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 Tuesday, 7 January, 2003, 20:46 GMT
UK to call up army reservists
Ark Royal
The Ark Royal is expected to depart later in January
The UK is to call up more than 1,000 army reservists as the military build-up in readiness for possible war with Iraq continues.

A "significant" amphibious task force is also being prepared, Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon told MPs in the Commons on Tuesday.

Task force ships
Aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal
Amphibious ship HMS Ocean
Destroyers HMS Liverpool, HMS Edinburgh, HMS York
The frigate HMS Marlborough
Auxiliary vessels Argus, Fort Victoria, Fort Rosalie, Fort Austin
Landing Ships Logistic Sir Galahad, Sir Tristram, Sir Percivale
Anti-mine ships HMS Grimsby, HMS Ledbury
Mr Hoon's statement came ahead of a key foreign affairs speech to British diplomats by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

US troops are preparing for possible mobilisation in the Gulf, while French President Jacques Chirac has given his clearest signal to date that his country's forces would be involved in any conflict.

Mr Hoon said 1,500 army reservists would be called up at first, but that it would be "misleading as well as undesirable" to give details of how many could eventually be readied for action.

A Royal Navy task force, led by HMS Ark Royal, is due to set sail on a deployment that will take it to the Gulf this month.

Other ships include three destroyers, a frigate, four auxiliary vessels, anti-mine ships and a submarine, Mr Hoon said.

Three Commando Brigade, including 40 Commando Royal Marines and 42 Commando Royal Marines "with supporting elements" were also being deployed, he added.

He stressed: "None of this means that the use of force is inevitable... no decision has been made to commit these forces to action."

But he warned that as long as Saddam Hussein failed to comply with UN resolutions the threat of force remained real.

Tory challenge

The Conservatives accused Mr Hoon of disguising the full extent of the military commitment because of "splits and divisions" within the Cabinet and the Labour Party.

Shadow defence secretary Bernard Jenkin said: "They have been very anxious to play down the scale of this deployment."

He called on Mr Hoon to disclose which Army units had been earmarked for operations against Iraq and complained "the hour is already very late" if the UK was to deploy armoured units at the outset of any US-led military attack.

Earlier, French President Jacques Chirac issued his strongest signal yet that France would contribute troops to any operation against Iraq.

"To be prepared is at the heart of the soldier's job," he said in his annual New Year's message to the French armed forces.

"Particularly, we have to be attentive to the way in which United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441 (on weapons inspections) is applied by Iraq."

Meanwhile, Mr Blair told UK ambassadors in a speech on Tuesday that any weakness tackling the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction would be rued in the future.

National interest?

He outlined his determination to stand side-by-side with US president George W Bush over Iraq.

The prime minister also warned that it was "only a matter of time" before terrorists were able to obtain weapons of mass destruction.

"It is massively in our national interest to remain the closest ally of the US," he said.

But he also urged Washington to broaden its global agenda to address issues like the environment and poverty.

Iraqi soldier watches UN inspectors
Weapon inspections are under way in Iraq
On Monday Foreign Secretary Jack Straw warned that the most likely source of weapons of mass destruction technology was "rogue regimes" such as Iraq.

Mr Straw has now issued a written statement setting out the UK's "aims and objectives" in the Iraq stand-off.

The "primary objective" was to enforce the United Nations resolution and rid Iraq of its alleged weapons of mass destruction, said Mr Straw.

But he also insisted war with Iraq was not inevitable.

Changing situation

He stressed that the "final decision" about whether the UN resolutions were enforced - and military action avoided - still rested with Saddam Hussein.

But he warned the situation with Iraq changed from day to day.

He also reaffirmed the UK's commitment to seeking a fresh United Nations Security Council resolution specifically authorising the use of force, before any military action takes place.

But his comments on the diminishing odds of a war with Iraq sparked an angry response from Mr Hoon, who called them "unhelpful", leading to opposition accusations of a "turf war" between the two men.

  The BBC's Paul Adams
"Britain is starting to flex its muscles"
  UK Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon
"The government takes seriously its duty only to call out reservists when necessary"
  Bernard Jenkin, Conservative defence spokesman
"They have been very careful to play down the scale of this deployment"

Key stories

UK prepares

UK Forces map



See also:

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