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Tuesday, October 19, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
LONDON British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon said yesterday Britain "would fail in its duty" if it refused a United States request to redeploy British troops into dangerous conditions closer to Baghdad to free up American soldiers for combat operations.
"The specific reason is to free American forces to conduct extra operations in those places like Fallujah, where terrorists are well-established and are attacking coalition forces, but also innocent Iraqi civilians," Hoon told Parliament.
He said military leaders are assessing whether to meet the request and would send a reconnaissance team to the undisclosed area today. Facing a barrage of hostile questions from lawmakers reluctant to see British troops sent into the more-volatile U.S.-controlled sector, Hoon said the government did not want to let the United States down.
"We cannot go into a coalition and then simply cross our fingers and say there are certain circumstances in which we will not participate," Hoon said.
"Were we to refuse the request, I can see that would be an issue that would go to the heart of our relationship, not only with the U.S. but with other members of that alliance."
One lawmaker asked what penalties Britain might incur if it refused the request.
"There will be no penalty but we will have failed in our duty as an ally and as a country that has closely supported the United States," he responded.
Hoon did not say how many troops might be redeployed. But military sources have said that if the request was granted, Britain's reserve regiment, the 650-strong First Battalion Black Watch, which is stationed near the quiet southern port city of Basra, would be the obvious choice.
Hoon rejected claims by some lawmakers that any redeployment would be a political gesture designed to bolster President Bush ahead of presidential elections on Nov. 2.
"I want to make clear that the request is a military request," Hoon said.
Some lawmakers believe that three decades of Irish Republican Army violence in Northern Ireland have given British soldiers experience in urban patrolling and helped them develop both a well-honed instinct for ambushes and a sense of restraint. Critics suggest the U.S. military lacks such experience and has a tendency to overreact.
"Is it really possible for them to retain that restraint if they are deployed to a U.S. sector which has been policed for over a year by U.S. forces which have not been showing the same level of restraint?" asked Labour lawmaker Robin Cook, who quit the Cabinet in opposition to the war.
Under siege, Fallujah mostly deserted
BAGHDAD, Iraq An Iraqi civilian who fled the besieged Sunni Muslim city of Fallujah late last week says at least 80 percent of the city's 300,000 people have fled. The Washington Post reported a day earlier that witnesses described the city as nearly empty except for insurgents who have crept in for the anticipated American attack.
Ahmad Salim, a generator mechanic, told The Christian Science Monitor yesterday that the collapse of talks between Fallujah representatives and the Iraqi government signaled an end of hope.
"I think the Americans will wipe Fallujah from the map," he said.
Interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said yesterday that an "olive branch" is still being offered to Fallujah representatives, but he said, "We shall not be lenient in regard to the question of maintaining security and granting security to every Iraqi."
The government and the United States are demanding that Fallujans hand over Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. City negotiators say al-Zarqawi is not in the city.
The United States has blasted the city 40 miles west of Baghdad steadily for days.
Militants reportedly execute accused spies
BAGHDAD, Iraq A militant group in Iraq has executed two Macedonian men accused of spying for the United States, an Arab television station reported yesterday.
Al-Jazeera television broadcast a videotape from the Islamic Army in Iraq saying the Macedonians were captured "a few days ago outside an American base in Iraq." The network aired parts of the video showing the two holding Macedonian passports, ID cards and driving licenses but did not show them being killed.
Macedonian officials announced previously that three Macedonian contractors disappeared in Iraq in August, but it was not immediately clear if two men appearing on the video were among that three.
Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi announced plans yesterday to extend a cash-for-weapons program for Shiite fighters, which has been running for eight days in Baghdad's Sadr City with limited success, to cities nationwide.
A car bomb detonated Sunday morning on a bridge in the northern city of Mosul, killing five Iraqis and wounding 15 others, the U.S. military said yesterday. Another car bomber hit a civilian convoy yesterday, killing one and wounding four others.
A patrol from the Army's 1st Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade discovered a huge weapons cache yesterday at a home in Salman Pak, south of Baghdad, and detained six suspects. The cache included 450 anti-tank mines, 300 grenades, 35 rocket-propelled grenades, as well as mortar shells and primers.
A headless body was found yesterday in the Tigris River, close to Balad north of Baghdad, witnesses said. The body is suspected to be that of an Iraqi driver who carried supplies to an American military base.
The Ansar al-Sunnah group yesterday claimed responsibility for the ambush and killing of nine Iraqi policemen on Saturday as they returned from a training course in Jordan, according to a Web statement.
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