Bush highlighted the Iraq issue in the run-up to the 5 November congressional elections, and he was rewarded when his party ended up wrestling control of the Senate away from the Democrats. The Republican majority in the House of Representatives also remained solid. The result will strengthen Bush’s hand if the administration decides to resort to force against Iraq.

The day after the polls, the US presented to the UN Security Council its much-debated draft resolution on the terms for the resumption of weapons inspections in Iraq. US officials maintained that the resolution stood a good chance of being adopted, following intensive efforts to deal with concerns expressed by France, Russia and China. Their main concern has been to ensure that the resolution does not provide an automatic mechanism allowing the US to resort to military force.

The draft resolution states that Iraq has been in material breach of its obligations to disarm, but that it will be given a final opportunity to comply. In the event of Iraq failing to comply or obstructing the work of UN inspectors, the resolution states that the Security Council will reconvene to consider the situation, in light of repeated warnings that Iraq would ‘face serious consequences as a result of its continued violation of its obligations’.

Hans Blix, the chief UN inspector, has said that the timetables contained in the resolution might need to be extended. He has also expressed reservations about the clauses entitling the UN to take Iraqi officials and their families out of the country for interviews.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has been quoted as saying that Iraq would be ready to co-operate with a new UN resolution as long as it is not simply a pretext for US military action. His remarks were aired following talks in early November with a South African delegation and with far-right Austrian politician Jorg Haider.