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Iraq Reportedly Massing Troops in Kurdish Area : Military: U.S. cautions Baghdad against using force against population in the northern region.


WASHINGTON — Iraq has moved more than 2,000 elite troops into a largely Kurdish area north of Baghdad, drawing a stiff warning from the United States against any military action, senior U.S. officials said Friday.

"The Iraqis have moved four battalions of Republican Guard infantry into the area around Mosul," an official said, citing U.S. intelligence reports. "We want to make it clear to the Iraqi government that we will continue . . . to enforce (United Nations) Security Council resolutions in that area. It would be unwise of them to test our resolve."

The Security Council has prohibited Iraq from mounting offensive military operations against the Kurds, a non-Arab ethnic group that is the majority of the population in northern Iraq.

"We have seen this kind of troop movement before, but this is a higher level than we've seen in more than a year," the official said. "Whether it is just saber-rattling or whether he intends to challenge the U.N., we don't know."

At the United Nations in New York, U.S. Ambassador Madeleine Albright told the Security Council of the troop movements, a spokesman said. "We do not know whether (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein intends to renew his offensive against his own people, but he clearly wishes to intimidate them, as well as the Security Council," Albright said, according to her spokesman, James P. Rubin.

Albright denounced the troop movements in a closed-door Security Council debate over a proposed statement on Iraq's degree of compliance with the 1991 cease-fire that ended the Persian Gulf War.

The 15-nation council agreed Wednesday to maintain economic sanctions against Iraq but was divided over whether to praise Hussein for cooperating with U.N. weapons inspections.

Russia, China and France supported a proposed statement that would have lauded Iraq's cooperation, but the United States and Britain were opposed.

Iraq is asking the United Nations to lift its embargo on oil exports, the country's main product. The U.N. resolutions that imposed the embargo said it could be lifted if Iraq openly declared and destroyed all its ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction and agreed to international monitoring. Iraq claims to have met those conditions, but the United States disagrees.

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