The prospect of the US launching fresh military operations against Iraq is starting to fade, amid growing international opposition to any such move. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Russian President Vladimir Putin have both said explicitly that a military campaign against Baghdad in the context of the US-led ‘war on terrorism’ would be inadvisable. Reports in Washington also point to strong reservations in the US State Department about extending the campaign to Iraq.

Annan said that he had seen no evidence to connect Baghdad to the 11 September attacks on the US, and he cautioned against an attack on Iraq. ‘Any attempt to do that can exacerbate the situation and raise tensions in a region that is already under strain because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,’ he said on 19 December.

His remarks followed the announcement by Washington that the anthrax used in letters sent to several addresses in the US after 11 September originated in the US – thereby ruling out any Iraqi connection. Newspapers in the Czech Republic have also run a series of articles casting doubt on earlier reports that Mohamed Atta, the Egyptian said to have led the 11 September attacks, had met several times with a senior Iraqi intelligence official in Prague.

Putin, in an interview published in the London daily, Financial Times, on 17 December, said that the international community should focus its attention precisely on the problem of making sure that Iraq is no longer producing weapons of mass destruction.

‘We should convince the Iraqi leadership to allow UN observers and controllers to sites and facilities inside Iraq that are of interest in this regard, in exchange for a lifting of sanctions,’ he said.

US and Russian officials held talks in Moscow in mid-December on revising the sanctions on Iraq to allow the supply of a wider range of goods to the Iraqi market through a fast-track system that will not require UN approval.