Simmering tensions between the US and ‘Old Europe’ over Iraq came to the boil on 5 December when US Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz confirmed that 26 upcoming contracts, worth a total of $18,600 million, would be awarded only to members of the ‘coalition of the willing’ (see page 10).

The announcement has highlighted the differences in opinion and strategy between the Pentagon and the State Department. On 4 December, US Secretary of State Colin Powell urged NATO ‘to examine how it might do more to support peace and stability in Iraq’. Powell’s plea was an attempt to encourage hitherto reluctant NATO members to provide troops and funds for Iraqi peacekeeping operations. Secretary-General of NATO George Robertson for his part said the organisation ‘needed to be given a greater role in peacekeeping operations in the country. The [coalition] alliance must continue to help NATO countries that take on leadership roles in Iraq, and prepare itself to take on new roles and missions where necessary’. Powell’s trip to Brussels highlights the increasing pressure the US is under to speed up the Iraqi reconstruction process as Washington gets more desperate to define its exit strategy. However, Wolfowitz’s statement is unlikely to help reconcile differences between the White House and NATO members such as France, Germany and Canada.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced on 10 December that future Iraqi operations would be conducted from Cyprus or Jordan as Iraq is still considered too dangerous. The decision was the result of a security review carried out after the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August.