Edge of war
With UN inspectors insisting Baghdad is not disarming and President Bush more gung-ho than ever, what happens next, asks Salah Hemeid
Chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix told the Security Council on Monday that Baghdad has so far complied with UN demands only reluctantly and might still possess biological and chemical weapons. Blix said Baghdad had cooperated on access but not substance.
"Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance, not even today, of the disarmament that was demanded of it," Blix said in the unexpectedly critical report. His nuclear counterpart, Mohamed El-Baradei, reported there was no evidence so far that Iraq was reviving its nuclear programme but said inspectors needed a "few months" to complete the search.
Iraq sought to play down differences with the United Nations over arms inspections. Saddam Hussein's advisor, Amir Rashid, described the reports as unbalanced, while Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz said only two issues -- U-2 reconnaissance flights and private interviews with scientists -- remain unresolved.
"All other aspects of cooperation have been met, and we promised to be more forthcoming in the future, replying to all their needs in the way that will satisfy them," Aziz said.
After two months and more than 350 inspections, Blix's report has fuelled US arguments in favour of war to disarm Iraq. The White House responded immediately by announcing Baghdad was "running out of time". Seizing on the mixed verdict delivered by Blix and El-Baradei, President Bush used his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night to prepare anxious Americans for war with Iraq.
Bush appeared determined to build a case for war against Iraq, which he accused of seeking "to dominate, intimidate or attack".
"It would take one vial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have known," Bush said.
"We will do every thing in our power to make sure that day never comes," he said. "The world cannot afford to wait until the threat from Iraq is plainly immanent," he argued in a speech interrupted 77 times by applause.
Whatever Washington's rhetoric it still needs to counter growing criticism by other nations to pursue military action against Iraq. Some states have insisted a new Security Council resolution is needed before force can be used. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has joined key nations like Germany and France in arguing the inspectors needed "a reasonable amount of time" to do their work.
Meanwhile the Bush administration said Tuesday a new UN resolution on military action against Iraq would be "desirable but not mandatory".
With thousands of US troops headed to the Gulf and expected to be ready for combat soon the question remains if war is now inevitable. Diplomatically, the US needs to build a broad coalition if it fails to win UN backing for a military strike though for the moment, many countries have stated they will provide help only if the UN Security Council approves any attack.
Washington has reportedly asked 53 countries to join in the military campaign against Iraq though the "coalition of the willing", in President Bush's words, consists as yet of only a handful of countries. Secretary of State Colin Powell has warned the international community that it cannot shrink from its responsibility to disarm Iraq, by force if necessary, just because "the going is getting tough".
Britain, Australia and the Czech Republic have sent troops to the region, while Kuwait and three other Gulf states have either welcomed US forces or support military action. Reports in American papers suggest that behind-the-scenes discussions with dozens of countries over military contributions have intensified in recent days, suggesting that a number of countries have privately promised to back the US with or without UN support. But the reluctance of so many nations to take a public stand suggests that most governments continue to have misgivings about a US strike against Iraq.
According to several reports the strategy favoured by Pentagon planners involves airstrikes so devastating they will leave Saddam's soldiers unable or unwilling to fight. Under the plan the Air Force and Navy will launch between 300 and 400 cruise missiles at targets in Iraq. The battle plan is based on "Shock and Awe", a concept developed at the National Defence University focussing on the destruction of the Iraqis will to fight rather than the physical destruction of military forces.
"There will not be a safe place in Baghdad," one Pentagon official told the CBC. "The sheer size of this has never been seen before, never been contemplated before," the official said. Other contingency plans for a possible war with Iraq anticipate a ground invasion force of more than 100,000 that will enter the country from north, west and south.
Until now the US has stopped short of committing to war, but both Bush's tough address to the nation and the deployment of increasing numbers of troops in the Gulf indicate that he is taking the nation, and the world, to the edge of war.