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1,400 GIs Going to Kuwait as Warning to Iraq

August 19, 1995|STANLEY MEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Despite strident denials from Iraq of any aggressive intent, the United States is rushing a brigade of 1,400 troops to Kuwait for military exercises as a reinforced warning to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the Pentagon said Friday.

The U.S. troops, based at Ft. Hood, Tex., had been scheduled to take part in joint exercises with Kuwaiti troops in late October or early November. But the Pentagon decided to deploy them in the next few days because of what the Clinton Administration calls "unusual movements" by Iraqi forces that could threaten Kuwait.

The official Iraqi press was contemptuous of the American moves and accusations. "The American Administration creates unfounded stories to consolidate its presence in the [Persian] Gulf and terrorize the Sabahs," the ruling family of Kuwait, said the government-run Iraqi News Agency.

Al Thawra, Iraq's ruling party newspaper, described the Administration's fears of Iraqi military action as "merely a frog's croaking" and "a balloon full of lies."

Meanwhile, a U.S. team headed by Assistant Secretary of State Robert Pelletreau moved on to Egypt after trying to persuade King Hussein of Jordan to stop his country's purchase of 85,000 barrels of oil a day--the main leak in the U.N. trade embargo against Iraq.

Pelletreau, who presumably promised to seek other sources to replace the Iraqi oil, described his talks with Hussein as "very productive and fruitful."

State Department spokesman David Johnson refused to comment on news reports that the Administration anticipated some kind of military maneuver by Saddam Hussein because of information culled from two of his sons-in-law, both high-ranking military officers, who defected to Jordan last week with their wives.

But Johnson did not deny this, saying, "I've seen some of those reports myself, but, as I have in the past, I'm not going to get into a discussion of what we may or may not have learned from these individuals."

The dispatch of the brigade to Kuwait followed announcements by the Pentagon a day earlier that the United States was moving tanks, ammunition and equipment closer to the Persian Gulf for possible use by American troops.

An unspecified number of troops have been instructed to prepare for possible deployment in the Gulf area, the Pentagon said.

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The exact nature of the threat has not been described in detail by the Administration. But the Pentagon said Thursday that all of Iraq's military forces have been engaged in "potentially challenging" activities.

In a briefing at the Pentagon on Friday, a senior military official shed no new light on what the Iraqi troops were doing but went further in stressing the potential danger to peace: "We have been watching Iraq for a long time . . . and now you see us seeing what we think are some of the same types of indicators that we saw early on in '90 and again last fall, and we are trying to take steps to ensure that the actions we're taking are prudent, that we're prepared, and that the right messages are sent."

The "indicators" in 1990 led to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait that precipitated the Gulf War. In 1994, Saddam Hussein moved some of his best troops into southern Iraq but withdrew them in the face of threats by the United States, Britain and France to resume the bombing of Iraq if he did not.

The senior military official said the American Army brigade, assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division at Ft. Hood, would remain in Kuwait "in the neighborhood of four to six weeks." The joint exercise itself will last three weeks, he said.

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The Administration obviously hopes the defection of two of Hussein's daughters and their husbands to Jordan signals an increasing deterioration of the Iraqi ruler's regime.

The Pelletreau mission to Amman was evidently designed to persuade King Hussein to accelerate the turmoil by refusing to buy any more oil from Iraq.

Iraq sends 85,000 barrels of oil to Jordan every day. Jordan won this exception to U.N. sanctions to alleviate the economic hardships that the measures had caused the kingdom.

The State Department's Johnson made it clear that the Pelletreau mission tried to close this loophole. "The objective is to ensure that Iraq complies with all of the Security Council resolutions, and we're pushing in every way we can to put pressure on Iraq to do so," he said.

But Johnson would not discuss in detail alternative sources of oil for Jordan. "We're looking for ways that we can help support the Jordanians in light of the very courageous decision the king made" to accept the defectors, Johnson said. "And among the issues we, of course, are addressing are a range of economic issues, including oil."

In related news, Hamid Bayati, the London representative of the Iraqi opposition in exile, told the Reuters news service that Saddam Hussein had arrested scores of Iraqi army officers since the defections of his daughters and sons-in-law. This report could not be confirmed.

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