WASHINGTON – The Army said Thursday it is sending 800 engineering and intelligence specialists and about 300 air defense troops to the Persian Gulf over the next several weeks, as Iraq said U.N. inspectors' report to the Security Council should favor Baghdad.
The deployments are part of an accelerating buildup of U.S. air, land and naval forces in the Gulf area as President Bush contemplates a possible attack to disarm Iraq and remove the government of President Saddam Hussein.
The engineering and intelligence specialists, based in Germany, are from the 130th Engineer Brigade, the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, the 22nd Signal Brigade and the 3rd Corps Support Command. The Army said they would deploy before mid-February but was not more specific.
Meanwhile, Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin, Iraq's chief liaison to the U.N. inspectors, said the inspections so far — visits to 237 sites in five weeks — gave credence to Baghdad's assertion it has no more banned weapons.
Amin said the inspections had been intrusive and included surprise visits.
"All those activities proved that the Iraqi declarations are credible and the American allegations and claims are baseless and they are lying for political reasons," Amin told a news conference.
He said he was certain the inspectors had found nothing so far since the liaison officers who accompany them "are scientists and engineers and they can, of course, notice anything abnormal."
The inspectors, however, said it's too soon to draw conclusions about whether Iraq has complied with U.N. demands — as it must to avoid war with the United States.
At Fort Bliss, Texas, spokeswoman Jean Offutt said that about 300 soldiers from two Patriot air defense units — the 108th air defense artillery brigade and the 35th air defense artillery brigade — will head to the Persian Gulf region in the next few weeks. Their equipment was being shipped from Fort Bliss on Thursday.
Between 800 and 900 soldiers from Fort Bliss-based Patriot units are in Kuwait, including some who were scheduled to return home shortly but instead have been ordered to remain in Kuwait, Offutt said.
If Bush orders a U.S. attack on Iraq, Patriot air defense forces would be expected to play an important role in defending U.S. and allied forces in Kuwait and elsewhere from attack by Iraqi Scud missiles.
Already there are more than 50,000 American forces in the Gulf region, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld last week signed orders for the deployment of tens of thousands more troops in the next few weeks.
The U.S. forces are operating from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and other countries near Iraq.
Within the United States, the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Armored Division from Fort Riley, Kansas, was preparing Friday to go to Fort Irwin, California, for long-scheduled large unit training.
About 3500 troops are to fly out to California mid- January for a month of some of the most realistic desert training the Army conducts in the U.S.
The 1st Armored Division has been the subject of rumors about deployment orders, but as of Friday, none of its brigades (all but 3rd Brigade are in Germany) were confirming receipt of alert or deployment orders.
Meanwhile, U.S. warplanes dropped nearly a half-million leaflets Thursday on southern Iraq asking Iraqis to tune in to American propaganda radio broadcasts.
The U.S. planes dropped about 480,000 leaflets over Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, and An Nasiriyah at about 5:15 a.m. EST, U.S. Central Command said in a statement.
The leaflets tell readers the radio frequencies on which they can hear U.S. broadcasts from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. each evening. The broadcasts, part of the U.S. military's psychological operations in preparation for a possible war with Iraq, come from EC-130E Commando Solo airplanes flying over Kuwait.
The Arabic-language broadcasts urge Iraqi soldiers to turn against Saddam's regime, accusing him of using soldiers as puppets for his own nefarious purposes. The broadcasts say Saddam builds luxurious palaces for himself while Iraqi people are sick and starving.
The leaflets dropped Thursday were in the southern no-fly zone patrolled by American warplanes to keep Saddam from attacking Shiite Muslims.
Defense officials said Thursday that Rumsfeld is likely to order additional deployments and to mobilize tens of thousands more National Guard and Reserve forces. Some of those troops have already been notified that they will be called up.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, which recently left the Gulf en route to its home port at Everett, Wash., is being held in the western Pacific for the time being in case Rumsfeld decides additional carriers are needed for war against Iraq.
Likewise, the USS George Washington, which returned home to Norfolk, Va., from the Mediterranean Sea shortly before Christmas, has been notified that it could be sent back into service in coming days, the officials said.
The carrier USS Constellation is now in the Gulf, and the USS Harry S. Truman is in the Mediterranean.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.