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WAR PUSH; Air raids on Iraq stepped up U.S. bombers fly to Britain Huge terror drill in London.


THE build-up for war with Iraq gathered pace yesterday as American B-52 bombers landed in Britain and ministers prepared for a terrorist attack.

The first of 14 heavy bombers arrived at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire in preparation for raids on Baghdad.

They landed as Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon denied that an increase in the number of attacks by Allied jets on targets in the Iraqi "no-fly" zone meant the conflict had already started.

Mr Hoon admitted the number of patrols by British and American bombers in northern and southern Iraq had increased.

But he told the Commons there had been "no change" in the operation - even though Pentagon officials yesterday admitted that a "more aggressive approach" had been adopted.

He spoke after Iraq claimed six civilians were killed and 15 wounded in raids on the southern city of Basra.

Anti-war MPs from all parties challenged Mr Hoon, insisting Britain was drifting towards conflict.

Labour's Bob Marshall-Andrews said: "This is war by escalation rather than war by declaration."

And Lib Dem defence spokesman Paul Keetch said: "When the Pentagon briefs a more aggressive approach is being taken in the no-fly zones, a flat denial from the UK Defence Secretary raises suspicions."

Meanwhile, the Government yesterday revealed how it is stepping up plans to cope with a September 11-style terrorist atrocity in the UK.

Emergency bases for the Premier and Whitehall ministries are being set up outside London to keep Britain running in the event of a terror attack on the capital.

The disclosure came after David Blunkett announced a huge exercise simulating a catastrophic incident in London.

It will involve a simulated bio-chemical attack on an Underground station on Sunday, March 23. Separate scenarios testing Britain's flood defences and gas supply are also planned.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that Saddam Hussein is preparing for a bloody siege of his capital with a strategy inspired by the Soviet defence of Stalingrad.

The Iraqi president has dubbed his plan "Baghdadograd'' in homage to the Soviet defiance in World War Two. More than a million Russians died in the seven-month siege which defeated the German 6th army in 1943.

Saddam believes clinging on to Baghdad will buy time to negotiate a ceasefire.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the Iraqi leader would not remain in power if war is launched, but did not rule out allowing him to stay if he disarmed.

With tension mounting across the region, the Foreign Office advised Britons not to travel to Syria unless it is "absolutely essential".

Mr Blair will this week embark on a round of frantic telephone diplomacy with wavering and anti-war UN Security Council members.

Downing Street yesterday refused to confirm Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will visit Cameroon and Angola to try and win their support. UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix will deliver his next report to the Security Council on Friday.

The Government yesterday continued to dismiss Iraq's destruction of al-Samoud 2 missiles and Saddam Hussein's promise to reveal details of chemical and biological stockpiles as a cynical ploy to avoid war.

The Iraqis destroyed another six of the banned missiles to meet UN demands and told the United Nations it would submit a report within a week to prove it has disposed of VX nerve gas and anthrax stocks.

Tony Blair's personal poll rating plunged to a new low yesterday.

The latest Mori survey showed only 31 per cent were satisfied with the Prime Minister's performance while 61 per cent were dissatisfied - his lowest rating since the petrol crisis of September 2000.


DENIAL: Geoff Hoon; TERROR TEST: Tube in heart of the City
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Mar 4, 2003
Previous Article:Danger mouth Dubya; MANDELSON SLAMS BUSH.

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