High-ranking British officials have been urging that any plans to invade Iraq not be carried out until next autumn so that United Nations weapons inspectors will have plenty of time to conduct a thorough search for weapons of mass destruction, it was reported Thursday.
The Daily Telegraph said some senior members of Prime Minister Tony Blair's government do not believe there is enough clear evidence that Iraq is developing such weapons to justify an invasion in the immediate future, and that an attack during the searing heat of summer would not be practical.
"Nobody familiar with the inspections process expects them to come up with the goods in a matter of weeks," a senior British official told the newspaper.
"There is an assumption that there will be a campaign before the summer because of the heat," the official continued. "The autumn would be just as sensible a time and in the meanwhile, Saddam would be thoroughly constrained by the inspectors."
While a lengthy delay raises the possibility of thousands of U.S. forces being stuck in a sort of brink-of-war limbo for several months, the Telegraph said that support in Parliament for an invasion would fade unless there was concrete proof that Saddam Hussein's regime was producing chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
"The Prime Minister has made it clear that, unless there is a smoking gun, the inspectors have to be given time to keep searching," a senior Whitehall source said.
The sentiment for an autumn campaign has caused some concern that Blair's cabinet is split on the war question, a suspicion that Blair has pointedly denied.
Some government officials told the newspaper that Britain would likely join in an attack whenever the United States decided to launch it, however some were hopeful that the seeming reluctance in London would convince President Bush to allow U.N. inspectors additional time to determine whether or not any weapons of mass destruction exist in Iraq.
by Bob Roberts (January 4, 2003, Mirror/UK)
Former British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd yesterday launched a scathing attack on plans to attack Iraq.
He warned that a military strike risked turning the Middle East into a "inexhaustible recruiting ground for terrorism" and would scupper hopes of a deal between Israel and the Palestinians.
He was speaking as anti-war groups announced a day of mass protest on February 15.
His attack will prove a huge embarrassment for No 10 which has relied on backing from senior Conservative right wingers who have supported taking a tough line with the Iraqi dictator.
The peer, who was in charge of the Foreign Office for six years and oversaw policy during the Gulf War, said the context for conflict had changed since 1991 when "a genuine international coalition, including the main Arab states, came together to free Kuwait".
He added: "Arab governments today are no fonder of Hussein than they were in 1991.
"But the overthrow of an Arab regime, however odious, by an Anglo-American military force would seem different in principle from the liberation of Kuwait.
"No friendly countries, Arab or other, would pick up the bill, as they willingly did in 1991.
"The greatest danger might not arise in fighting Hussein's forces - which could last only a few days - but in the aftermath in a region that would see itself unmistakably under the domination of the US, the protector of Israel." He said no attack was being mooted against the threat of North Korea because, "Russia and China would oppose it and the consequences might be disastrous."
He dismissed US claims that toppling Saddam could lead to more Arab democracy, saying: "This strikes me as a breath-taking example of the human capacity for self-deception."
Targeting senior US politicians such as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, he added: "Elderly observers should beware of construing their past experience as a guide to the future." Lord Hurd joins a growing list of senior figures bitterly critical of war plans.
Lib Dem foreign affairs spokes-man Menzies Campbell said: "Douglas Hurd makes public anxieties felt by virtually everyone with a knowledge of the Middle East and an understanding of the Arab world.
"Margaret Thatcher in the Falklands, John Major in the Gulf and Tony Blair in Kosovo could rely on overwhelming Parliamentary and public support for military action. There is a notable absence of both in relation to Iraq."
The Archbishop of York warned that war would inevitably lead to crimes against humanity.
Dr David Hope distributed a prayer letter calling on Britain and the US to remember the "scale of human suffering that war brings" and the "right of Iraqi people to determine their own future."
His spokesman said strong emotions had been raised, "because of the absence of any justification for war on Iraq." He added: "These prayers urge the government to think very carefully about the consequences."
A No 10 official said: "Everybody is entitled to express their opinion, including religious leaders."
Tony Blair has been careful to avoid a public row with the Church but behind the scenes is thought to be furious at what ministers sees as its "meddling" in politics.
BRITISH ambassadors are being called to London next week to discuss how they can react quickly to terror strikes and take "mobile embassies" to trouble spots.