The Bush administration's determination to keep to a tight timetable that
would see its forces ready to go to war against Iraq by early March is in danger
of coming unstuck.
Plans to open a northern front against Iraq - seen as vital to ensure a pincer
movement against Baghdad - were looking shaky last night as Turkey resisted an
ultimatum from Washington to accept US troop deployments or forfeit a multi-billion
dollar compensation package.
The White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, warned Ankara it had been presented
with a final financial offer - believed to exceed $26bn - and that a response
was needed. "There comes a moment when plans must be made, decisions must be made,
and it cannot stretch on indefinitely," he said.
The trouble with Turkey is compounded by fresh diplomatic hurdles. The US and
Britain have been forced to postpone until next week the publication of a second
UN resolution designed to marshal support within the security council for military
The resolution will now not be put to a vote before early March, following
another report by the chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix. British jitters over
persuading the UN to back war were underlined yesterday when officials insisted
that they would press ahead with military action even if the resolution were heavily
The likelihood of such a defeat has deepened with the open rift between the
US and France and Germany which was again on display yesterday. The US secretary
of state, Colin Powell, in effect accused the two European countries of being
too cowardly to go to war.
"It is not a satisfactory solution to continue inspections indefinitely because
certain countries are afraid of upholding their responsibility to impose the will
of the international community," Mr Powell said.
But the most urgent problem facing the US in its push to war is Turkey, traditionally
a staunch Nato partner. The Turkish leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, indicated yesterday
there was little sign of the impasse being resolved quickly, saying there were
no plans for a parliamentary vote this week on allowing US troops on Turkish soil.
Failure by Turkey to open its bases to American troops would mean that US transport
ships carrying thousands of servicemen and essential equipment would have to be
re-routed to the Gulf or elsewhere. Any diversionary attack against Baghdad from
the north may then have to be scaled back dramatically. The block on US servicemen
might also leave the Kurds vulnerable to an Iraqi counter-attack.
As a fallback position, US special service troops and Kurdish fighters have
been upgrading three airstrips in northern Iraq which might be used as advance
supply positions. But the US would be denied the modern infrastructure of the
main Turkish airbases such as Incirlik, Batman and Diyarbakir.
The latest opinion polls in Turkey suggest that 90% of the electorate is opposed
Turkey's resistance to participating in an unpopular war, which it fears would
undermine its weakened economy, has been bolstered by the strength of anti-war
protests around the world last weekend.
The US defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, admitted the lack of cooperation
was causing some discomfort: "Obviously, the more assistance one gets the easier
it is. The less assistance one gets, the more difficult it is." He predicted an
eventual Turkish climbdown.
The disarray over military planning will boost the Iraqi government, which
has already been buoyed by Mr Blix's last report as well as by worldwide anti-war
demonstrations. UN officials said yesterday that the Iraqi government has been
emboldened to the point where it sees no urgency in meeting the weapons inspectors'
call for deeper cooperation.
In a move which suggests that the inspectors are taking a tougher stance, Mr
Blix has decided to ask Iraq to destroy its al-Samoud 2 missiles, diplomatic sources
said last night.
Iraq's response to the demand will be a crucial test of the inspection system.
UN officials in Baghdad also said yesterday that they had detected a disturbing
shift in Baghdad's attitude in the last few days. They say the protests have encouraged
Iraq to believe it can turn the divisions in the security council to its advantage,
a strategy that could stall the speedy progress sought by Mr Blix, who is expected
to make a further report to the security council around March 6 rather than, as
suggested by Washington and London, on February 28.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003