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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 4 March, 2003, 08:14 GMT
US orders more troops to Gulf
A US flag waves as the Nimitz aircraft carrier leaves for the Gulf
The US will soon have six aircraft carriers near Iraq

The United States has ordered an extra 60,000 troops to head for the Gulf as it presses ahead with plans for a possible invasion of Iraq.

A US defence official told the BBC that US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has authorised the extra troops, although they might only arrive after war has begun.

Among the new forces being sent are the 1st Armoured Division and the 1st Cavalry Division.

The accelerated military build-up was announced a day after US and UK planes launched a raid on southern Iraq which Baghdad said killed six people.

It also comes despite Iraq's destruction of 16 of its banned al-Samoud II missiles in the past three days.

In an exclusive BBC interview to be broadcast on Tuesday, Mr Rumsfeld said he does not regard the destruction of the missiles as a sign the arms inspection process is forcing Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to disarm.

Mr Rumsfeld added that Iraq was perfectly capable of producing new weapons of mass destruction while the arms inspectors were in the country.

Turkish delay

Mr Rumsfeld is due to hold talks in Washington with US General Tommy Franks, who will be in overall command of any invasion.

US marines in the Kuwaiti desert
141,000 US troops in region
180,000 more US soldiers en route or on standby
30,000 UK troops in position
UK Tornado and Harrier aircraft deployed
Sixth US aircraft carrier group heading to Gulf

The pair will discuss alternative strategies after Turkey's parliament failed to approve a request for US troops to use the country as a launch pad for an invasion of neighbouring Iraq.

The Turkish parliament, which narrowly turned down the plan on Sunday, was originally due to vote again on Tuesday.

However, that vote has been delayed indefinitely, leaving US plans in limbo.

Washington has strongly hinted that $15bn in American grants and loans to Turkey agreed in exchange for receiving the troops will now not be delivered - a worry that sent Turkish stock markets plunging on Monday.

Military experts say that while Washington has not given up hope that Turkey might relent, it does have a "Plan B" which would involve flying troops directly into northern Iraq.

General James L Jones, the chief of US forces in Europe, admitted on Monday that Turkey's decision reduced US options but added: "I don't think it will be a show-stopper."

Also on Monday, US aircraft carrier Nimitz left San Diego at the head of a five-ship battle group.

When it arrives in a week, the nuclear-powered Nimitz - carrying 70 aircraft - will be the sixth US carrier within striking distance of Iraq.

UK-Russia talks

On the diplomatic front, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov is arriving in London on Tuesday for talks likely to be dominated by Iraq.

Russia strongly opposes a new UN Security Council resolution jointly sponsored by the US, UK and Spain, which calls for military action to forcibly disarm the Iraqi regime.

Sunday night's air strike in the southern province of Basra marked an escalation in military action against Iraq.

A British Chinook helicopter
The US and UK are leading the push towards military action

The US Defence Department says it has expanded the number of military targets which can be attacked by US and UK planes patrolling the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq.

Authorities in Baghdad said that six Iraqis died and 15 were wounded in the raid.

However, the UK Ministry of Defence insisted there was no evidence anyone had been killed or injured.

Crucial vote

Tuesday is a public holiday in Iraq, and it is likely there will be little further progress on weapons destruction.

UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix is due to present his latest report detailing Iraqi disarmament on Friday.

The Security Council is expected to take its crucial vote on the new resolution at some point in the following week.

The US and the UK are frantically lobbying Security Council members to pass the resolution, while France has headed efforts calling for weapons inspections to be given more time.

However US President George W Bush has already indicated that while UN backing would be beneficial, an invasion could be launched regardless of the vote.

The BBC's Samantha Simmonds
"60,000 more American troops are to be sent to the Gulf"

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