The commander of the USS Iwo Jima said Saturday that Marines aboard his ship have completed drills for a landing operation in case of a military showdown to drive Iraq from Kuwait.

"We are at a high state of readiness," Capt. Michael O'Hearn told reporters aboard his ship, making a port call in Bahrain to allow its 1,700 Marines a break after the exercise.The Iwo Jima is one of 18 amphibious assault vessels deployed to the multinational air, sea and naval buildup that followed Saddam Hussein's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.

Thirty-seven other Navy units are in the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea as part of Operation Desert Shield.

O'Hearn said Saddam had developed elaborate defensive constructions, including minefields. But the Navy has no reports of mines in the waters of the Persian Gulf, he said.

"Up in Kuwait where he's dug in, he has put mines there, but as far as the waters south of Kuwait, I am not aware that he has put any mines there," O'Hearn said.

The ship, carrying 30 Marine helicopters and a landing team of about 1,700, is named for the February 1945 battle in which three Marine divisions defeated a 20,000-member Japanese force on Iwo Jima island.

"I would love to see this worked out in a peaceful fashion, where we could get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and do it without the loss of life," said O'Hearn. "Any man who has seen war once wouldn't want to see it again," he said.

"On the other side, myself and my crew are ready to fight if necessary. I definitely think we would give him a very good licking," he said.