Vice President Dick Cheney says any future ?aggressive action? against Iraq will be backed by the international community. ?I think if aggressive action is required, I would anticipate that there will be the appropriate support for that both from the American people and the international community,? he says.

The Pentagon and the CIA have begun preparations for an assault on Iraq involving up to 200,000 U.S. troops later this year with the aim of removing Saddam Hussein from power.

President George Bush?s war cabinet, known as the ?principals committee? agreed at a meeting in late January that the policy of containment of Iraq has failed and that active steps should be taken to get rid of Saddam Hussein.

?I will reserve whatever options I have. I?ll keep them close to my vest. Saddam Hussein needs to understand that I?m serious about defending our country,? says Bush.

Secretary of State Colin Powell has also called for a ?regime change? and says, ?We are looking at a variety of options that would bring that about.? The upcoming campaign against Iraq has evolved from a contingency plan drawn up by the joint chiefs of staff for the use of military forces of 200,000 men, most of whom would attack from Kuwait. The final version may involve a lighter, more mobile covert and special forces, since this tactic succeeded so well in Afghanistan.

Central command has already set up headquarters in the Gulf where they will coordinate the fighting. Air Force headquarters (Afcent) is at the Prince Sultan air base in Saudi Arabia. Army headquarters (Arcent) is in Kuwait, while the Navy (Navcent) is in Bahrain. The Marines (Marcent) is also expected to move to Bahrain soon.

The U.S., Israel and Turkey will hold joint exercises under the code name Anatolian Eagle. There will be three of these exercises in the next few months, based at the Turkish air force base at Konya. Once it?s upgraded, Konya could be used as a base for air strikes on northern Iraq.

Pentagon planners are deeply concerned about the risk that Saddam will again use chemical and biological weapons against U.S. troops and Israel. This danger can be minimized by intensive bombing of Iraq?s missile launchers, but U.S. generals fear that the risk cannot be entirely eliminated.

The CIA will arm and train Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq and Shiite forces in Kuwait. CIA trainers and special forces troops have already been sent to Kuwait and may already have begun work there.

The CIA has little faith in the military capacity of the main Iraqi opposition movement, the Iraqi National Congress, but it has begun intensive consultations with INC officials about training and arming the their supporters.

The war could be triggered by the expected standoff over scheduled weapons inspections three months from now. America?s allies are hoping that Baghdad will accept unconditional weapons inspections when the international sanctions come up for review at the United Nations in May.

However, Iraq?s vice-president, Taha Yassin Ramadan, says there is no need for the ?spies? from the UN inspection team to return to his country, so this is unlikely.

An American intelligence source says the White House ?will not take yes for an answer,? meaning Washington will find some excuse to provoke a crisis justifying war.

U.S. allies in the Middle East have been informed that a decision to attack Iraq has already been made, and diplomats from the region say they?re resigned to the inevitability of a war that may threaten the stability of a string of Arab regimes.

?It is a nightmare situation for us,? says one Arab diplomat in Washington. ?We feel the Americans will take very drastic action and we have to be prepared for such a reality. But the public opinion in the street will not see this as a benign attempt to restore order, but as American imperialism.?

France, Germany and others in the European Union have made it clear that they will not support military action against Iraq. The German foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, has joined the French foreign minister, Hubert V

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