Iraqi officials launched a scathing attack on the UN team following a surprise visit by weapons experts to a presidential palace on 3 December, claiming the inspection was ‘unjustified’ and politically provocative. ‘The inspectors have come to provide better circumstances and more precise information for a coming aggression,’ said Iraqi Vice-president Taha Yassin Ramadan. ‘Their work was spying for the CIA and Mossad together.’ He went on to accuse Washington of spoiling for a fight, claiming UN Security Council Resolution 1441 was ‘loaded with landmines, one bigger than the other, and the aim is that one of those would explode’.

The US administration has repeatedly cast doubts on the effectiveness of inspections since they resumed after a four-year hiatus on 27 November. President Bush said he was ‘not encouraged’ by what he had seen so far and accused inspectors of a lack of aggression, while US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld went one step further and said the inspectors lacked the ‘ability’ to uncover Iraqi weapons.

The outcome of the latest round of inspections hangs on Baghdad’s expected declaration, which the Iraqi government says will prove it does not harbour any weapons of mass destruction. ‘It will be a huge, complex and detailed declaration, containing new elements about new sites and new activities conducted during the absence of the inspectors,’ General Mohammed Amin, head of the Iraqi national monitoring directorate, said on 4 December. US officials have warned that any omission that can be proved by weapons inspections or even existing intelligence could constitute a material breach of the UN resolution.

The US continued in early December with its preparations for a possible war in Iraq, announcing plans to set up new military bases in Turkey. ‘We have an agreement to move forward with concrete measures of military planning and preparations,’ US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said on 4 December after meeting officials in Ankara. ‘I’m quite confident that we will in fact have a significant level of Turkish participation [in the event of a conflict].’ Washington has also indicated it will back Turkey’s bid for membership of the EU in return for military assistance.