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Truck, missile movement reported in Iraq

Truck, missile movement reported in Iraq

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The movement of trucks and missiles inside Iraq has U.S. officials wondering if the nation is preparing for a U.S. military action, sources have told CNN.

On Wednesday, sources said, a convoy of trucks moved into what the United States suspects to be an Iraqi biological weapons facility, raising concerns about what new activity might be taking place there.

On Tuesday, officials also learned that Iraq has relocated dozens of surface-to-air missiles and launchers around central Iraq, possibly to evade what Baghdad believes may be an imminent U.S. air attack, sources said.

The convoy, observed by spy satellites, entered a plant compound near Baghdad in the town of Taji, said officials. The site was bombed by U.S. planes during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, but was rebuilt and subsequently visited by United Nations weapons inspectors.

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The Iraqis have said it is a meat processing plant.

There is no way to know exactly what was in the trucks, sources said.

U.S. intelligence vessels flying over Iraq in the past couple of weeks also observed missile movements, said officials.

The activity took place in central Iraq, including around Baghdad, which is not covered by the no-fly zones in which Iraq is prohibited from operating its air defense systems. Analysts believe Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would want to preserve his military equipment in the central part of the country.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Central Command said British and U.S. warplanes struck at military targets in Iraq Wednesday "in response to recent Iraqi hostile acts against coalition aircraft monitoring the southern no-fly zone." It said the aircraft targeted two military air defense targets with precision-guided missiles at about 5 p.m. EDT. The assessment of damage is ongoing.

Officials told CNN the movement included Iraqi missile types SA-2, SA-3 and SA-6 systems. There have been no known movements of radar units or other associated air defense equipment. The dispersal of the missile platforms is not considered widespread.

But in relocating any of the missiles and launchers, Iraq would force the United States to reprogram precision weapons it might use in an air attack.

Kurds 'welcome' U.S.

The developments in Iraq underscore the growing tensions between the Bush administration and Iraq.

On Wednesday, officials said the administration was considering a prominent Iraqi Kurdish opposition leader's statement that U.S. military forces would be "welcomed" in parts of Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq to stage attacks against Saddam's regime.

Jalal Talabani, founder and secretary-general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, told CNN's Wolf Blitzer Tuesday that after weekend meetings with top Bush administration officials, he and other Iraqi opposition leaders are convinced the United States is serious about ousting the Iraqi president.

"I explained to the United States officials here that the Iraqi opposition, Kurds included ... have tens of thousands of armed people," Talabani said.

"We have more than 100,000 (Kurdish resistance fighters), and Syria also has tens of thousands. These forces can liberate Iraq with the support of the United States, with cooperation and coordination with American forces."

He added, "I think as I [once] told our friends, the American army will be very warmly welcomed in Iraqi Kurdistan."

The Bush administration also is actively discussing changing the status of Navy Capt. Scott Speicher, the F/A-18 pilot shot down over Iraq more than a decade ago at the start of Operation Desert Storm.

No final decision has been made. But officials Wednesday told CNN there could be a decision in the next several days whether to change Speicher's status from "missing in action," to "missing-captured."

Navy sources told CNN there is no new evidence regarding Speicher's fate, but the implication, according to one military officer, is that the change "will become another reason to bomb Iraq."




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