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by Tricky Dick
Thursday, Jan. 23, 2003 at 12:37 AM
British troops will seize control of Iraq's oilfields under a secret invasion plan already agreed with America
00024044-182d-1e2d-baea80c328ec0000.jpg, image/jpeg, 398x331
From the London Daily Mirror (UK)
WE'RE GOING FOR OIL
Jan 21 2003
Our troops set to seize wells
Exclusive By Gary Jones, Tom Newton Dunn and Bob Roberts
BRITISH troops will seize control of Iraq's oilfields under a secret invasion plan already agreed with America.
Yesterday the government ordered another 26,000 soldiers to the Gulf, taking the total towards 40,000.
It could mean the biggest land operation since Suez in 1956.
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon continued to insist war with Saddam Hussein was "not inevitable".
But a battleground blueprint has already been drawn up, the Daily Mirror has learned, with Britain earmarked to secure Saddam's fuel supplies and squash suggestions of a US "oil grab".
Today, with many Labour MPs convinced the war decision has been taken, we ask YOU the readers to sign our Page One petition opposing any action not sanctioned by the United Nations.
Labour MP and Father of the Commons Tam Dalyell - echoing growing anti-war anger - said of the task-force order: "I think this means war is inevitable now but that should not stop us doing everything, day and night, to oppose it.
"Because the Americans are concerned not to take body bags back home, there will be tremendous bombing. God knows how many casualties that will lead to. The Arab world will explode."
Details learned from defences show President Bush is determined to avoid accusations that deposing Saddam is about oil, not weapons of mass destruction.
Pentagon chiefs have told the Ministry of Defence: "You take the oilfields. We're not going to take the flak for taking the oil."
The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991 ended with its oil ablaze and it took eight months to quench the flames.
Now the US wants to stop Saddam torching his huge reservoirs - and the 4,000 marines of 3 Commando Brigade have been assigned the task.
They are already en route to the region - and Mr Hoon's Commons announcement yesterday will take the British presence to one quarter of our armed forces. Four thousand sailors also on their way in the Ark Royal convoy will join 1,000 pilots and ground crew stationed around the Middle East.
Twenty-six thousand Army soldiers - including two regiments of Paras - will make up a huge land force, involving heavy armour and giving commanders every fighting option. It is highly likely the total will swell to 40,000, 10,000 of whom will be combat soldiers and marines.
The editor of Jane's World Armies, Major Charles Heyman, said: "This is an enormous deployment." The US has massed 100,000 troops in the Gulf. British strategists have been told that a full-scale invasion force must be in place by February 15.
The Daily Mirror has learned there will be 14 days of intensive air strikes against military installations before the spearhead marines of 40 and 42 Commando are ordered in.
It will be a two-pronged attack by land and sea. The 600 riflemen of 40 Commando will make an amphibious landing along Iraq's 60-kilometre coastline in the north Arabian Gulf.
The four sabre companies of 42 Commando will dash across the Kuwaiti border up to the Euphrates.
Basra, the strategically-vital southern port where Saddam's Republican army is based, will be targeted first. It is regarded as crucial to the success of the invasion.
The commandos will be backed by a full squadron of artillery and specialist engineers.
Thousands of men will be deployed across land from Kuwait to "ring-fence" oil installations in the southern tip of Iraq and in the south west and north east. Once Basra is isolated and the oilfields secured, the US will push towards Baghdad,
Speed is the key to prevent Saddam destroying key assets.
Battle orders will be to "surround and contain", in the hope that Iraqi forces will quickly ditch Saddam.
Power supplies and roads will be left intact. A senior officer involved in planning, said: "Saddam is desperate for us to fight him in the cities and we're not going to fall into his trap."
The first marines are already in Kuwait and preparing for the full brigade's arrival in two weeks.
Military chiefs here are committed to "winning at minimum cost to life" although they are sceptical about the reasons for the conflict.
The source said: "We take our orders from 10 Downing Street but that doesn't mean we aren't aware that this is mostly about oil.
"This war will cost billions and someone must pick up the tab. Iraqi oil is going to pay for it all."
US officials stress that the oilfields will remain the property of Iraq.
They have told the MoD: "We don't mind Iraqi flags flying over them as long as Saddam is not in power."
Military chiefs have little idea how the Iraqi people will respond. The source added: "There's a degree of optimism that Iraq can be taken within days and without mass bloodshed. How realistic this is, is anyone's guess." An invasion would be the biggest occupation of a country since the seizure of Japan and Germany in 1945.
Special forces are already operating inside Iraq and air assaults are taking their toll.
The lead headquarters elements of 16 Air Assault Brigade will be the first of the land force to leave, flying to Kuwait this week.
Mr Hoon told MPs yesterday that the deployment was "no ordinary measure". But he added: "A decision to employ force has not been taken, nor is such a decision imminent or inevitable."
Ex-minister Glenda Jackson said pledges that war was avoidable now rang hollow. She added: "In principle the decision has been taken."
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