The results of these discussions and the level of Iraq compliance in the lead up to Blix’s second report to the UN on 14 February could determine whether or not a US-led coalition goes to war against Iraq. Prospects for a peaceful resolution look increasingly distant in view of the bellicose statements coming from the US, Blix’s harsh report and the statement of support for the American position made by eight European nations on 30 January. However, President Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair concluded their 31 January meeting by saying that the inspectors had a few more weeks to monitor Iraqi disarmament, and Bush left open the option of seeking a second UN resolution authorising the use of force. He said that a second resolution would be welcome if it demonstrated the unity and determination of the international community on Iraqi disarmament, but that: ‘Any attempt to drag the process on for months will be resisted by the US.’

The willingness to wait a few weeks is partly down to military logistics. Early March is the optimum time for an attack according to military planners. Deployments are not yet sufficient to mount the type of all-out air and ground attack favoured by the Pentagon. Senior US military officials have been outlining their plans, although it is unclear how far the statements are designed mainly to frighten the Iraqi leadership. The American press reports that 3,000 precision bombs and missiles could be dropped in the first two days of air strikes combined with ground attacks launched from Kuwait and Turkey.

Military planners received a boost on 31 January when Turkey’s National Security Council recommended that parliament approve a deployment of US troops in the country. However, that parliament will take the advice is not a certainty as the majority of the country is opposed to war. The parliamentary opposition is also firmly against allowing the deployment but the ruling Justice and Development party has a large majority. Elements of the 1st Infantry Division, based in Germany, have orders to deploy to Turkey as soon as Ankara gives its approval. The National Security Council did not indicate the size of the force it would allow, but Turkish and US officials are said to be focusing on scenarios which would entail no more than 20,000 troops on Turkish soil at any one time.

The next key date for the Iraq question is 5 February, when US Secretary of State Colin Powell is to present the UN Security Council with evidence that Iraq has been concealing weapons materials from the inspectors and has links with the Al-Qaeda terrorist network. Baghdad pre-empted the evidence by claiming that it would be fabricated. Amin told the BBC that he expected Washington to produce ‘fabricated space photos or aerial photos’. The Bush administration is billing the evidence as conclusively damning.