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Tuesday, 4 February, 2003, 11:01 GMT
UK troops 'prepare for Iraq occupation'
British troops patrol their base in Kuwait
The army may "peacekeep" for several years
Senior British Army officers have been told to prepare for an occupation of Iraq lasting up to three years in the event of war, BBC News has learned.

Ministry of Defence sources also said that many UK troops being sent to Kuwait would probably be used for peacekeeping and "rearguard" duties, rather than in frontline fighting.

Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair
Iraq tops Blair-Chirac agenda

According to BBC defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan, many members of the armed forces think that what happens in Iraq after a war will be harder than the conflict itself.

It is thought the country would be divided into sectors, as happened in Kosovo, with the UK responsible for one of them.

Some military figures are said to be starting to grumble about the prospect of the US going in to do the fighting and then leaving the UK and other European countries to pick up the pieces.

'Revenge'

Andrew Gilligan said that a senior military figure had confirmed that the Army had been told to prepare for a "very long presence indeed in Iraq".

Many military leaders believe that a war will be short lived, with Saddam Hussein's subordinates refusing to obey orders once an invasion has started.

"Huge numbers of people have suffered under Saddam - they will want revenge," Gilligan said.

"Many disparate ethnic and religious groups in Iraq have been suppressed - they will want to claim their part of the cake - and the dominance of Saddam has been so total there's a risk of a vacuum when he goes."

Everything I'm hearing is the fact that the fighting is likely to be brief - maybe vicious

Patrick Mercer MP
Dr Isam al Khafaji, an Iraqi political scientist at Amsterdam University told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "No people on earth have moved from tyranny to democracy in a smooth fashion, so why do you expect Iraq to be an exception in this case?

"We have to expect some symbols of the regime being butchered in a way that no-one would like."

Prisoners

Officially, the MoD would only say that contingency planning was going on and it would be premature to speculate about it.

Members of the Desert Rats
Troops have been asked to protect US troops' rear
Separately, some units in 7 Armoured Brigade - the main British Army formation going to the Gulf - have told the BBC they have been asked to protect the Americans' rear during any invasion, and to deal with prisoners.

They could spend around eight months in the country on peacekeeping duties before being relieved by other British troops.

Other units, however, would be closer to the front line.

Conservative MP and former soldier Patrick Mercer said: "Everything I'm hearing is the fact that the fighting is likely to be brief - maybe vicious, I don't know.

"British forces may or may not be there in time to take part in that, but without a doubt the forces that have been warned to go to the Gulf are expecting to stay afterwards in an extremely difficult and unstable situation."

Opposition

About 31,000 British troops have already been sent to the Gulf.

These include 26,000 soldiers, drawn from 1 UK Armoured Division, 7 Armoured Brigade (The Desert Rats), 16 Air Assault Brigade, and 102 Logistics Brigade.

About 4,000 marines are being sent, from 40 and 42 Commando of 3 Commando Brigade.

Prime Minister Tony Blair told MPs on Monday there was no way the US and Britain would back down over Iraq disarming - despite opposition at home and abroad.

He said he was prepared to gamble his career on the issue, saying he did not want to be remembered as someone who "did nothing" about terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

On Tuesday he is meeting French President Jacques Chirac to try to woo his support for military intervention.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Gilligan
The Ministry of Defence is saying they are making contingency plans"
Patrick Mercer, Conservative MP:
"The forces going to the Gulf will be expected to stay on"

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