- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 19, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 19 (UPI) — British Prime Minister Tony Blair talks like America's staunchest ally in the Iraqi crisis, the one loyal friend whose troops and warplanes can be relied on. Facing down a threatened revolt among his own Labour Members of Parliament, and confronted with opinion polls suggesting that four out of five British voters do not want to go to war without a new United Nations resolution, Blair refused to rule out a war even with a new U.N. vote.

But on their German parade grounds this week, the troops of Britain's 7th Armoured Brigade were not given the expected order to prepare to ship out for the Gulf. Instead they were told to expect their usual German-based training schedule for the next month.

Meanwhile in Paris, President Jacques Chirac said this week that "France and Germany's approach and vision concerning Iraq are identical and of the same nature" — and the German government has said it won't fight even with a United Nations mandate.

But the newspaper le Figaro reported this week that France's armored regiments are painting their tanks and armored personnel carriers in desert camouflage, and the Charles De Gaulle aircraft carrier in Toulon harbor is on alert to sail for the Gulf.

The intention of the Turks, a crucial ally if Iraq is to be faced with the threat of a second front in the north, is also hard to read. The new moderate Islamist government of the AK (Justice and Development) party is insisting that no decision on access for U.S. troops can be made without a vote in Parliament, which cannot be scheduled until the last week of January. But 150 U.S. survey troops, checking Turkish bases as jumping-off points for an attack by up to 80,000 American troops, were admitted last Sunday and have been at work for a week.

The gap between the civilian government and the military looks to be wide. "We hope the United States will wait for at least a second resolution," deputy Prime Minister Ertugrul Yalcinbayir declared last week.

But General Yasar Buyukanit, deputy chief of the General Staff, countered in a press statement that the United States had first asked for Turkish assistance six months ago, and it was growing understandably impatient.

"A northern front would be decisive both politically and militarily. With such a front, it would be far quicker and less risky for the United States to achieve its goal," Buyukanit said. British defense minister Geoffrey Hoon warned the Turks last week that Turkey's current ambivalence could mislead Saddam into a miscalculation that could itself provoke war, and General Buyukanit noted that at the least "there is a need for deterrent cooperation with the United States".

There is a confusion between rhetoric and reality among all of Washington's allies. Even senior State Department officials acknowledge privately that they have no idea whether the United States would fight alone, with the British, or find itself at the last minute thronged with allies eager to be in at the kill, or at least at the division of the spoils.

Washington has been confident of at least strong diplomatic and political support from Italy and Spain, two NATO allies led by right-of-center governments who support President Bush. But the latest poll in Italy by the Cirn Institute shows 61 percent of Italians against the war and 30 percent in favor — a sharp decline in support that reflects the strong anti-war stand taken by the Pope. Once the preserve of the Left in Italy, the anti-war vote has been swollen by devout Catholics and many priests are now taking an active role in the anti-war movement. In Spain also, the Pope's latest appeal for peace has strengthened the anti-war polls.

The common factor among the NATO allies in Europe is that there are strong majorities against war without a new U.N. mandate, but small majorities would reluctantly accept war if the U.N. security council voted again after the January 27 report by the inspectors that Iraq was still violating its pledge to disarm.

Ironically, the decision at the U.N. would have to be taken by many of the governments that are carefully watching their own public opinion. Four European countries, all NATO members, are current among the security council's 15 members. Britain and France are permanent members, with a veto, and Spain and Germany currently hold one of the rotating chairs. Their vote —along with the strength of the evidence from the U.N. inspectors — could sway the opinion among their own citizens.

There is a further irony. Just as it took the threat of unilateral U.S. military action in November to win a 15-0 Security Council vote on Resolution 1441, the U.N. will again be mindful of Washington's threats to launch an attack alone — if it must. None of America's allies wishes to offend the Bush administration — and undermine NATO — if Washington is resolved.

Equally, they would prefer to be on the winning side, particularly when a post-Saddam Hussein government is considering how to share the spoils of oil concessions. France and Russia have already negotiated development contracts, to be activated as and when U.N. sanctions against Iraq are lifted. Britain and Italy, and U.S. oil corporations, would be eager to get their share of the development potential of the country with the world's second-largest reserves of oil.

(Walker's World — an in-depth look at the people and events shaping global geopolitics — is published every Sunday and Wednesday.)

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