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EDITIONS
 Monday, 20 January, 2003, 19:16 GMT
UK sends 31,000 troops to Gulf
Marines
Marines are already on their way to the Gulf
Up to 31,000 UK military personnel - including 29,000 ground troops - are being sent to the Gulf in preparation for possible action against Iraq, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has told MPs.

The defence secretary detailed the deployment, which will include 120 Challenger tanks and 150 Warrior armoured personnel carriers, during a statement in the Commons.

UK troops in the Gulf
Royal Navy Task Group has set sail
Personnel include Royal Marines from 3 Commando Brigade
Headquarters 1 (UK) Armoured Division
Support from the Desert Rats
16 Air Assault Brigade
102 Logistics Brigade
120 Challenger tanks
150 Warrior armoured personnel carriers
Mr Hoon told MPs that an additional 26,000 troops would be joining some 5,000 service personnel in the Gulf.

The deployment, which includes the Desert Rats, is the most significant step so far in the British military build-up and far exceeds all predictions by military observers.

British armoured troops will be now stationed in Kuwait by the middle of February.

Mr Hoon stressed that the deployment does not mean an inevitable war against Saddam Hussein, adding the threat of military action would bring weight to ongoing diplomatic activity.

"None of the steps we are taking represents a commitment of British forces to military action," he said.

"A decision to employ force has not been taken, nor is such a decision imminent or inevitable."

Desert Rats

Conservative defence spokesman Bernard Jenkin offered his unqualified backing for the decision, saying the significance of the deployment of one quarter of the British army highlighted the seriousness of the situation.

The Desert Rats
Formed in February 1940
Famed for campaign against Rommel's Afrika Korps
Deployed in Gulf War, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo
Equipped with 100 Challenger 2 tanks
The aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal and helicopter carrier HMS Ocean are already on their way to the Gulf.

The package announced included Headquarters 1 (UK) Armoured Division, with support from 7th Armoured Brigade (the Desert Rats), 16 Air Assault Brigade and 102 Logistics Brigade.

Together with marine commandos and paratroopers, it could leave the UK with up to 31,000 members of the armed forces in place for war.

'Moment of choice'

Mr Hoon has said that UN weapons inspectors do not need to find a "smoking gun" to trigger war.

"Clearly we believe there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," he said at the weekend.

On Monday, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw warned that time was running out for Saddam Hussein.

At a counter-terrorism meeting of UN Security Council foreign ministers in New York, he stressed: "The moment of choice for Saddam is close.

"He must either resolve this crisis peacefully, by the full and active compliance with his Security Council obligations and full co-operation with inspectors, or face the 'serious consequences' - the use of force - which this Council warned would follow when it passed [Resolution] 1441."

'Difficult choices'

German foreign minister Joschka Fischer said his country - which holds the Security Council presidency next month - was against military action against Iraq.

War could result in "disastrous consequences for long-term regional stability" and, "possible negative repercussions for the joint fight against terrorism," he said.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said that the UN could not be scared into "impotence" in dealing with Iraq's refusal to co-operate with weapons inspectors and its failure to disarm.

"We must not shrink from our duties and our responsibilities when the material comes before us next week," he said.

"We cannot be shocked into impotence because we are afraid of the difficult choices that are ahead of us."

Donald Rumsfeld
Rumsfeld: Saddam Hussein should flee Iraq
Earlier on Monday, Iraq agreed to a series of concessions with United Nations weapons inspectors as pressure grew on Baghdad to prove it had disarmed.

The UN's chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, and the head of the UN's nuclear agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, ended two days of talks in Baghdad with a 10-point agreement struck with Iraqi officials.

They are due to report their findings to the UN Security Council on 27 January.

The most important point agreed was that a list would be drawn up of people to be interviewed by inspectors without having any Iraqi officials present.

Interviews with scientists - who will possibly be taken out of Iraq - have been demanded by the US Government, but Baghdad had previously objected.

Inspectors' suspicions have been raised following the discovery last week of chemical warheads and new documents, possibly relating to the development of nuclear weapons in Iraq.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Ben Brown
"Far more troops than expected are being sent"
  UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon
"A decision to employ force has not been taken"
  Shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin
"We broadly support the government's policy"

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See also:

07 Jan 03 | UK
20 Jan 03 | Middle East
20 Jan 03 | Middle East
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