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Britain Increases Preparation for Possible Military Action Against Iraq - 2002-09-26

Britain says it is pulling about 2,800 troops from firefighter training, so they can be deployed, if necessary, to Iraq. Military experts say the move is intended to put more pressure on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Britain's Ministry of Defense says it is transferring the troops as part of what a statement called prudent contingency planning.

Defense spokesmen say there is still no decision about military action against Iraq and the emphasis remains on diplomacy at the United Nations.

But the defense ministry is taking what the statement called sensible steps to respond to any requirement for military forces.

The 2,800 troops affected are largely frontline infantry and engineers from the military's Joint Rapid Reaction Force.

They were among 10,000 soldiers being trained to man fire trucks in case of a firefighter strike. Britain's 52,000 civilian firefighters are demanding higher pay. They plan to begin a strike vote on Friday.

Defense analysts say the redeployment of the rapid reaction force members is a significant development.

Charles Heyman, a retired British army major, who edits the influential military publication, Jane's World Armies, told British radio, some of the country's most elite units are involved. "For the intelligence community, this is the most important signal of the past few weeks. It all points straight to the deployment of the U.K.'s [United Kingdom's] first armored division, with around about 20,000 personnel," Mr. Heyman said.

Mr. Heyman said the announcement was sure to dominate the next intelligence briefing of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and it is meant to persuade him to let U.N. weapons inspections resume. "It's a not-so-subtle message here, that, if you don't let the inspectors in, you're going to be in serious trouble," Mr. Heyman said.

Iraq says it is ready to let U.N. weapons inspections resume after a lapse of nearly four years. Britain and the United States say Iraq has only made the offer because of the threat of military force.