- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2003

PARIS While waiting for the government's official decision, the French armed forces have begun preparation for mustering a division of 15,000 troops to fight in Iraq.
The preparations, instigated by several senior commanders, followed a recent statement by President Jacques Chirac that the army had to be ready for "any eventuality" in the current year.
According to some officials, it was "a strong signal" reflecting the president's attitude, despite reports by opinion polls that 77 percent of the French oppose a war against Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein.
All official statements say that any French military involvement on the side of the United States and Britain depends on the United Nations Security Council.
French Premier Jean-Pierre Raffarin repeated that position in parliament on Tuesday, stressing that further consideration by the Security Council would be needed before any use of force against Baghdad.
"War cannot be combated by slogans or by utopias but only by effective diplomacy such as that we are currently developing in the U.N. Security Council," Mr. Raffarin said.
"If there is going to be use of force, there will have to be a deliberation other than that for [U.N. Resolution] 1441, because the source of international law essential for us is at the U.N. and the Security Council," he said.
Resolution 1441, passed in October, sent the present group of weapons inspectors to Baghdad.
Despite the uncertainty over whether France would participate in a U.S.-led campaign, some army units have received orders to paint their vehicles in desert camouflage and that the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle was put on "standby" in the port of Toulon.
Skeptics claim that given the fact that French forces are already involved in Ivory Coast, in the Balkans and in Afghanistan, French participation in Iraq could be mainly symbolic.
According to the scenario envisaged by the French Defense Ministry, France is facing three possibilities depending on the level of military action in Iraq.
In case of "limited engagement," France would offer its foreign bases in the area, port facilities and intelligence reports to the coalition forces involved in the fighting.
A second possible scenario would place French combat aircraft in action over Iraq.
Finally, in the event of a full-scale war, French troops would be deployed on the ground.
Quoting a senior army officer, the conservative daily Le Figaro wrote, "from the military point of view, the United States and Great Britain don't need France for their war in Iraq. What they need is political support from Paris."
Nonetheless, senior French commanders have drawn plans that envisage the formation of a combined forces division of 15,000 personnel and the assignment of 50 aircraft, mostly Mirage 2000 D fighter- bombers.
The navy has prepared its only aircraft carrier and two other warships to join units of the British fleet in the Persian Gulf.
The aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, officials said, could reach the Gulf in less than a week while the other two ships will join the British fleet there toward the end of January, regardless of developments.
French commentators stress that any French participation in a war in the Gulf would involve considerable political and strategic risks.
On the eve of the 1991 war against Iraq, 79 percent of the French were against it, but after the first air raids of the conflict made it clear the allies would win, polls showed that 67 percent supported military action.


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