U.N. report fails to slow U.S. march toward Iraq showdown

WASHINGTON (AP) – The George W. Bush administration moved steadily Monday toward a military showdown with Iraq and suggested a decision could come as early as next week after U.N. inspectors credited Iraq with only limited cooperation in the search for weapons.

Bush and his senior advisers refused to tip their hand on when the United States might go to war to force Iraq to disarm. But Secretary of State Colin Powell set out a scenario to bring the tug-of-war with President Saddam Hussein to a conclusion.

“What we can’t do is just keep kicking the can down the road in the absence of a change in policy and attitude” in Baghdad, Powell said at a State Department news conference, even though he acquiesced to additional U.N. inspections.

“We will have our discussions and consultations this week, and then we will announce next steps at an appropriate time,” he said.

The Pentagon pushed ahead with war preparations that would position more than 150,000 troops and four aircraft carrier battle groups, each with more than 70 warplanes, in the Persian Gulf region by the end of February.

In a significant step, the Pentagon concluded an arrangement with the Turkish government to permit up to 20,000 U.S. troops to use bases in Turkey for a potential ground invasion into northern Iraq, a senior Defense Department official said. Turkey, a valued ally in the 1991 U.S.-led war with Iraq to liberate Kuwait, had taken an ambivalent stance this time.

The administration’s strategy calls for agreement to possibly a few more weeks of inspections as Powell, U.N. Ambassador John Negroponte and other American diplomats lobby the 14 other members of the Security Council to implement the “serious consequences” the Council threatened Iraq with in November.

Germany is dead-set against going to war. France, Russia and others are skeptical that a case for war has been made.

Bush, meanwhile, will try to prepare the nation for war in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, but will withhold announcement of any decision on an attack that many members of Congress oppose and polls show does not have the support of a majority of the American people.