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U.S. Sees Signs of Iraq Pullback, Says Crisis Is Not Over : Mideast: Clinton expresses optimism, but officials note that the destination of Hussein's soldiers is not yet clear. The Pentagon puts 155,000 more troops on alert.


WASHINGTON — Iraq began withdrawing some of its forces from the Kuwaiti border area Tuesday in response to the U.S. military buildup. But the Pentagon placed 155,000 more U.S. ground troops on alert in case additional force is needed to meet the Iraqi threat.

After a day of uncertainty about Iraq's response, U.S. officials said that intelligence reports had shown signs of "broad movement" by most of the 80,000 Iraqi troops in the border area, with many units loading their equipment onto railroad cars for shipment out of the area.

President Clinton expressed guarded optimism that Iraq was pulling back from the brink of a military showdown. "I'm hopeful," he told reporters at an impromptu news conference. "It's a little early yet to reach a final conclusion. We're watching it very closely."

But Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cautioned that, despite the encouraging signs, there was no indication yet just where the Iraqi troops would be going. He said that Washington will continue to treat the situation as potentially dangerous.

"I'm not at all prepared to say the crisis is over in any way," he told reporters at the Pentagon later.

Shalikashvili also disclosed that 113,000 soldiers and 42,000 Marines will be placed on alert for possible deployment to the area. Those are in addition to the 36,145 U.S. ground troops already being sent to the Persian Gulf.

He said that the option to send additional troops is needed to ensure that U.S. commanders will have enough ground troops not only to deter an Iraqi attack but to push the Iraqi army back if it does not move on its own.

U.S. officials said Clinton also is considering a proposal to call up some National Guard and reserve troops. Precise figures were not available Tuesday, but authorities said the bulk of any call-up likely would be combat support units.

The Administration also began exploring the possibility of creating a large exclusion zone on the Iraqi side of the Kuwaiti border and prohibiting Iraq from sending certain kinds of troops and equipment into the area.

The Administration also reportedly is considering a preemptive strike against the Iraqi troops, policy-makers said. However, senior U.S. officials said that such action is unlikely unless Iraq appears to reposition itself to invade Kuwait, because the Administration does not want Iraq to invade Kuwait to save face.

"For the next several hours, we're going to watch and see what Iraq is going to do," one official said. "Meanwhile, we are getting ourselves prepared in case the worst comes to pass."

Strategists said that, even if Iraq withdraws its troops, Washington still might keep large numbers of aircraft and ground troops in the area to make sure that Iraqi troops do not push south again.

Pentagon officials said that the 155,000 ground troops placed on alert will include units of the 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell, Ky., and the 1st Air Cavalry Division of Ft. Hood, Tex.

Two other units, the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division of Ft. Stewart, Ga., and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force of Camp Pendleton, already are poised for deployment.

On Monday, Clinton ordered an additional 350 combat aircraft to the Persian Gulf region and decided to continue plans to place about 36,000 ground troops in the area by the end of the week.

Administration strategists began preliminary consultations on the exclusion-zone plan with U.S. allies at the United Nations on Tuesday. And officials said that Madeleine Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is expected to brief the Security Council today.

For all the statements by Administration officials, there still were other major questions unanswered on Tuesday, including how far back the United States would insist that Iraqi troops withdraw.

Administration officials are considering asking U.S. allies in Europe, Asia and the Persian Gulf for financial support for the current deployment, which is expected to cost billions of dollars even if a shooting war is averted.

The 1991 Persian Gulf War, which cost an estimated $70 billion, was financed by donations from Saudi Arabia, Japan, the Gulf states and dozens of other countries.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher is expected to raise the subject of money when he meets today in Kuwait City with the foreign ministers of the six oil-rich nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council. But officials said that Washington still has not begun soliciting donations.

Separately, the Pentagon announced that Defense Secretary William J. Perry will leave for the Middle East today to confer with leaders in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. He then will continue on a previously scheduled visit to Beijing.

In addition to U.S. efforts, Britain announced Tuesday that it is deploying 800 more marine commandos to the area and sending six more Tornado warplanes to Kuwait.

And Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin sent two diplomats to Iraq and Kuwait to try to defuse the crisis.

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