Byline: Richard McComb
I t has become a question of when, not if. Voices of discontent within the international community will not stop President George W Bush from completing some unfinished business in Iraq.
It is widely anticipated Mr Bush will order an attack before the end of the year. The nature of the assault, with options ranging from a full land invasion to a coup backed by the CIA, remain unclear.
But there is little doubt the Pentagon has already presented the preferred plan to the Oval Office and there is no ambiguity about the overall aim.
The phrase 'regime change' is being used by strategists, but the message could not be clearer: get Saddam.
The President and his military chiefs have been embarrassed in their attempts to snare Osama bin Laden and do not intend to let Public Enemy Number Two escape.
Tony Blair has been keen to dodge questions about the nature of Britain's role in a war with Iraq and has suggested commentators are jumping too far ahead.
Clearly, one of the basic rules of a military campaign is that you do not tell the opposition what you are doing, so Mr Blair's reticence is hardly surprising.
Equally, Britain's readiness to stand shoulder to shoulder with its closest ally is not in doubt.
There may be rifts developing among European nations over the absence of a United Nation's mandate for fresh military action against Iraq but such trifles of international law will not dissuade Mr Blair from ordering the SAS behind enemy lines.
Both President Jacques Chirac of France and Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schrder have stressed clear UN approval is needed for an attack on Iraq.
The US would have to convince the Security Council that Iraq presents a 'threat to the peace' and secure its agreement to invoke Chapter VII, article 42, of the UN Charter.
France has urged Saddam urgently to allow the return of UN weapons inspectors to avert a conflict.
Senior British politicians are also getting the jitters and Bruce George, the chairman of the Commons defence committee and Labour MP for Walsall South, has gone on record to say it would be prudent of Mr Blair to get a new UN mandate if he is to gain the full backing of Parliament.
But the US already appears to believe it can order in its troops without the endorsement of the UN Security Council. And the British Foreign Office pointedly has stated Saddam is already in breach of 23 UN resolutions.
Influential voices in the Middle East, including King Abdullah of Jordan, one of America's closest Arab allies, have cautioned Mr Blair about the dangers of an attack and warned of the devastating impact of such a conflict on the region.
King Abdullah, whose country neighbours Iraq, said a military strike would be a 'tremendous mistake' but Mr Bush remains unmoved.
He described the Iraqi administration as 'poisonous' and that 'the policy of my government, our government, of this administration, is regime change'. A nation's ability to flex its military muscle is the ultimate symbol of its wealth and the United States is in a league of its own. Yet accountants and economists may play a particularly prominent role in advising the world's only superpower about its military options.
The fall-out from accounting scandals including Enron and WorldCom have dealt a body blow to confidence in corporate America and military chiefs could find themselves watching the Dow Jones index as closely as intelligence from spy satellites tracking Iraq's Republican Guard.
Americans like talking about the bottom line and the bottom line is that the last thing the dollar needs is a war. Wars cost an awful lot of dollars and the lion's share of the cost of any offensive in Iraq will be picked up by US taxpayers.
Oil prices increased rapidly after …