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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Iraqi exiles who want to help the American military in a campaign against President Saddam Hussein are beginning to report for training.
The Pentagon said Wednesday that the first batch of opposition members who've volunteered to serve with U.S. forces have been told to assemble at several gathering points in the next several days.
"The training is going to be ... real basic training so they could potentially fit in with some U.S. units and provide assistance with language skills, perhaps, or local knowledge and so forth," said Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The call-up of recruits kicks off the largest known U.S. effort to train Saddam's enemies since passage of the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, which called for his overthrow and authorized $97 million to train and equip his opponents.
Officials declined to say how many are in the first class of trainees or where they are gathering for the monthlong training.
But up to 3,000 Iraqis could eventually be used as translators, guides, military police, and liaisons between coalition combat forces and the Iraqi population, three officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Two officials also said the Pentagon had ruled out early suggestions by some in the administration that the men be used in combat positions. But Myers said the exact number of men and exact jobs they'll do are still to be determined.
"We're going to have to see how many finally show up, how much time we have," Myers told a Pentagon news conference, adding that more complex training would take longer. Much also would depend on how much prior military experience the recruits have.
Earlier Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld briefed members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on the situations in Iraq, North Korea and Afghanistan.
Gen. Tommy Franks, who would command any war in Iraq, huddled at his Central Command headquarters in Tampa with his key generals. He called them there for a two-day conference starting Wednesday to go over plans for Iraq as well as the ongoing campaign in Afghanistan, which also is under his command.
And the deployment of tens of thousands of U.S. troops to the Persian Gulf region continued as the Defense Department worked to build up forces for a war Bush says he may or may not wage.
Despite searching more than 300 sites since November, U.N. weapons inspectors say they haven't produced substantial evidence to support allegations Saddam has hidden caches of weapons of mass destruction and a missile program. And chief inspector Hans Blix said the inspectors need months to finish their searches.
But President Bush said Tuesday that Saddam "must disarm. I'm sick and tired of games and deceptions."
As for the Iraqi opposition, Pentagon trainees will be screened at gathering centers, then flown to a U.S. boot camp in Hungary and trained to serve as support staff for coalition forces in the event of a war or in the aftermath. The actual training is expected to begin early next month.
Officials declined to say how many Iraqis will be in the first batch of recruits or where the marshaling centers are. There are estimated to be well over 3 million Iraqis in exile, the largest groups in Jordan and Iran, with a few hundred thousand in the United States.
Though Iraqi opposition groups have long argued for more military training, little of the $97 million approved in 1998 has been spent over the years.
But the Bush White House and the Pentagon have shown far more interest in dealing with the groups as the administration has developed its plans against Saddam.
Bush signed a directive in October under which the Pentagon can spend the $92 million remaining from the 1998 legislation. It was unclear how much would actually be needed and how much had already been used to prepare the training program.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)