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 Friday, 20 December, 2002, 11:40 GMT
Iraq: A diplomatic prelude to war?
2003 could witness the beginning of military action in Iraq
2003 could witness the start of military action in Iraq
BBC News Online's Paul Reynolds

The year 2002 was the one in which the United States gave the United Nations a chance to avoid a war.

But as the year ended it seemed that the UN's chance was disappearing.

On 19 December the United States declared Iraq in "material breach" of Security Council resolution 1441 and war loomed early in the new year.

President Bush
Mr Bush chose the UN route
Many had thought that President Bush would not turn to the United Nations. But he did.

The key moment came on 12 September in his speech to the General Assembly.

"My nation will work with the UN Security Council to meet our common challenge," he said.

"If Iraq's regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately, decisively to hold Iraq to account. We will work with the UN Security Council for the necessary resolutions."

Resolution 1441 was passed on 8 November.

It demanded that Iraq declare whatever weapons of mass destruction it might have and open itself to inspections again or face "serious consequences".

On 7 December, a day before the deadline, Iraq produced its declaration, in which it denied having any nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

But the United States and Britain said that the declaration was not good enough. It failed to explain, they said, what had happened to prohibited chemical and biological agents previously unaccounted for.

The year began unpromisingly for those wanting the US to take the UN route.

In his State of the Union speech to Congress on 29 January, President Bush introduced a new phrase to diplomacy: "States like these [Iraq, Iran and North Korea] and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil."

Cheney and Powell went at each other in a blistering argument. It was Powell's internationalism against Cheney's unilateralism

Bob Woodward
It was a taste of things to come.

The following week, on 6 February, the first threat against Iraq itself was made.

The Secretary of State Colin Powell used another new phrase in front of the House of Representative International Relations Committee.

"Regime-change [in Iraq] is something the United States might have to do alone," he said.

He added that President Bush was already considering "the most serious set of options one might imagine". Such options of course included war.

It was clear by then that the Bush administration had decided to take Iraq off the shelf on which it had been put after the attacks of 11 September 2001.

On the Sunday following those attacks, Mr Bush and his senior officials met at Camp David and decided that removing the Taleban in Afghanistan and fighting al-Qaeda were more important.

Iraq was put aside as a crisis in waiting.

Vice president Dick Cheney
Vice-President Dick Cheney pushed for unilateral action
By early 2002, it was back to a crisis in being. The war in Afghanistan had gone well. It was time to tackle Saddam Hussein.

But the route to be chosen led to much internal argument. A recent book by veteran Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward called "Bush at War" disclosed the rows between the dovish Secretary of State Colin Powell and the hawkish Vice-President Dick Cheney.

"Cheney and Powell went at each other in a blistering argument. It was Powell's internationalism against Cheney's unilateralism," the book says.


It was not until 5 August over a two-hour session with George Bush at the White House that Colin Powell prevailed.

He argued successfully that the United States needed allies and the best way to get them was to get the UN Security Council to show, as Mr Bush put it, some "calcium in the backbone".

Dick Cheney did not give up. Even a few days before the president's speech to the General Assembly, an annual event in which Mr Bush could not ignore Iraq, Mr Cheney was arguing for unilateral action.

But George Bush did not side with the hawks. Instead he showed that more moderate side of his character which is often hidden behind his militant rhetoric.

Ever since he rose to the presidency from the governorship of Texas, his friends said it was there though his enemies couldn't see it. He decided to go to the UN.

Iraqi president Saddam Hussein
Saddam Hussein has faced many challenges to his power
But he kept his options open. In a lengthy negotiation with France and Russia about the form of a new Security Council resolution warning Iraq to comply, he insisted that America, alone if need be, would go to war if the weapons inspectors failed to disarm Iraq.

In the meantime, the language was subtly changing, to allow for a failure to deliver on the "regime-change" promised by Colin Powell to the House committee in February.

Difficulty of proof

On 7 October, buried away in a speech, Mr Bush indicated that "regime-change" could also mean a change by the regime not just a change of regime.

Referring to the need for Iraq to take steps to disarm and behave itself he said: "These steps would also change the nature of the Iraqi regime itself. America hopes the regime will make that choice".

Diplomacy cannot guarantee that there will not be war.

Indeed, the most realistic way to look at what might happen is to say that there will be a war unless Iraq is proved to be without weapons of mass destruction. And proof in this context is almost impossible.

Diplomacy could end up by being a prelude to war. It often is.

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See also:

11 Dec 02 | Middle East
07 Dec 02 | Middle East
11 Dec 02 | Talking Point
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