UK government sources say the White House is still resolved to launch a military strike in mid-March, with or without a second resolution. Prior to the 7 March report by chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix on the state of Iraqi disarmament and co-operation, France, Russia and China, which all hold the power of veto in the Security Council, said they would not allow a second resolution to pass. Diplomatic sources say the US and UK are unlikely to table a resolution if they know it will be vetoed and, if Washington’s diplomatic entreaties fail, it is likely to fall back on resolution 1441 as justification for a war instead of creating further bad blood between the US and ‘old Europe’.

The progress of the US war wagon has been further impeded by the Turkish parliament, which voted in late February against allowing American troops inside the country to attack Iraq from the north. This leaves Washington with the option of moving its infantry from the Mediterranean to join the main bulk of forces in Kuwait, or to press Ankara for another vote – either course would take at least a week.

Two UN-based Iraqi diplomats were ordered to leave the US on 6 March, and Washington has asked 60 countries to expel some 300 Iraqis it claims are undercover officers who may be poised to attack overseas American interests. A similar expulsion request was made prior to the 1991 Gulf war.