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Cargo Ships With U.S. War Supplies Head for Persian Gulf

Five cargo ships carrying military supplies for U.S troops in the Persian Gulf entered the Suez Canal on Sunday on their way to join the American buildup for a possible war on Iraq, officials said.

The vessels were laden with U.S. army heavy machinery including tanks, artillery and armored vehicles , the officials said.

They said two French destroyers and two Italian warships also crossed the Canal on their way to the Red Sea. It is not clear if the four vessels are part of the continuing Western military buildup in the Gulf.

Some 60,000 U.S. troops are already in the Gulf region and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has signed orders for deployment of an additional 67,000 over the next few weeks. The size of the U.S. force arrayed against Iraq could reach 250,000.

U.S. commanders have said the buildup is needed to convince Iraqi President Saddam Hussein that the threat of military force is credible if he does not cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors.

The weapons inspectors are trying to verify Saddam's claim that he has no such weapons. President Bush has announced he would use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam of weapons of mass destruction.