Monday, 3 February, 2003, 18:30 GMT
Blair is Washington's staunchest ally on Iraq
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has insisted there is unmistakable evidence that Iraq is failing to co-operate with United Nations weapons inspectors.
It is a political game
General Hossam Mohammed Amin
Mr Blair, who has already sent thousands of British troops to the Gulf in preparation for possible war, said the "final phase" of disarming Iraq had begun.
"Eight weeks have now passed since Saddam Hussein was given his final chance. The evidence of co-operation withheld is unmistakable," Mr Blair told British MPs, many of whom are unsure if war against Iraq can be justified.
Mr Blair's comments follow the release by Downing Street at the weekend of a dossier which accuses the Iraqi regime of "deliberately hampering" the searches by weapons inspectors.
The report declares that Iraqi officials "start long arguments" with their colleagues while investigations are under way to allow time for "incriminating evidence" to be hidden, and insists that car crashes are being organised to hinder inspectors if they start heading to another site.
These were not issues raised by chief arms inspector Hans Blix in his recent report to the United Nations Security Council.
Mr Blix said his teams had not uncovered to date the weapons of mass destruction which the US insists Baghdad possesses, although he said that co-operation needed to be improved.
Both Washington and London have frequently re-iterated that failure to actively assist the weapons inspectors is a breach of a tough UN resolution on Iraq adopted last year.
The resolution raised the prospect of "serious consequences" should Iraq fail to comply, which many in the US administration interpret as an authorisation for military action.
President George Bush has warned that Baghdad has "weeks, not months" to disarm peacefully.
However, on Monday a White House spokesman dismissed as "guesswork" reports that the US and Britain have agreed on a plan to limit UN weapons inspections in Iraq to no more than six more weeks.
President Bush "has not put a definitive period" of time by which the inspections must end, "so any reports to the contrary would not be based on anything substantive," said Ari Fleischer.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country is a member of the Security Council which may be asked to approve war, said on Monday he wanted inspectors to be given more time.
However, he stressed that primary responsibility with ending the crisis peacefully now lay with Iraq.
Senior US military officials have already been outlining what they say are their plans for a military assault on Iraq.
The onslaught would begin with ground attacks combined with a massive assault from the air, defence officials told the BBC.
Missiles will aim to eliminate Iraqi power structures
US media reports also suggest that 3,000 precision bombs and missiles could be employed in the first two days of the air strike - 10 times the number used in the opening stages of the 1991 Gulf War.
According to officials, the first few days of any assault on Iraq would aim to blow a crater in the Iraqi leadership and military.
Correspondents say while these plans may have been leaked in an attempt to scare the Iraqi leadership, this does not necessarily mean they are not true.
Nonetheless, there is some scepticism even within the Pentagon that such tactics will play out in reality as they do on paper.
Meanwhile, sparring over the justification for war has continued.
A senior Iraqi official said he expects Washington to present falsified evidence of Iraqi wrongdoing to the Security Council on Wednesday.
General Hossam Mohammed Amin - responsible for liaising with UN weapons inspectors - told the BBC that the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, would unveil "fabricated space photos or aerial photos".
He said Mr Powell's testimony - which US officials and commentators have hinted is dramatically damning - was part of a "political game".
Evidence against Iraq 'unmistakable'
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