Opposition from other council members to a UN war mandate appeared to be waning in late February, but further delays to American war preparations were caused by Turkey, which has been holding out for a significant aid package in exchange for allowing US troops to be deployed on its soil. Washington has become increasingly frustrated with Ankara, having brokered a compromise between Nato members to allow defensive equipment to be deployed along Iraq’s northern border. There could be additional complications if France insists on a ministerial-level meeting at the UN on 14 March, which would further compromise the US’ military timetable.
Defence analysts have pinpointed the first week of March as the ideal time for a strike on Iraq, pointing to the optimum conditions offered by the new moon on 3 March. However, the three primary army divisions making their way from the US are not expected to be fully in position until later that week. The cargo ships moving the 101st airborne division began loading in Florida in the second week of February, while the US 4th infantry division was not expected to receive its full complement of M1 Abrams battle tanks until the beginning of March. The 4th will spearhead any ground assault on Iraq, and will be joined in Kuwait by 26,000 troops and 120 Challenger II battle tanks from the UK’s 7th armoured division, which is already on the ground. Military planners were also awaiting the arrival in the region of two additional US aircraft carriers and their battle groups.
Despite the ponderous movements of the US military machine, by late February there were an estimated 120,000 American troops in the Gulf, close to the 150,000 Pentagon planners believe is necessary for an invasion of Iraq. The majority of the heavy equipment needed by the US will become available with the arrival of an additional 13 Cape transport ships on 28 February.