US offensive on Iraq 'postponed until next year'

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The Independent US

United States military and policy planners have concluded they cannot rely on internal opposition forces to speed the ejection of Iraq's President, Saddam Hussein, and that Britain is probably the only ally available to help in a huge offensive to end his regime.

A consensus has also emerged in Washington that military action against President Saddam, whose 65th birthday yesterday was celebrated with parades in Iraq, will not be viable this autumn and will have to wait until next year.

Pentagon officials concede that any campaign against Iraq will be a combination of air power and a large-scale ground assault, using between 100,000 and 250,000 troops. Britain, which faces difficulties mustering political support domestically for such an attack, would be relied upon to contribute to the ground force.

Several factors have converged to make an assault this year unviable, including the resistance voiced to the US by several Arab governments and the continuing Middle East violence. Officials insist, however, that George Bush is determined to see President Saddam removed from power.

Defence officials say the Afghan model, where indigenous forces assisted the defeat of the Taliban regime will not work in Iraq where opposition forces are too scattered and weak. Nor does Washington envisage a coup.

"There have been six coup attempts and theyconsistently fail," a White House official said. "It's a horrific police state. Nobody trusts anyone, so how can you pull off a coup?"