US aircraft carrier sent to patrol in the Gulf

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The Independent Online
The United States navy has told the crew of the aircraft carrier Nimitz to skip a port call in Singapore and hurry to the Gulf, the Pentagon said yesterday. It follows attacks by Iran and Turkey on targets in Iraq.

The Nimitz was on its way to the Gulf anyway, but by missing Singapore it will arrive by the middle of the month, four or five days earlier than planned.

The triangle of territory where Syria, Turkey and northern Iraq meet saw a sudden escalation of tension this week, with Turkish jets attacking Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) guerrillas in Iraq, and Iranian warplanes on Monday striking a rebel base near Kut, 105 miles (170km) south-east of Baghdad. Kut is within the part of southern Iraq that the US declared a no-fly zone to prevent Iraqi attacks on Iraqi Shia rebels.

The Nimitz is carrying 80 tactical aircraft and is accompanied by two cruisers, a destroyer and a guided missile frigate. Five US destroyers, three frigates and two minesweepers are already in the Gulf. Yesterday's announcement also follows the refusal of the Iraqi authorities to allow UN arms inspectors to enter three production sites.

A National Security Council official was quoted as saying that the US feared the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, could use the Iranian air attacks as a pretext for challenging the no-fly zone over southern Iraq that was imposed after the 1991 Gulf War. It was unclear whether moving the Nimitz was intended as a warning to Iraq, or whether the US is contemplating renewed military action. - Agencies