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Wednesday, 29 January, 2003, 16:03 GMT
Next steps on Iraq
UN inspectors at a missile factory outside Baghdad
Inspectors have insisted on unfettered access
BBC News Online looks at the expected stages in the build-up to a war in Iraq.

Bush-Blair meeting:
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair is due to meet President George W Bush on 31 January to discuss the Iraq crisis.

Both leaders have said that they do not believe Iraq has any intention of disarming in accordance with Security Council resolution 1441 and that they are prepared to launch a military campaign to ensure Iraq does so with or without UN backing.

Key dates
29 January: Security Council meets to discuss weapons inspectors' report
31 January: Bush-Blair summit
5 February: US hopes to present new evidence against Iraq at the UN
14 February: tentative date set for further inspectors' briefing
27 March: Hans Blix to present next report to Security Council
Adopted on 8 November, resolution 1441 is designed to force Iraq to give up all suspected weapons of mass destruction.

But at any point, the inspectors can decide that their work is being obstructed and make a report to that effect.

Washington and London have already invoked the phrase that could trigger a war, accusing Iraq of being in "material breach" of resolution 1441 in a document detailing what weapons programmes it says it has.

It had been thought that the US and UK would go back to the Security Council to seek authorisation for military action.

This is looking more and more unlikely because France - a permanent member of the Security Council - and Germany - currently on the council - have said they are determined to prevent war in Iraq and that they will work together to achieve this.

US to call Security Council meeting:
In his State of the Union address on 28 January President George W Bush promised to reveal fresh evidence about Iraq's weapons programmes.

The US is planning to ask the UN Security Council to hold a special session on 5 February at which Secretary of State Colin Powell will present this evidence.

Further inspectors' report:
The UN weapons inspectors are expected to deliver another assessment of Iraqi co-operation to the Security Council on 14 February.

Military timing:
The US has been assembling forces for possible military action in the region.

Military analysts say the expected deployment of 150,000 personnel in and around the Gulf by the second half of February would be enough to launch what the Pentagon calls a rolling start attack, with more reinforcements arriving rapidly after that.

Other analysts say the types of troop deployments announced by the US and UK indicate that a ground war could be launched from about the middle of March.

It is also possible that an air campaign might be launched in advance of the arrival of the full contingent of allied forces.

Washington will have to take into account that a delay beyond the end of January or early February in any decision to go to war would see conditions for allied troops fighting in Iraq begin to become dangerously hot as winter ends and summer approaches.

Temperatures in the Iraqi desert will begin to heat up by March. In July and August, the average temperature is more than 48 C (120 F).

Troops will have to be dressed in chemical protection gear the whole time, which will become extremely hot.

Also, April marks the beginning of Iraq's windy season, when sandstorms could severely reduce air operations.

The weather would not cool down again until October.

However, senior officials have warned that the hot weather does not necessarily mean that a military campaign will be put off - it just makes it that much more difficult.

According to reports in the Washington Post newspaper, the Bush administration has set the last week in January as the point when it decides whether or not there is enough evidence to warrant a war against Iraq.

Key dates so far:

  • 8 November 2002 UN Security Council passes resolution 1441 designed to force Iraq to give up all weapons of mass destruction and threatening "serious consequences" if it does not comply. Iraq accepts the terms of the resolution within seven days of its adoption.

  • 7 December 2002 Baghdad hands over a 12,000-page weapons declaration a day earlier than a deadline for a current and complete declaration of all of its chemical, biological, nuclear and missile programmes.

  • 19 December 2002 Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix provides an initial briefing to the Security Council on Iraq's declaration. On the same day, the US issues its first detailed response to the Iraqi declaration, saying it is more evidence of Iraqi non-compliance.

  • 9 January 2003 Dr Blix tells the Security Council that there are still "many unanswered questions" about Iraq's weapons programmes but that inspectors had not "found any smoking guns" that might trigger war.

  • 27 January 2003 UN inspectors present key evidence to the UN Security Council about their search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Iraqi co-operation with UN Security Council resolution 1441. The report is seized on by the US and UK as proof that Iraq is not disarming, while other states argue that the inspectors need to be given more time.

  • 28 February 2003 George W Bush delivers a State of the Union address in which he promises to present fresh evidence about Iraq's weapons programme and vows to lead a military campaign if the Iraqis do not disarm.
The BBC's James Robbins in New York
"Inspectors kept up their searches even as their boss catalogued dozens of unanswered questions"
The BBC's Matt Frei
"Make no mistake, this president is a gambler prepared to take risks"

Key stories





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13 Nov 02 | Middle East
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