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 Thursday, 9 January, 2003, 13:47 GMT
'Phoney war' begins on Iraq
US C-17 cargo plane takes off from Incirlik air base, Turkey
Military preparations are gathering pace
The BBC's Roger Hardy

The statement by the UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix will be a foretaste of the eagerly awaited report he is due to make to the UN on 27 January.

It is already clear that the Iraq issue will be the focus of intense diplomatic activity in the next two or three weeks as the inspectors step up their efforts and the US and Britain continue their military build-up in the Gulf.

There will be a fever of speculation in the media and elsewhere about what will happen next.

Chief UN inspector Hans Blix
Blix: what will he say?
France has shrewdly positioned itself either to oppose a war if there is no international consensus on the issue or to fight alongside the US and Britain if Iraq is demonstrably in breach of UN resolutions.

Germany, which has been openly opposed to a war, has softened its position by saying a second UN resolution is not essential.

The Greeks, meanwhile, have said they will lead a European Union mission to the Middle East next month, in a last-ditch attempt to avert military action.

The fact is that no-one knows what Mr Blix will say at the end of the month - whether he will provide the US with a sufficient justification for war - or how the UN Security Council will respond.

'Blacklist'

In the meantime, rumour, speculation and what is almost certainly disinformation are running rife.

An Iraqi opposition group has released what it says is a US "blacklist" naming 14 senior Iraqis who should be removed from power and put on trial.

It is a plausible list, but there is no proof that it is authentic.

Every day a fresh report circulates about which government might offer the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein sanctuary should he agree - which seems unlikely - to stand down.

Before a war, there is sometimes a phoney war - a limbering-up phase characterised by rumour, uncertainty and propaganda.

The phoney war is now well under way.


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