HUNDREDS of reservists could be sent to Strensall Barracks for medical training as part of military preparations for war with Iraq.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon was today expected to announce the mobilisation of 7,000 reservists, along with the deployment of helicopter assault ship HMS Ocean.

The reservists, who include doctors and nurses, would then receive specialist training in case they should be needed in the Gulf.

The Ministry of Defence said training would be carried out at military bases containing specialist units - such as the health base at Strensall, near York.

Other reservists who may be called up include military intelligence specialists from 3MI Battalion, in York.

The experts were also called up as part of the war against terrorism in Afghanistan last year, and the MoD stressed reservists with specialist knowledge may be needed again.

The York reserves were among up to 140 members of 3MI Battalion to be called up from five bases, including London, Belfast, Edinburgh and Bristol.

The MoD said it would not be revealing the names of those battalions which were being mobilised today.

The latest moves come as Foreign Secretary Jack Straw continued to insist war with Iraq was not inevitable, and there was a 60 per cent chance of avoiding conflict.

He stressed that the "final decision" about whether the UN resolutions were enforced - and military action avoided - still rested with Saddam Hussein.

Separately, in a speech to diplomats in London on Monday, Mr Straw said al-Qaeda, Iraq and North Korea were "part of the same picture".

He also suggested that countries like Iraq provided the most likely potential source of weapons of mass destruction for terror organisations such as al-Qaeda.

Mr Straw described the proliferation of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons as the greatest threat to national security and to world peace.

"Our overall purpose must be to work for UK interests in a safe, just and prosperous world," Mr Straw argued.

Updated: 11:39 Tuesday, January 07, 2003