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The Iraqi parliament yesterday overwhelmingly endorsed Saddam Hussein's decision to free hundreds of Western hostages, but 30,000 fresh troops have been sent to the Arabian desert, indicating Iraq has no intention of abandoning Kuwait.
The vote yesterday frees more than 8000 Westerners, East Europeans and Japanese stranded by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, including about 900 Americans. Iraqi officials said hostages in Baghdad can apply immediately for exit visas.
Flights were to be added to the daily Iraqi Airways trip to Amman, Jordan, and the first hostages could leave today, the officials said.
Pentagon spokesperson Bob Hall said Saddam's troop reinforcements, bringing the Iraqi buildup in Kuwait and southern Iraq to 480,000 soldiers, apparently were trucked into position over recent days.
An additional 10,000 U.S. troops also arrived in the Persian Gulf, Hall said. The 350,000-strong multinational force now includes about 250,000 Americans, most of them dug into the Saudi Arabian desert facing Iraqi troops.
President Bush has promised to have 440,000 Americans stationed around the gulf by mid-January. The U.N. resolution approved last week authorizes the use of force to drive Iraq from Kuwait after January 15.
Hussein said Thursday he no longer needs to keep foreigners as a deterrent to a U.S.-led attack. He said his troops are now fully deployed in Kuwait, which he seized August 2 in a dispute over oil, land and money.
Flames of Fire
"Iraqi armed forces should maintain the highest degree of alert and vigilance," Saddam said, "because the forces of aggression remain on our sacred soil in Saudi Arabia, fanning the flames of fire."
Bush welcomed freedom for the 900 Americans and for other foreigners in Kuwait and Iraq, but said the United States must not relax its war footing.
"We've got to continue to keep the pressureon," he said.
Iraq's National Assembly has no record ofvetoing decisions by Saddam, but reporters counted18 of 250 delegates voting yesterday againstallowing the foreigners to leave. The assemblyspeaker, Sadi Mehdi Saleh, said he counted only 15hands.
"Definitely, we would like to see everyone withhis family by Christmas, because that is a veryjoyous and happy occasion, and it is time forfamily reunions," Iraq's ambassador to the UnitedNations, Abdul Amir al-Anbari, said Thursday.
Among the foreigners kept from leaving Iraqwere about 90 Americans and hundreds of othersheld as "human shields." They were held atmilitary and other strategic sites to ward offattack by the international forces massed aroundIraq. Many more have remained in hiding.
In a message for broadcast to the region overVoice of America, the U.S. State Department onThursday acknowledged Iraq's announced intentionto release all foreigners.
Until the Iraqi government made clear how suchreleases take place, the message cautioned, "Staywhere you are, stay in touch with the U.S. Embassyand monitor the VOA closely. We will let you knowas soon as we have more information."
Out of an estimated 3 million foreigners in thetwo countries before the invasion, about 2 millionare still left most of them Asians and Arabs whohad the option of leaving.
Bush, speaking with reporters along on his tripto Chile, dismissed a U.N. proposal circulatingThursday for a Middle East peace conference,renewing his rejection of Saddam's attempt to linkresolution of the crisis with the Arab-Israeliconflict.
U.N. Security Council ambassadors discussed adraft resolution that approves a world conferenceon the Palestinian problem.
The timing of the resolution promised tocomplicate U.S.-Israeli relations with IsraeliPrime Minister Yitzhak Shamir arriving in theUnited States yesterday. He was to meet Bush onTuesday.
Shamir said in London, "Israel will not agreeto any foreign body deciding its future and fate."
The draft resolution has already been approvedin principle by the permanent five SecurityCouncil members--the United States, Soviet Union,Britain, France and China.
It marks the first time that the United Stateshas let the council consider language consideringan initiative for a peace conference
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