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As Iraq Diplomatic Efforts Intensify, Military Build-Up Continues - 2003-03-11


Although efforts at the United Nations are intensifying to resolve the confrontation over Iraq, the U.S. led military build-up in the Gulf region continues amidst a growing feeling that war is imminent.

While diplomats negotiate on the other side of the world, the heavy trucks continue to arrive under the desert sun at As-Sayliyah camp outside Doha. The trucks are supplying the U.S. Central Command's forward headquarters, which lies in the central Gulf area, 700 kilometers from Iraq's southern border.

The media director for the base, Captain Frank Thorp, says that after a major troop build-up and a command-and-control exercise, the force is ready.

"We have about 200,000 troops in the region now. The troops continue to move in," he said. "As far as headquarters capability, back in December we did an exercise called Internal Look which exercised our ability to move a headquarters facility forward into the region. And at this point I would say we're ready to do whatever the commander-in-chief [President Bush] asks us to do."

Captain Thorp says the American, British and Australian forces closely follow the debate over whether Baghdad is fully complying with U.N. efforts to eliminate Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Several members of the U.N. Security Council, led by the United States, say that time is running out for Iraq to prove it has no such weapons, while other members, including France, Russia and China, say Iraq should be given more time.

A spokesman for the U.S. forces in Qatar, Captain Stewart Upton, says most of the troops favor a peaceful solution to the crisis.

"The troops all around the region, first of all they would like to see diplomacy prevail," he said. "But should the conflict have to take place to rid Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction, they are eager."

Troops and contractors of many nationalities work side-by-side on this sprawling desert compound of steel warehouses, each the size of a football [soccer] field. Some warehouses hold equipment and supplies. Some serve as barracks for the several thousand troops here. And others house the banks of computers, plasma screens and communications equipment used by commanders to direct military activities in the region.

The soldiers carry light arms if any at all. But each one carries a gas mask in a bag strapped to the leg. They have received extensive training on how to respond in case of a chemical or biological attack because they say this is perhaps the greatest worry at this time.

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