Byline: Richard McComb
It is only weeks away, perhaps a few months, but the script has already been written.
Sometime around 11pm, as newspapers prepare for their final editions, the story will start breaking.
Television channels will be switched to CNN and the familiar refrain will come in over the satellite link: 'We are getting reports of explosions over Baghdad.'
Within hours there will be fuzzy pictures of green blobs on blackened screens and bright red lights streaming through the darkness. The tracer fire will spew out over the Iraqi capital and officially we will be at war.
British airmen and troops will have been committed to backing the United States in the most clinical military onslaught ever unleashed. And for one of the leading combatants, George W Bush, there will be an added piquancy to the proceedings.
The war in Afghanistan may have been spurred by a national clamour for revenge for the attacks on America. But this time it is Saddam. This time it is personal.
Public support for an assault on Iraq, both in the United States and within the international community, is divided. Americans seem uncertain of their role in the world post-September 11 although public support for the military appears to be higher than ever.
In the end, the new doctrine of foreign engagement, learnt at such a terrible cost at the World Trade Centre, will dictate the actions of the 43rd President of the United States. The new policy is one of pre-emption, not reaction. To put it bluntly, you don't wait for the madmen, you move first.
Today, Tony Blair will seek to persuade Britain there is incontrovertible evidence that points to the dangers posed by Iraq. It is all part of a carefully choreographed prelude to all-out war.
Mr Blair yesterday afternoon called a special Cabinet meeting to allow Ministers to express their views about proposed military action. In particular, he will have sought to reassure the doves, including International Development Secretary Clare Short, about the need to take out Saddam while impressing on Ministers the need for a united front.
Chancellor Gordon Brown and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott have publicly backed Mr Blair but it will be interesting to see how the firebrand MP for Ladywood reacts to the prospects of warplanes bombing Iraq and the risks of civilian casualties. Ms Short has also ready spoken out to declare: 'We cannot have another Gulf War.'
The publication of the much-heralded dossier of evidence against Saddam will be pivotal in winning over not only Cabinet support but the backing of the wider British public. Ministers will have been given an outline brief of the document yesterday and the full dossier, carefully rewritten by Whitehall mandarins, will be release today at 8am.
The 50-page dossier is thought to be based on British intelligence assessments of Saddam's illicit weapons procurement operation, suggesting a network of shadowy companies have been used to supply and bolster his arsenal of chemical and biological armaments.
The case against Saddam is also thought to include evidence that he has an armoury of Russian-made Scud missiles, capable of unleashing deadly payloads on 'enemy' states such as Israel.
Mr Blair hopes the evidence will strengthen the case for a new United Nation's resolution imposing a tougher inspection and decommissioning timetable on Iraq. Saddam has already indicated he will oppose the conditions of any new resolution so the chances of resolving the crisis through diplomatic efforts appear to be fading rapidly.
Neither does the Iraqi leader's previous treatment of weapons inspectors bode well. Before they left in 1998, they were meant to have unfettered access to any site but were repeatedly hampered by Iraqi officials.
The inspection team, officially known as the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (Unmovic), was formed in December 1999 and replaced the United Nations Special Commission (Unscom). …