Monday, December 21, 1998 Published at 16:49 GMT
Timeline of the Iraqi crisis
The countdown to crisis has stopped several times, only to start again
There have been arguments over the work of the United Nations Special Commission in Iraq (UNSCOM) weapons inspectors, oil, the no-fly zones, and the rights of Shi'ite and Kurdish people living in the region. But the latest crisis stems from Iraq's exasperation with sanctions imposed after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
The UN put forward a series of proposals designed to ensure that Iraq is fulfilling its commitments to destroy weapons of mass destruction in June this year. Their elimination is a pre-condition for the lifting of UN sanctions which have crippled the economy by banning the country's economic mainstay - the free sale of oil.
Key dates and stories
October 29, 1997 - Iraq bars American weapons inspectors from the country after the UN Security Council passes a resolution threatening to stop Iraqi officials travelling abroad.
October 31, 1997 - Iraq reiterates that it is ready, if necessary, to face US military action over its decision to expel the weapons inspectors. Russia and France believe a solution can be found to the crisis.
November 3, 1997 - Iraq warns it will shoot down U2 spy planes flying over its territory in support of UN weapons inspectors.
November 20, 1997 - Russian Foreign Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, brokers a compromise in the crisis between Iraq and the UN. The US, Russia, France, Britain, China meet through the night to work out the deal which allows the inspectors to return to Baghdad. However, UNSCOM inspectors return only to find they are barred from presidential sites.
January 2, 1998 - A grenade attack is launched against the headquarters of UNSCOM in Baghdad. The Iraqi regime condemns the attack saying it was the act of saboteurs hostile to Iraq.
January 13, 1998 - Iraq blocks an inspection by an American dominated team. It accuses the leader of the team, Scott Ritter, of spying for the US.
January 23, 1998 - Richard Butler, UNSCOM chairman, addresses the UN security Council and presents a bleak report. Iraq will provide no new information on its weapons programme.
January 28, 1998 - President Clinton delivers his State of the Union address, and says the US is prepared to carry out a military attack against Iraq.
February 9, 1998 - The Arab League puts forward proposals to end the crisis. It says the inspection teams should be chosen by UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan.
February 11, 1998 - The Iraqi government supports a Russian proposal which would give UNSCOM access to eight presidential sites to carry out one-off inspections. The idea is rejected by both the US and Britain.
February 13, 1998 - The United States insists it will not walk away from stopping Iraq developing weapons of mass destruction, and Russian objections would not prevent use of force. Russia says diplomatic effort should
not end before Kofi Annan visits Baghdad.
February 17, 1998 - Kofi Annan wins Security Council approval for a peace mission to
Baghdad but the US reserves the right to disagree with the results. President Clinton says a solution must ensure unfettered access for weapons inspections.
February 20, 1998 - Annan arrives in Baghdad, saying he has a "sacred
duty" to try to defuse the crisis. In Jordan, a bystander is killed in clashes between police and a
crowd of worshippers demonstrating in support of Iraq.
February 22, 1998 - The UN secretary general holds a three-hour meeting with Saddam Hussein, and the
UN later announces a deal on weapons inspections. The US says it will await Kofi Annan's formal report to the Security Council.
February 23, 1998 - Kofi Annan formally announces the agreement in joint news conference
with Tariq Aziz. Iraq says it was diplomacy,
not sabre-rattling, that helped conclude the agreement.
February 26, 1998 - American Republicans claim that President Clinton has handed Washington's policy on Iraq over to the United Nations.
February 27, 1998 - Richard Butler endorses the agreement, while Kofi Annan tells UN staff not to be disheartened by criticism of the deal.
March 3, 1998 - The United States and Britain say that the UN Security Council has reached agreement on a resolution warning Iraq of "severest consequences" if it fails to honour the agreement.
March 26, 1998 - UN weapons experts accompanied by diplomats begin a two-week series of inspections of Iraqi presidential sites.
April 3, 1998 - Inspectors complete their initial search of the eight presidential sites with a visit to President Saddam Hussein's main palace in Baghdad.
April 9, 1998 - A UN report claims Iraq is continuing to hold back information about its germ warfare programme.
April 17, 1998 - UN inspectors say they have made no progress in verifying whether Iraq has destroyed its weapons of mass destruction.
April 18, 1998 - The Iraqi Foreign Minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf describes UN inspectors report as "baseless and boring" and calls for a time limit to be set on inspections.
April 28, 1998 - UN decides that it is too early to lift sanctions against Iraq, renewing the embargo for another six months. But the US acknowledges progress in the access to presidential and sensitive sites.
May 1, 1998 - In an open letter to the Security Council, Iraq warns of grave consequences if UN sanctions against it are not lifted.
May 20, 1998 - Weapons inspectors resume their search for Iraqi chemical warheads.
May 26, 1998 - Richard Butler says he intends to draw up a list of outstanding issues that must be addressed by Baghdad to see sanctions lifted by October. On the same day the US announces it is to cut its forces in the Gulf.
June 11, 1998 - After presenting proposed disarmament measures to the Security Council, UN weapons inspectors arrive in Baghdad for talks aimed at ending international sanctions.
June 24, 1998 - Richard Butler confirms reports that traces of the nerve gas VX has been found in Iraqi missile fragments. Iraq had always insisted it had not weaponised VX.
June 30, 1998 - An American fighter plane opens fire on an Iraqi missile site. The US Defence Department says the action was taken after four British Tornado military jets were illuminated by Iraqi radar.
July 30, 1998 - Iraq warns that it will take unspecified action unless the UN embargo is lifted. A statement issued after a meeting of Iraqi leaders said the visit by Richard Butler the following week would be crucial.
August 4, 1998 - Richard Butler leaves Baghdad after talks collapse on proposals designed to ensure Iraq is fulfilling its committments to destroy weapons of mass destruction. Tariq Aziz said it was pointless becoming involved in an unending process to prove what the Iraqis had already shown.
September 29, 1998 - UN arms inspector Scott Ritter tells the BBC why he left the international team investigating Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
October 27, 1998 - Richard Butler, says tests carried out by international scientists confirm that Iraq filled missile warheads with the deadly nerve agent VX before the 1991 Gulf War.
October 28, 1998 - The Iraqi army embarks on a training exercise to enable hundreds of thousands of Iraqi citizens to defend themselves.
October 31, 1998 - The Iraqi leadership says it has ceased all co-operation with investigations and monitoring by the UN Special Commission.
November 10, 1998 The United States warns that Iraq will be able to rebuild its weapons programme in a matter of months unless the international community takes action over its obstruction of UN weapons inspections.
November 11, 1998 The United Nations withdraws all non-essential personnel from Iraq, amid speculation that the United States is preparing a military attack.
November 14, 1998 Iraq sends letter to the United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan offering to allow UN weapons inspections to resume.
November 17, 1998 UN weapons inspectors return to Iraq after Baghdad's promise to allow them to continue their work narrowly averts air strikes.
December 10, 1998 Inspectors vow to press on with surprise inspections despite a dispute with Baghdad over access.
December 16, 1998 The UN orders weapons inspectors out of Iraq hours after the
chief UN weapons inspector, Richard Butler, issued a report complaining that
the Iraqis were still failing to co-operate.
December 16-19, 1998 Hundreds of cruise missiles are fired into Iraq by US forces, marking the start of strikes to punish the Baghdad government for obstructing the work of the UN weapons inspectors.