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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Troop Buildup in Gulf Prompts Iraq's Wrath

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- A top Iraqi official said Wednesday the United States and Britain were preparing a "devastating" war against Iraq to subjugate the whole Middle East and renewed charges that UN weapons inspectors were exceeding their mandate.

The remarks by Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, made to a visiting South African delegation, came one day after the United States and Britain moved closer to a full war footing by announcing the dispatch of thousands of troops and weapons to the Gulf region and by voicing misgivings about Iraq's commitment to disarm.

"The aggressors in Washington and London are preparing for a devastating aggression against ... the people of Iraq and they would like once again to destroy the City of Peace [Baghdad] as they did in 1991," Aziz said.

Turning to the UN inspectors, who returned to Iraq in November after a four-year hiatus, Aziz said their mission has strayed beyond the search for weapons of mass destruction.

"They are searching for other information about Iraq's conventional military capabilities, the Iraqi scientific and industrial capability in the civilian area, and also espionage questions," Aziz said.

Asked about similar accusations made by President Saddam Hussein on Tuesday, UN spokesman Hiro Ueki said UN officials had received no formal complaint about alleged espionage and had noticed no change in cooperation from Iraqi officials.

"The inspectors are not spies. They are international civil servants," Ueki told reporters Tuesday.

The United States has accused Iraq of stockpiling weapons of mass destruction and says it will use force if necessary to disarm the Arab nation. Iraq denies the charges and insists it already has destroyed its biological and chemical weapons and halted its nuclear program and the making of banned missiles. There have been no known instances of serious problems encountered by the inspectors since they began work Nov. 27.

In a significant move in the run-up to a possible war, the American battle staff that would run a military campaign against Iraq is beginning to assemble at a command post in the small Gulf state of Qatar. Battle planners from the Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East and South Asia, are heading from their permanent headquarters in Florida to Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar to be in position to carry out any attack order from President George W. Bush, U.S. officials said.

The officials stressed that the move to Qatar does not mean war is imminent or inevitable, but a senior U.S. official speaking on condition of anonymity said the deployment of battle planners, which began this week, was part of an accelerating buildup of forces in the Gulf region. Tens of thousands more combat forces are scheduled to flow into the region over the next few weeks.

Britain, meanwhile, ordered a task force of ships and 3,000 Royal Marines to head toward the Gulf to confront Iraq "if and as required" and Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon announced the call-up of 1,500 reserve soldiers, as Britain joined the United States in increasing military pressure on Hussein.