In the first of what would become a massive mobilization of troops for war with Iraq, up to 50,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen will head to the Persian Gulf shortly after Christmas.

“Preliminary notification is being made to forces,” said one unnamed administration official, the New York Post reported today.

Military officials said late yesterday that no final decision on whether to invade Iraq had been made. Nevertheless, large-scale mobilization orders are set to begin in January, which appear to support earlier reports that U.S. commanders prefer to battle Iraq during cooler months.

Sources told the Post that preparations are intensifying throughout the U.S. military. Some units have even had holiday leave canceled.

“The volume of the low-level ambient noise that we’ve seen over the past few months is going up,” said Tim Brown, military analyst for the defense think tank GlobalSecurity.org.

Administration officials said yesterday that President Bush had decided not to hold Iraq in “material breach” of United Nations regulations forbidding Baghdad from acquiring weapons of mass destruction – a classification that would give Bush impetus to launch new military strikes against Iraq.

However, the administration is expected to announce that there are multiple problems with Iraq’s 12,000-page weapons declaration, which Baghdad turned over to U.N. weapons inspectors Dec. 8.

Britain also is preparing for war, leasing a large merchant ship earlier this week to transport heavy armor to the Gulf by mid-January.

British Defense Minister Geoff Hoon said extra naval resources also would be sent to the region and that procurement of desert-fighting equipment had been accelerated. He also said some troops had been placed on high alert for short-notice deployments.

“What we are doing is preparing in the event of military action being necessary,” Hoon said.

“We would not necessarily want to signal the timing or the date of any such military action in advance,” he added.

Britain plans to commit as many as 20,000 British troops to the operation. The U.S. has about 60,000 troops in the region.

An earlier report said the U.S. may amass up to 300,000 troops before striking Iraq. Baghdad’s ground forces are said to number around 375,000 men, with 70,000 of those Republican Guard troops.

WorldNetDaily reported Wednesday that a decision to strike Iraq has been postponed until at least the end of this month to give United Nations weapons inspectors a chance to make their report.

Despite Iraq’s vehement denials that is has no weapons of mass destruction, the Pentagon is already well aware of numerous arms violations by Baghdad. The U.S. has intercepted communications from Iraqi officials discussing the hiding of weapons of mass destruction and their components, sources told WorldNetDaily.

Those weapons are being hidden in steel mills, parts factories and even in weapons and ammunition plants, sources said.

While the earliest date for a strike is the end of December, there is also a deadline for a decision about 90 days later in March, say sources close to the planning.

The window is necessary because of the massive military buildup in the area, sources said.

Related stories:

Iraq invasion timetable set

Iraqis back U.S. invasion

Iraq blocking runways to foil invasion

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