THE UNITED States has accelerated its military build-up in the Gulf. According to the New York Times the US Pentagon has hired ten cargo ships to transport helicopters, armoured vehicles and other weapons in preparation for an attack on Iraq.
The US is also expanding its Al Udeid airbase in the Gulf state of Qatar, where 3,300 military personnel are already stationed. US president George Bush met top advisers this week to hammer out details of the war plan. One leaked plan includes having four US aircraft carriers and Britain's Ark Royal in the Gulf this autumn. Bush's build-up for war takes place at the very time that divisions over the war are deepening.
Even hardened warmongers in the US establishment, who Bush should be able to rely on, are wary. Their concern is not for peace, but that Bush's war drive risks backfiring. Among those expressing unease are Cold War veterans who orchestrated war and intervention in Vietnam and Latin America.
They include Henry Kissinger, Brent Snowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Lawrence Eagleburger, and former presidents Gerald Ford and George Bush Sr. Of course, these brutes are not part of the anti-war movement. But the growing unease is creating more space for such a movement to grow. Bush has responded by promising to 'listen to Republican critics'. But he has made it known he is still determined on war.
When thieves fall out
US DIPLOMATS are trying to bully Arab states into falling in behind a war. One official says, 'Many countries have been hiding their heads in the sand. 'Now there are the beginnings of a realisation that they must ensure they remain on the right side of the Americans.' The lack of support from Arab governments for war is in sharp contrast to the 1991 Gulf War.
Then every Arab state with the exception of Jordan went along with the US. Saudi Arabia stationed hundreds of thousands of troops, and its Prince Sultan airbase was critical to the US air force. Now Saudi Arabia says it will not allow US planes to take off to attack Iraq. News that members of the Saudi royal family are included in a trillion-dollar lawsuit over 11 September has put relations with the US further under strain.
Most of the US establishment does not go along with the view expressed by Bush adviser Richard Perle, who called for setting fire to Saudi Arabia's oilfields. But there are certainly worries in the US government about Saudi Arabia's stability and reliability.
Disquiet grows in Labour
DIVISIONS IN New Labour over a war against Iraq are widening. 'Friends of Robin Cook', the former foreign secretary, say he is spearheading calls for a debate within the cabinet over it. 'Friends of chancellor Gordon Brown' are also reported to have said he is 'unconvinced' of the case for a pre-emptive attack on Iraq.
Tony Blair shows every sign of backing Bush to the hilt. Deputy prime minister John Prescott let slip last week that MPs will not get a vote on whether to go to war. He said the decision would be made by Blair. Any vote in parliament would be on a technical procedure of whether to 'adjourn the house'. This is adding to disquiet on Labour's back benches.
Gerald Kaufman, from the right wing of the Labour Party, warned last week of 'substantial resistance' if Blair follows 'the most intellectually backward US president of my lifetime' into war. THE US military secretly gave Iraq decisive battle planning assistance during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, despite knowing Iraqi commanders would unleash poisoned gas. Senior military officers have told the New York Times about their direct knowledge of the programme.
This blows a hole in one of the main excuses the US government is using for war. Only last week George Bush's national security adviser Condoleezza Rice claimed Saddam Hussein's use of poison gas justified 'regime change' in Iraq.
The New York Times report shows that Ronald Reagan's administration (in which Bush's father was vice-president) helped the Iraqi military target those gas attacks.
Some 5,000 Kurdish civilians were gassed in the village of Halabja in 1988. Retired colonel Walter Lang was a top US intelligence officer at the time. 'The use of gas by the Iraqis was not a matter of deep concern,' he said.