The first long-range B-1 bombers have left their base in South Dakota, with more to follow. American military headquarters staff are also heading for the Gulf region.

General Tommy Franks
General Franks: Likely commander of US-led operation

There are more than 60,000 US personnel in the region, to be joined shortly by another 25,000.

General Franks is the man expected to spearhead any US-led military operation against Iraq.

UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix is due to give a more detailed assessment of Iraq's weapons declaration to the UN Security Council on Thursday.

A fuller report, due on 27 January, is seen as a possible trigger for war if Iraq fails to satisfy the inspectors searching for evidence of weapons of mass destruction.

But according to senior UK officials, the UK is urging the US to delay war against Iraq for several months, possibly until autumn, to give the inspectors more time in Iraq, Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper reports.

Troop deployments

General Franks regularly briefs the president, but is not normally in Washington for several days at a time, as he has been this week, the BBC Pentagon correspondent Nick Childs says.

A senior defence official said the meetings were to give the president an update on deployment activities.

The most significant new additions to the US build-up are the deployment of 1,000 of the general's own battle planning staff and the B-1 bombers.

Our correspondent says a B-1 bomber can carry up to 24 satellite-guided bombs, so each is a potent extra weapon.

More deployments are set to follow.

The outgoing head of the US Marine Corps, General James Jones, told a gathering in Washington that up to 75,000 Marines alone could be deployed.

Inspections continue

The UN weapons teams - now equipped with helicopters to reach sites quickly - checked another eight suspect sites across Iraq on Wednesday.

Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz
Tariq Aziz accuses the inspectors of spying
Chemical and biological weapons experts visited four of the sites, including the al-Tareq Public Company in Fallujah, 90 kilometres (55 miles) north-west of Baghdad.

The factory's chief, Saad Hazem, told reporters the site was a chlorine plant.

"This is a civilian production facility. There is no military production here," he said.

The other four sites - including three cement factories in southern Iraq - were visited by nuclear and other experts.

The inspectors were sent back to Iraq in November after the UN Security Council passed a unanimous resolution for Baghdad to show it had disarmed or face possible military action.

But there have been recent complaints that the inspectors have been overly intrusive.

Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said that "a great deal of their work" was "not to search for weapons of mass destruction" but for commercial and military secrets.

Mr Aziz also said the US and Britain wanted war against Iraq, no matter what Baghdad did.

"The aggressors in Washington and London are preparing for a devastating aggression against... the people of Iraq, and they would like once again to destroy the City of Peace [Baghdad] as they did in 1991," he said.

Diplomatic efforts

Britain's Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon was in Ankara on Wednesday to discuss the possible use of Turkish bases and airspace should there be conflict.

Turkey's reluctance to accept significant additional forces is a continuing hitch in Washington's preparations, our Pentagon correspondent says.

Meanwhile, a European Union mission headed by Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou is to visit seven Arab nations in an effort to avert war.

  The BBC's Greg Barrow reports from New York
"The UN says it has found nothing to incriminate Baghdad"

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See also:

08 Jan 03 | Middle East
08 Jan 03 | Middle East
07 Jan 03 | Middle East
07 Jan 03 | Middle East
07 Jan 03 | Middle East
07 Jan 03 | Politics
06 Jan 03 | Middle East
08 Jan 03 | Middle East
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