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Iraqi Armed Forces Placed On Alert

Iraq has placed the total of its armed forces on full alert in anticipation of any possible US strike following recent threats against Kuwait and Saudi Arabia according to Arab newspaper Al-Zaman. John Howard reports.

"Iraqi forces were in a state of maximum alert. All soldiers' and officers' leave has been cancelled and troops have been redeployed around Baghdad," the newspaper is reporting in today's edition.

The report quotes sources with close ties to Iraqi authorities saying that organisations of the ruling Baath Party were also placed on full alert. Several ministries were "located to alternative positions inside and outside Baghdad in preparation to move to them within a week."

A spokesperson for the US Central Command, which has responsibility for operations in the Middle East, said the United States military remains poised to react if Saddam Hussein takes action.

Two weeks ago Saddam Hussein sent Iraqi fighter jets into Saudi airspace, one of more than 150 violations of the US-imposed no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq. It has been years since Iraq violated Saudi airspace.

The Iraqi leader recently accused Kuwait of stealing oil from underground reserves in disputed border territory.

"Nobody can guess the intentions of the Iraqi regime, but there must be something it is planning to do...or else why were these (Iraqi) statements issued now?" said a Saudi official

With oil prices at 10-year highs, analysts are concerned that any disruption to supplies - including a deliberate decision by Baghdad to halt or reduce oil exports - could have disastrous effects on the world.

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US forces have been bombing Iraqi military sites almost every other day since December 1998 in retaliation to challenges of the no-fly rule.

The Clinton administration, however, down played any Iraqi threat two weeks ago in denying Arab reports of Iraqi mobilisations.

At the time National Security adviser, Sandy Berger, fell over himself to deny that any trouble was expected from Saddam Hussein at all.

But on September 14, US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, warned Iraq that America had a credible force in the area.

In the last two months the Iraq government has referred to the Saudi ruling family as "aggressors" and the rulers of Kuwait as "traitors."

Last week, Arab journalists reported that Saddam Hussein is dying of cancer.

Meanwhile, on August 27 the Chinese Army deployed thousands of crack troops to bases on the Chinese coast opposite Taiwan.

And despite North and South Korean athletes marching together at the Sydney Olympics, North Korea has massed 70% of its 1.2 million combat troops to within 100 kilometres of the demilitarised border zone between the two countries.

PLO leader Yassar Arafat did not declare a Palestinian state on September 13 as promised and it is thought he is waiting until the US presidential election is over and for the Russian military to deploy its aircraft carrier battlegroup into the Medditerranean scheduled to be in November.

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