Julian Borger and Ewen MacAskill

Pentagon planned for Teheran conflict with war game involving British troops

War game took place in July 2004Disclosure comes as Iranian crisis intensifiesBritain downplays significance of the exercise

Washington/London: British officers took part in a U.S. war game aimed at preparing for a possible invasion of Iran, despite repeated claims by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw that a military strike against Iran is inconceivable.

The war game, codenamed Hotspur 2004, took place at the U.S. base of Fort Belvoir in Virginia in July 2004.

A British Ministry of Defence spokesman played down its significance on Friday. ``These paper-based exercises are designed to test officers to the limit in fictitious scenarios. We use invented countries and situations using real maps,'' he said.

The disclosure of Britain's participation came in the week in which the Iranian crisis intensified, with a U.S. report that the White House was contemplating a tactical nuclear strike and Teheran defying the United Nations Security Council.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranian President, who sparked outrage in the U.S., Europe and Israel last year by calling for Israel to be wiped off the face of the Earth, created more alarm on Friday.

He told a conference in Tehran in support of the Palestinians: ``Like it or not, the Zionist regime is heading toward annihilation. The Zionist regime is a rotten, dried tree that will be eliminated by one storm.''

The senior British officers took part in the Iranian war game just over a year after the invasion of Iraq. It was focused on the Caspian Sea, with an invasion date of 2015.

Characteristics

Though the planners said the game was based on a fictitious West Asian country called Korona, the border corresponded exactly with Iran's and the characteristics of the enemy were Iranian.

A British medium-weight brigade operated as part of a U.S.-led force.

The MoD's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, which helped run the war game, described it on its Web site as the ``year's main analytical event of the UK-US Future Land Operations Interoperability Study'' aimed at ensuring that both armies work well together.

According to an MoD source, war games covering a variety of scenarios are conducted regularly by senior British officers in the U.K., the U.S. or at NATO headquarters.

He cited senior military staff carrying out a mock invasion of southern England last week and one of Scotland in January.

William Arkin, a former army intelligence officer who first reported on the contingency planning for a possible nuclear strike against Iran in his military column for the Washington Post online, said: ``The United States military is really, really getting ready, building war plans and options, studying maps, shifting its thinking.''

- Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006