Saddam yields to US pressure

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The Independent Online
VERBAL and military pressure from Washington on Saddam Hussein yielded its first results yesterday, as the Pentagon reported 'fairly broad' movements of Iraqi troops, some of them apparently northward away from the border with Kuwait.

Announcing a further expansion of the US countermeasures, the joint chiefs of staff chairman, General John Shalikashvili, said the Clinton administration had detected signs that Baghdad's forces had lowered their state of alert and that some units were preparing for a possible withdrawal. President Clinton said he was 'hopeful' that Iraqi troops had begun pulling away from the Kuwaiti border but that it was too early to tell whether the withdrawal was widespread.

Earlier, however, despite conceding some 'minimal' signs of an Iraqi pull-out, Madeleine Albright, Washington's ambassador to the United Nations, warned of a possible pre-emptive strike if President Saddam did not pull back. The US Defense Secretary, William Perry, insisted: 'We will resolve the crisis and resolve it in a relatively short amount of time, and if that requires the use of military power, we're prepared to use it.'

A US official at the UN said the United States was consulting other Security Council members about establishing some form of exclusion zone to prevent Iraq from conducting provocative manoeuvres in the future. No decision had yet been made on whether Council endorsement should be sought for any action.

When the Security Council President, Britain's Sir David Hannay, was asked whether Iraq's recent action was a breach of the Gulf war ceasefire, he replied: 'It could (be). But the big question mark now is whether their words on withdrawal are matched by their deeds.'

The US will continue its troop deployment, now even larger than that sketched out by President Clinton on Monday evening. General Shalikashvili said 19,000 US personnel were in the Kuwait theatre, with a further 44,500 either on their way or due to leave for the Gulf. A further 156,000 troops have been placed on alert.

In all, 719 aircraft, including 52 from Britain and other Allied nations, are either in or around Kuwait or in various stages of deployment. The aircraft carrier USS George Washington is in the Red Sea.

Nearly 1,000 British troops were heading for Kuwait last night. The Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, was also on his way to the emirate for a meeting with the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, and the foreign ministers of six Gulf states. He will go on to Saudi Arabia after today's meeting.

Meanwhile there are indications that the Iraqi army, so long quiescent, was stirring against Saddam Hussein's leadership before the advance towards Kuwait. Some middle-ranking and senior officers were yesterday reported to be 'very restive', especially in the key northern city of Mosul - the bedrock of the Iraqi officer corps. Intelligence sources said this was one important reason for President Saddam's decision to deploy troops from Mosul to the south, where it is easier to keep an eye on them.

Sarah Helm in

Baghdad, page 15

Leading article, page 17

End of Saddam? page 18