Hoon flags US ’danger zone’ troop support

British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said Britain would have failed in its duty as an ally if it refused.

His comments follow Australia’s announcement that it had turned down a United Nations request to send extra troops to Iraq.

With another night of US airstrikes in Fallujah, American forces are planning a major operation to seize the city from insurgents.

They say they need British troops to move north from the relative safety of their base in Basra to free up US forces.

The British government says no decision has been made but British troops in Iraq were already preparing for a move.

In London, the British Defence Secretary denied claims that the American request was political, aimed at boosting George W. Bush’s re-election chances by allowing him to launch a pre-poll offensive.

“I want to make it clear the request is a military request and although, it is linked to elections, it is not linked to the US elections, but with efforts to create the best possible security situation in which to hold the Iraqi elections in January,” Mr Hoon said.

Mr Hoon gave an assurance that British troops would not be sent to Fallujah or Baghdad.

MPs from both sides of the House warned Britain was being sucked further into the mire.

“What the British really want to see is a clearly defined exit strategy from Iraq and not greater commitment and great danger for our troops out there,” said Labour Backbencher Geraldine Smith.

Opposition parties expressed concerns about the rules of engagement if British troops come under American command.

There were also fears that moving troops north could leave British-controlled areas of Iraq under-manned and vulnerable to attacks.

In Baghdad, Iraq’s interim government has announced that a weapons amnesty in the restive suburb of Sadr City has been so successful it will be extended to the rest of the country.

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