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Iraq Sends Troops to Kuwait Border; U.S. Issues Threat : Mideast: As Washington warns it would intervene, officials say they are unsure whether Hussein is planning invasion or is posturing for relief from U.N. sanctions.


WASHINGTON — Iraq began massing troops near the Kuwaiti border Friday in an apparent effort to pressure the United Nations into lifting its economic sanctions. The action prompted a blunt warning from President Clinton that Washington will intervene militarily if Baghdad does not stop.

At a press conference at the White House, Clinton warned that it would be "a grave mistake" for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to repeat the miscalculation he made in August, 1990, when he invaded Kuwait under the assumption that Washington would not be willing to fight for the tiny emirate. A U.S.-led international coalition drove Hussein's forces out of Kuwait in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

A few minutes after Clinton spoke Friday, the Pentagon disclosed that the aircraft carrier George Washington, which had been steaming in the Adriatic Sea, had been ordered to the Red Sea, accompanied by the guided-missile cruiser San Jacinto, which is equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Military authorities also began moving toward the area several maritime pre-positioning ships, which are stationed throughout the globe to transport troops, tanks, ammunition and equipment. They placed several Army and Air Force units on alert for possible deployment.

The Navy said the amphibious assault ship Tripoli and an accompanying amphibious-ready group were preparing to steam toward the Kuwaiti coast after loading up troops and equipment in Oman, at the foot of the Persian Gulf.

As Middle Eastern neighbors such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt expressed support for Kuwait, the emirate called up its troop reserves, and its Cabinet went into emergency session. At the United Nations, Security Council President David Hannay summoned Iraqi U.N. Ambassador Nizar Hamdoun to explain the troop movements and to warn against provocations that could threaten Kuwait and regional security.

"Let it be absolutely clear to the Iraqi government that a repetition of its past mistakes will be met by my government with the same resolve as before," U.S. Ambassador Madeleine Albright told the U.N. General Assembly.

A government spokesman in Baghdad admonished the world to mind its own business, saying outsiders "have no right whatsoever to discuss Iraqi troop movements within the boundaries of Iraq."

Iraq's enemies are looking for "false pretenses to prolong their aggression on Iraq and the starvation of its people," he added.

U.S. officials cautioned that it is not yet clear whether the Iraqis actually are planning to invade Kuwait, in a reassertion of its longstanding territorial claim, or simply are posturing in an attempt to pressure the United States and its allies into granting them more concessions to provide relief from the U.N. sanctions.

Some analysts raised the possibility that Hussein was ordering the movements mainly to quell dissent within his own army. Reports from Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, have suggested that, in part because of the U.N. sanctions, the Iraqi army suffers a shortage of supplies and low morale.

One senior Administration official said intelligence reports have suggested that Iraqi forces had been rounding up dissidents throughout the country recently, cutting off their left ears and carving Xs into their foreheads. And there were reports of an uprising last week.

The Iraqi buildup involves about 40,000 to 50,000 troops, including two divisions of the elite Republican Guards. The push began Thursday, and the units sped toward the border Friday. Officials said the leading elements were only about 18 or 19 miles from Kuwait.

Senior Administration officials said the United States will step up its reconnaissance of the Persian Gulf region--by repositioning spy satellites and increasing the number of reconnaissance flights--to enable authorities to track the Iraqi movements more closely.

"We are going to continue to watch this for the next 24 or 48 hours to see how things develop" before finally deciding what action to take, one official said.

"We are not overreacting in any way. We are going to do our best to send an important signal" to Iraq.

The mood in Washington was tense. Clinton's top national security advisers met in the late afternoon, in part to review the situation, and officials said that further decisions might come sometime this weekend after Washington gets a better idea of Iraqi intentions.

But U.S. strategists strongly implied that if the Iraqis continued to pour troops and equipment into the area, the United States would launch heavy attacks--possibly including both air power and precision-guided missiles.

White House officials said Friday that Clinton met late in the day with Prince Saud al Faisal, the Saudi Arabian foreign minister, and won a pledge that the Saudi government would again cooperate with U.S. forces.

And the British Ministry of Defense announced that it was sending an extra frigate, the Cornwall, to patrol off Kuwait.

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