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US Troop Presence in N. Iraq Gives Commanders Options

Commanders of the U.S. led coalition in Iraq say the 1,000 U.S. troops that parachuted into northern Iraq Thursday could be used to protect Kurds in the region or for an offensive on Baghdad.

The deputy director of coalition operations, Brigadier-General Vincent Brooks, says the deployment of American troops from the 172nd brigade into northern Iraq is meant to prevent any attack by Iraqi forces on Kurdish groups in the region.

Asked if these troops could be used to open a northern front for an eventual offensive on Baghdad, General Brooks said their presence provides commanders with options.

"The capabilities of that force may be more than what meets the eye. Let's say that first," he explained. "They can be used offensively and if we choose to use them in that way, then that's indeed how they'll be used."

The general said coalition forces are still investigating the bomb attack that killed 15 people in a Baghdad market Wednesday. He said coalition planes were flying missions in the area but indicated that their missile firings had been accounted for. He said coalition planes came under fire from Iraqi missiles during this mission and suggested the incident could have been caused by an Iraqi air defense missile.

General Brooks said coalition attacks in Iraq continue on schedule, despite two days of bad weather, and added they are affecting the ability of Iraqi military leaders to command their troops.

"We're seeing locally controlled military and paramilitary actions, frequent survival moves by regime leaders, and uncontrolled firing of air defense missiles," said General Brooks.

Iraqi officials dispute the claims, saying their forces are resisting the coalition advance and have inflicted many casualties.

General Brooks said coalition forces have discovered a second stock of chemical protection suits in western Iraq and called it more evidence that the Iraq government possesses weapons of mass destruction.