WASHINGTON, Sept 27: The Pentagon has ordered thousands of fresh troops to pack their kitbacks for Iraq this weekend, after President George Bush’s bid to recruit more international troops fell on deaf ears.

The Iraq call-up orders came as US officials continued to say there are no deadlines regarding a return of Iraqi self-rule, and as the White House faces congressional opposition to its 87 billion dollar request for Iraqi aid.

The Pentagon announced on Friday that it had mobilized two US Army National Guard brigades of 10,000 soldiers for deployment to Iraq, just days after Mr Bush held talks with UN General Assembly members in the hope they would commit troops to Iraq instead.

US hopes that Pakistan, Turkey, South Korea and India would offer troops to support the US military presence in Iraq have so far fallen flat, forcing the Pentagon to call up more American soldiers for deployment to the country.

Despite this Mr Bush insisted on Saturday that he remains “pleased” with the level of international support the US is getting in Iraq.

“I recognize that some countries are inhibited from participation because of the lack of a UN resolution. We are working to get a satisfactory resolution out of the United Nations. We spent some time talking about that today,” Mr Bush told reporters following his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

US officials have said the troops are to remain in Iraq until the country’s sovereignty is returned.

OPPOSITION: Domestic US criticism of the deployments continues to mount.

National Guard and reservists’ families are running several campaigns calling for the return of their family members serving in Iraq. One such campaign, www.129bringthemhome.com, had gathered 11,182 signatures on Saturday, up from 10,038 signatures on Tuesday.

Army families are also disgruntled that the Pentagon has lengthened the deployment times of National Guard and reserve troops already serving in Iraq to up to one year.

In a bid to boost morale, the Pentagon has granted two weeks of home leave from Iraq duty to an initial batch of troops in the first large-scale leave program since the Vietnam war.

BORDER FORCE: Heralded as a high-profile success, US troops on Saturday gave a new Iraqi security force responsibility for guarding a stretch of the border with Iran.

It was the first time since the toppling of Saddam Hussein that Iraqis were fully in control of a section of their border. The 335-km stretch runs from mainly Kurdish populated territory in the north to a point east of Baghdad.

The United States has trained and equipped the 1,200-strong Iraqi Border Force over the past three months, drawing mainly from the local population, including former police and troops.

The force was trained to recognize the “characteristics of suicide bombers” as well as “human rights, dignity and respect”, said Lt Col Reginald Allen, a spokesman for the US army.

“There might be bad guys. We’re on the lookout for them,” he said, when asked if Taliban or Al Qaeda fighters might try to mingle with Iranian pilgrims crossing the border.

US officials say foreign guerrillas have sneaked into Iraq to link up with Saddam loyalists and fight the US occupation.

The area under the force’s control has become a magnet for people smugglers on both sides of the border, who take advantage of thousands of Iranian pilgrims seeking to visit holy sites in Iraq, which had been off limits since the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Since the end of last month, US and Iraqi border guards, in training until now, have briefly detained some 14,000 pilgrims.

Iraqi force commander Colonel Nazim Sherif Mohammad, a Kurd, said the priority was to help pilgrims as they try to reach holy sites, and to screen for anti-US infiltrators.—AFP / Reuters

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