US Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte delivered the message to his Iraqi counterpart, Mohammed Aldouri, in New York on 7 October. He was quoted as saying: ‘Don’t try to take advantage of the situation or there will be a price to pay.’ US officials are said to be concerned that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein might decide the time is right for a military push against the Kurds in the north of the country, or even a strike against Kuwait.

The warning came amid growing anxiety in the Middle East about the possibility of US action against Iraq in connection with the campaign to punish those responsible for the 11 September attacks on the US. This has stemmed from the content of a letter delivered by the US to the UN setting out Washington’s reasons for invoking Article 51 of the UN Charter, which allows nations under attack to defend themselves. The letter specified that the US may find that its self-defence requires further actions against organisations and states other than Al-Qaeda and Afghanistan.

The UK, the staunchest ally of Washington in the US-led ‘coalition against terrorism’, has made clear that London does not envisage any action being taken against Iraq in the current conflict. UK officials say that no evidence has surfaced that links the 11 September events to the Iraqi regime.