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#4 - JRL 7040
BBC Monitoring
Paper predicts war on Iraq to start on night of 7-8 February, Russian support
Source: Argumenty i Fakty, Moscow, in Russian 28 Jan 03

At the same time as the UN experts presented their report on the verification of Iraq's armaments, US President George W. Bush in effect delivered an ultimatum to Saddam Husayn. Iraq is being given roughly a week for Saddam either to leave the country or begin public disarmament.

The date on which the military operation will start if the conditions contained in the ultimatum are not met has also become known from US diplomatic circles. It is the night of 7 to 8 February or, in terms of days of the week, overnight from Friday to Saturday. Two days off will be enough for all communications and TV and radio channels to be put out of action, the Americans believe. That plus incessant bombing of military and government targets will be what will decide the outcome of the war. But why such a hurry?

The US wish to pre-empt the possible emergence of a trilateral antiwar coalition is one of the most important reasons. At the moment, it comprises France and Germany. During Vladimir Putin's visit to Paris on 9 February, however, Russia may also join those countries.

Obviously, the USA would not like to see us in that company. Which is why we are once again being promised the cancellation of the discriminatory Jackson-Vanik Amendment. "The carrot is far from fresh, yet can still whet our appetite," Russian diplomats are saying. Moreover, US Deputy Secretary of State [Richard] Armitage even let it slip that Russia would not close its airspace to US military transport aircraft.

But there is also something in Russia's actions the Americans find funny. It is preparations for several fighting ships from the Pacific and Black Sea Fleets to sail to the Persian Gulf. Apart from its officially stated aim - an exercise - this sailing also has another, which is the evacuation of Russians from Iraq in the event of war. By the time, however, the ships reach the area - in two to three months - everything will be over, while the Russian nationals will have been bussed out to Damascus or Beirut.

The only thing left for the American leadership to do is to await the results of the elections in Israel. They will be held in the next few days. Opinion polls say the "hawk" Sharon, a strong advocate of a war on Iraq, will win again. And that will become the final argument in the debate which will decide Saddam's fate.

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