Thousands of Iraqis are being trained to conduct attacks against U.S.-led forces if war breaks out, and Asian military analysts said Friday some were preparing for possible suicide missions.
Meanwhile, as world leaders debate Saddam Hussein's nuclear potential, the list of German companies that may have helped him advance Iraq's atomic technology grows.At least 100 German companies are suspected of helping Iraq develop its unconventional weapons capability, sources say. German officials won't say how many of those are being investigated for suspected nuclear technology exports.
Also Friday, family and friends bid farewell as a a 17-ship carrier armada left East Coast ports headed for the gulf. The additional troops will bring America's naval deployment in the region to a level unprecedented since the Vietnam War.
Asian military analysts, speaking in Baghdad on condition of anonymity, said Iraq has been training army commandos and volunteers from the Popular Army for special operations against the 400,000-strong allied forces in Saudi Arabia.
The analysts said training includes preparations for possible sea and airborne missions that they characterized as suicidal.
Senior Iraqi Baath Party official Abdul-rahim Abdul-qadder told Iraq's government-run Al-Jouhouriya newspaper that since the Persian Gulf crisis began in August, 138,700 volunteers have been trained in special operations at a military camp in Najaf, 90 miles south of Baghdad.
More than half of Iraq's 1 million-strong army is deployed in the southern part of the country and in Kuwait. The U.N. Security Council has said Iraq must withdraw from Kuwait by Jan. 15 or face possible attack by U.S.-led forces.
The news magazine Der Spiegel said this week that "several dozen" European companies were implicated in helping Iraq develop nuclear potential and listed six German companies with some reported connection to Iraq's weapons program.
"I would not like to be George Bush and going to bed tonight" with the uncertainty over whether Iraq has a nuclear bomb, said Kenneth Timmerman, editor of the Paris-based Middle East Defense News.
Spiegel and the specialized McGraw-Hill publication, NuclearFuel, both said this week that German companies are suspected of supplying Iraq with sophisticated technology to make weapons-grade uranium.
The companies and individuals named in the reports deny any wrongdoing.
It is not clear how far along Iraq might be toward making a nuclear bomb.
The British newspaper, The Sunday Times, reported earlier this month that Iraq might be only a year away from the goal.
But a major source for its report, German engineer Bruno Stemmler, denied the paper's time frame in an interview Thursday. He said, based on a 1988 visit to Iraq, the country was at least five years from building a centrifuge that could make enriched uranium. It would then take several more years before a series of centrifuges, called cascades, could come on line.
At least 1,000 cascades are needed for bomb production.
Spiegel predicted it would be eight to 10 years before Iraq could build a bomb.
Companies in other countries, including the United States, Britain, Switzerland and Brazil, have also been named in connection with suspected Iraqi nuclear development.
The naval reinforcements, scheduled to arrive in the gulf in about two weeks, are carrying 16,000 Marines and sailors and include the carriers USS America and Theodore Roosevelt, each with about 80 warplanes, from the Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia.
They will join three other carriers in the area - the USS Saratoga in the eastern Mediterranean, the USS Midway in the Arabian Sea and the USS Kennedy in the Red Sea.
The fresh troops will bring the United States closer to its goal of having about 430,000 in Saudi Arabia and nearby waters to confront Iraq if it refuses to withdraw from Kuwait by Jan. 15 - the deadline imposed by the United Nations.
In other developments:
- Iraq test fired a surface-to-surface missile for the second time this week. The U.S. Central Command in Saudi Arabia reported it was fired away from multinational forces, and it landed within Iraq. A U.S. troops alert was canceled after 90 min-utes.
- In London, the government ordered the call-up of 390 medical reservists for service in the gulf after getting too few volunteers.