US hits roadblock in push to war

Rupert Cornwell
Tuesday 04 March 2003 01:00
Comments

America admitted yesterday that the war due to begin as early as next week might have to be put back by at least a month because of Turkey's refusal to allow US ground troops to deploy there.

The surprise rejection by the parliament in Ankara made the planning "more complicated", Ari Fleischer, the White House spokesman, said. Some military analysts predicted that an attack of the speed and decisiveness President George Bush wants might have to be delayed until late March or even early April.

The United States sounded more determined than ever yesterday to use force to disarm and topple Saddam Hussein. Mr Fleischer again derided Iraq's destruction of six more al-Samoud 2 missiles, and Baghdad's last-ditch moves to account for missing chemical and biological agents. "Iraq is not co-operating ... they continue to fundamentally not disarm," he said.

Another carrier group, the Nimitz, left America last night to join five other carriers either in the Gulf region or on the way. The Pentagon issued deployment orders for 70,000 men of the 1st Cavalry division from Fort Hood, Texas, equipped for heavy ground combat. Nearly 250,000 American and British troops are now believed to be in the region.

Though some officials in Washington still cling to the hope that the Ankara parliament, which reconvenes today, will reconsider its decision, Pentagon planners are consid-ering whether to activate a "Plan B" for an invasion.

Thus far, the dozen heavy cargo ships carrying equipment for the 4th Infantry Division have not been rerouted from just off the Turkish coast where they have been waiting to unload. But if there is no change of heart in Ankara, the whole plan for a second front bearing down on Baghdad from the north will have to be redrawn.

Under the rejected deal, up to 62,000 men would have been sent to bases in eastern Turkey, poised to launch a massive operation southwards. Now, any such force would be more a holding one than offensive, its size unlikely to exceed 20,000, according to analysts.

Officials maintain this would suffice to cover the immediate objectives of protecting against any Iraqi thrust against the Kurds, to secure the oilfields around Kirkuk and Mosul, and tie down some Republican Guard units who would otherwise be directed south. But the American force would not be enough for a big strike.

American and British warplanes widened their attacks in the northern and southern no-fly zones in Iraq, in what amounted to a preliminary to the campaign proper. Targets had been Iraqi air defence installations that threatened the allied planes. But the attacks are now aimed at surface-to-surface missile batteries said to be in range of Anglo-American troops in Kuwait or of possible positions for American troops in Turkey. An Iraqi military spokesman claimed an Anglo-American strike on Sunday night killed six civilians and wounded 15 in the southern province of Basra.

Although the campaign may be delayed, there is no indication it will be halted. Yesterday the British Government announced it had given the United States permission to base 14 B-52 bombers at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire. The first wave of the long-range bombers arrived yesterday in an echo of the first Gulf War in 1991, when 60 missions were flown from the base.

Tony Blair was accused of concealing from the public the fact that a new Gulf War had already begun. Bernard Jenkin, the shadow Defence Secretary, said the "opening shots of the second Gulf War" had been fired. Anti-war Labour MPs claimed that war had begun by stealth. Doug Henderson, a former armed forces minister, said the increased activity in the no-fly zones was a "slide into war". Alice Mahon suggested that war had been started through the "back door".

Although Downing Street denied any change of policy, Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, told the Commons: "There is no doubt that our forces have been undertaking more frequent patrols involving a broader range of aircraft in the no-fly zones."

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in