- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 26, 2002

From combined dispatches
An Iraqi opposition source said yesterday that the United States has offered for the first time to train thousands of anti-Saddam Hussein Iraqis for combat.
Also, the United States is deploying more Patriot missile batteries in Kuwait to protect its air bases in what appear to be preparations for a possible U.S. war against Iraq, defense sources said yesterday.
"This is a fundamental change in U.S. policy. The United States has refused for years to provide us with combat training," the London-based source told Reuters news agency about the U.S. offer to train indigenous anti-Saddam forces.
He said the offer was made at a meeting that included the Iraqi National Congress, the main exiled group opposed to the Iraqi dictator's rule, which is based in Britain.
Troops to be trained soon would include Kurdish rebels from northern Iraq and other forces, but he would not say where the training would take place or if the Pentagon had offered to arm the fighters.
The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday that the White House, reversing its long-standing policy, was expected to seek approval from Congress soon for military training of up to 10,000 members of the Iraqi opposition.
The London source would not say where or when the meeting was held at which the offer was made but that "regular meetings between the opposition and the Pentagon are continuing."
He said the Iraq Liberation Act, passed in 1998, authorized the U.S. government to give military and financial assistance to the opposition.
Until now Washington has only provided financial aid.
Iraqi opposition members said the United States started to court them only in recent months. It began after they asked that any bid to destroy Saddam's government include plans for what would take its place. They don't want another strongman siezing power.
Meanwhile, defense sources said yesterday that the United States was preparing for a possible strike against Iraq by deploying more Patriot missile batteries in Kuwait to protect its air bases.
"There is a plan for the additional Patriots which is logical in the framework of midterm planning" for a possible war, a source said.
Another defense source told Reuters four Patriot batteries had arrived in Kuwait for deployment around the Ali al-Salem and Ahmad al-Jaber bases, which are used by U.S. and British aircraft enforcing a no-fly zone in southern Iraq.
Patriot missiles can shoot down incoming missiles, like the Soviet-designed Scuds Iraq fired during the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
Asked for comment on the weapons movements, U.S. officials declined direct comment. A Pentagon spokesman in Washington said, "We move stuff around all the time."
Some equipment has come into Kuwait for forthcoming U.S. exercises. Defense sources said a U.S. Marine force was preparing in Kuwait for an annual exercise Eager Mace next month, for which a batch of equipment arrived Tuesday.
But in addition, an Arab defense source said, the United States had this week sent in Patriot crews and spare parts for the Air Force as well as heavy military equipment.
A further delivery aboard a commercial vessel was expected in Kuwait in the next few days, the Arab source said.
Another Western source said mobile Avenger air-defense systems, used for low-altitude threats, also arrived this week.
Senior defense sources said main population centers in the small nation of 2.2 million were already well-protected by existing U.S. and Kuwaiti-manned Patriot batteries.
Gen. Tommy Franks, the U.S. regional commander, said Saturday his troops were ready for Iraq action if needed.

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